Qatar hopes new initiative to produce results in 3-year GCC rift

4 months ago 16
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Qatar's foreign minister has expressed hope a new initiative to end the land, sea and air blockade imposed on the Gulf state by four Arab nations may produce results.

"We hope the initiative will produce results, we are open to dialogue and ready to meet each step forward with 10 steps from our side," Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told Al Jazeera in an interview that aired on Friday, the third anniversary of the blockade.

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On June 5, 2017, fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, along with Egypt, a non-council member, severed all political, trade and travel ties with Qatar. 

The quartet continues to impose the blockade against Qatar, accusing it of "supporting terrorism"  and destabilising the region, allegations that Doha has repeatedly rejected as "baseless". 

At the time, the boycotting nations set 13 demands for lifting the blockade, including closing down Al Jazeera media network, shuttering a Turkish base and downgrading ties with Iran. Qatar promptly condemned all demands as a breach of sovereignty.

Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate a rift that has undermined Washington's efforts to form a united front against its rival Iran, which is locked in a regional struggle with Saudi Arabia.

"We hope this initiative is different than previous ones and it is taken seriously," Sheikh Mohammed said, adding that there were some talks with Saudi Arabia at the end of 2019, but the process later stopped.

Washington has launched a new push on the blockading countries to reopen Gulf airspace for Qatari airlines as a first step towards ending the three-year crisis, according to reports this week in US media. The White House is particularly concerned over so-called "overfly fees" that Qatar pays to Iran to use the airspace, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.

"There is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue," said one US official. "It's an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran's coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights."

Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the region, while Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet and both Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia host US troops.

"This region is too small, the countries are too small to live alone," Abdullah Baabood, a GCC expert, told Al Jazeera.

"The challenges are huge. We are talking not just about traditional challenges and threats but we are also talking about ... economic, social, environmental challenges and pandemics and all of these, as well as security challenges, can only be confronted if the region can work together as one unit."

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