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Will the GCC Summit end the Quartet rift with Qatar?

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Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova)

Amidst many political and security developments in the Middle East region, the coming Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit comes at a very critical time to discuss many thorny issues including the Palestinian questions, terrorism in the region, Iranian-Saudi brawl and the tiff with Qatar as these topics have exceeded regional importance due to the increasing political and economic weight of the GCC states worldwide.

The uncertainty is still the most accurate description of the current status of the 38th GCC summit in Kuwait, which will be held on 5-6 of December 2017 despite the fact that the Kuwaiti government has announced its readiness and full preparations to host this critical meeting which comes at a critical time to discuss critical issues that are decisive for the unity of the council.

The most important matter in the coming sum is not only the agenda but the attendance. Though Kuwait has expressed optimism that the summit will be held with full quorum, no official statement has been issued so far to strengthen and to promote that the outcome would be positive due to the big rift on some files between the states as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE are in one bloc and Qatar is in another.

The meeting will also address the (GCC) achievements and how to develop the council’s work mechanism.  The situation in Syria, in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will be thoroughly discussed as well as other regional issues for further GCC coordination. Amongst the hot issues will be the Iranian-Saudi spat which has led the region to boil with expected skirmishes in a form of further future proxy wars between Tehran and Riyadh.

The level of representation of each country is not clear yet. However, the summit itself at this time is important. It is not expected that the meeting will end up the rift with Qatar because the focus will be on the agendas that are related to terrorism, security, and regional including Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as Libya and Lebanon. Iran and its support to the Houthis and to Hezbollah will also be on the agenda.

What makes the Council very influential at the regional and international levels is that since its establishment on 25 May 1981, it has become a very strong economic and political bloc as it has an area of 2.41 square kilometers, with a population of more than 50 million and a GDP exceeding US$1.6 trillion.

The coming summit does not mean that if invitations are sent to all members including Qatar that the rift with Doha is over because Qatar, according to other GCC members have not yet taken the right actions to correct its policies. However, the participation of any Qatari delegation, expected to be at a lower level, aims to give signals that the six GCC members seek to discuss existential matters in a bid to mend the fences.

It has been over six months into the quartet rift with Qatar, which led to a blockade against Doha for its refusal to comply with the six principles and the 13 conditions that the quartet demanded. Progress to resolve the row with Qatar has been slower than projected and the likelihood for a decisive step-forward appears wiry. This is can be figured out from July statement for UAE state minister Anwar Gargash to Chatham House, when he laid out the stances of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain vis-à-vis Qatar by saying: “You cannot be part of a regional organisation dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interest and at the same time undermine that se­curity.” This proves that attending the summit does not mean solving the issue or turning a blind eye to Doha’s support to groups and factions which the quartet bloc which includes: Riyadh, Manama, Abu Dhabi and Cairo, consider as terrorist including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Russia views that there were signs of a breakthrough after Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah’s recent visit to Riyadh and Doha as both parties support the summit to be held on time. However, the breakthrough would not be overnight as such political and security issue take time to solve, especially after both Qatar and the other Quartet countries blamed each other of interference in each other’s internal affairs with some officials from the Gulf calling to shutting down some Qatari media outlets. Moscow supports a solution to this rift and it can play a key role as an honest broker to bridge the gap between Doha and the other countries in the GCC.

It is believed that the summit will not solve the Qatari issue with the other GCC members but would help coordinate some issues of common concern because Doha will not be adhering to the six principles and the 13 conditions the other countries set for Qatar before restoring ties.

To sum up, the summit will be a gathering, an ordinary meeting in spite of all critical topics at this very critical time. It will help enforce rigorous implementation and confirmation of the need to counter terrorism and any country that supports and advocates terrorist acts. The summit will also embed a GCC strategy to be deployed to decrease the level of extremist and terrorist threats, including a wider regional strategy to limit Iranian ability to meddle in the GCC and Arab affairs though some countries such as Oman would avoid inadvertent escalation as Muscat is known for being neutral.