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Quick Review - Gulf States End Qatar Blockade

Quick Review - Gulf States End Qatar Blockade

06 January, 2021

A formal agreement ending a years-long blockade of Qatar by its Middle East rivals led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates is expected to be signed today as the Gulf Cooperation Council meets in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.

The land, sea, and air blockade of the gas-rich nation began in June 2017, when Gulf States accused Qatar of supporting terrorist groups and criticized its relationship with Iran. Qatar denies supporting terrorism but admits to supporting political Islamist causes such as the Muslim Brotherhood (a group Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates regard as a terrorist organization).

U.S. President Donald Trump enthusiastically supported the Saudi-led move initially, before swiftly reversing course and calling for dialogue. Qatar hosts roughly 10,000 U.S. troops at the al-Udeid airbase, a foothold seen as critical for operating anti-Islamic State missions.

Saving face. It’s difficult to see Qatar’s return to the Gulf fold as anything other than a face-saving measure for Saudi Arabia (the United Arab Emirates was reportedly against rapprochement). Qatar has not had to honor any of the 13 demands made by the Gulf states in 2017—which included shutting down broadcaster Al Jazeera and closing a Turkish military base—and instead has only agreed to drop lawsuits looking for compensation as a result of its isolation.

The Biden effect. The climb-down is part of Saudi Arabia’s desire to present a united Gulf front when it comes to Iran and position itself as a key partner for an incoming Biden administration keen to reassess the U.S. relationship with the kingdom. The agreement will immediately damage Iran financially, as it has charged Qatar roughly $100 million annually to use its airspace.

Iran’s enrichment. Biden’s Iran challenge became all the more demanding on Monday, when an Iranian government spokesman announced that the country had again begun enriching uranium to the 20 percent level, far in excess of limits imposed in the 2015 nuclear accord.