White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his team will travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week for talks aimed at resolving the dispute between the neighbouring Gulf countries, according to media reports in the United States.
A senior official in the administration of President Donald Trump told Reuters news agency on Sunday that Kushner is to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in the Saudi city of Neom, and the emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in that country in the coming days.
Kushner is eager to persuade the Saudi and Qatari leaders to reconcile and reach an agreement on a number of issues, Axios reported, citing US officials.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar in 2017, accusing Doha of “supporting terrorism” and issuing a list of 13 demands.
Qatar rejected the allegations and the demands and accused the blockading countries of attacking its sovereignty.
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien earlier this month stated that resolving the Gulf crisis was a priority for the administration and that there was a possibility it could happen before Trump leaves office in January.
“A resolution to the blockade appears to be in sight,” Sigurd Neubauer, author of ‘The Gulf Region and Israel’ and an expert on Middle East politics, told Al Jazeera. “We don’t know if it will be before Trump leaves office or when Biden comes in. But it’s really not if, but when.”
A senior Saudi official last month signalled that there had been some progress in attempts to resolve the more than three-year dispute, saying that Riyadh was “committed to finding a solution”.
“We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers, and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
“But we do need to address the legitimate security concerns of the quartet and I think there is a path toward that” with a solution “in the relatively near future,” he said.
Earlier this month, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said there were no winners in the Gulf crisis and that Doha was hopeful it will end “at any moment”.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner (left) meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (right) during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [File: Saudi Press Agency via Reuters]
The United States’ Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook will join Kushner, as well as Adam Boehler, chief executive of the US International Development Finance Corporation, Reuters and Axios reported.
Kushner and his team have helped negotiate normalisation deals between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan since August. Officials said they would like to advance more such agreements before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, US media reported.
US officials believe enticing Saudi Arabia into a deal with Israel would prompt other Arab nations to follow suit. But the Saudis do not appear to be on the brink of reaching such a landmark deal and officials in recent weeks have been focusing on other countries, with concern about Iran’s regional influence a uniting factor.
Kushner’s trip comes after the killing on Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran by unidentified assailants. Western and Israeli governments believe Fakhrizadeh was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Days before the killing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met MBS, an Israeli official said, in what was the first publicly confirmed visit by an Israeli leader. Israeli media said they were joined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The historic meeting underlined how opposition to Tehran is bringing about a strategic realignment of countries in the Middle East.
MBS and Netanyahu fear Biden will adopt policies on Iran similar to those adopted during Barack Obama’s US presidency, which strained Washington’s ties with its traditional allies in the Middle East.
Biden has said he will rejoin the international nuclear pact with Iran that Trump quit in 2018 – and work with allies to strengthen its terms – if Tehran first resumes strict compliance.
The official said Kushner met at the White House last week with the Kuwaiti foreign minister, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. Kuwait is seen as critical in any effort to resolve a three-year rift between Qatar and the blockading countries.