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Qatar emir invited to Gulf summit amid diplomatic row

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said Wednesday that Qatar’s ruler is invited to the bloc’s summit meeting next week amid efforts to heal rifts between Doha and a Saudi-led alliance.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani received a “formal invitation” from Saudi King Salman to the January 5 meeting of the six-nation GCC in Saudi Arabia’s northwest Al-Ula province.

But it is not yet clear if Sheikh Tamim — who was invited to the last summit but declined, sending then-prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani instead — will attend.

As well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the GCC includes Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia led its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to cut ties with Qatar, saying it was too close to Iran and funding radical Islamist movements — charges Doha staunchly denies.

After severing ties, the four countries issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, including that it shut down its broadcaster Al Jazeera.

The Saudi-led quartet subsequently forced Qataris to leave, closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft and sealed their borders and ports, separating some mixed-nationality families.

Sheikh Tamim’s participation would signal an easing of divisions.

On Wednesday, Saudi’s cabinet said that it “wished for a succesful summit to enhance joint action and enhanced cooperation between the country members,” according to a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency.

It follows comments earlier this month by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan who said that a resolution was in sight.

Egypt and the UAE have since given their public support to the negotiations, although diplomatic sources say the UAE has been reluctant to compromise.

According to a Gulf official close to the negotiations, it is unlikely the summit will deliver a comprehensive agreement but rather result in trust-building measures, including the possibility of opening up the airspace.

The potential thaw comes ahead of the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden as US president, who is expected to welcome the resolution of a row which has undercut US efforts to rein in its arch-enemy Iran.

Earlier this week, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the crisis by telephone.

“We believe that resolving the dispute is in the interest of all parties in the region, as well as in the interest of the United States,” a State Department official said.

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