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Gulf States End Three-Year Embargo on Qatar

hamad port
Hamad Port, Qatar (file image)

Published Jan 4, 2021 8:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a deal brokered by the Trump administration, the Saudi and Qatari governments have agreed to stand down from a three-year diplomatic dispute that disrupted the flow of regional trade. As part of the agreement, they have reopened their mutual borders - maritime, air and land - in a show of good faith ahead of a signing ceremony scheduled for Tuesday. 

The reopening was announced by the government of Kuwait, which contributed to the negotiations. “Based on [Kuwaiti leader] Sheikh Nawaf’s proposal, it was agreed to open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening,” said Kuwaiti foreign minister Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah in a televised address Monday. 

The announcement came one day before a meeting of the six members of the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. The timing is seen as a way to secure the participation of Qatar in the summit after years of estrangement. 

“We stand before a historic summit in Al-Ula, through which we restore our Gulf cohesion and ensure that security, stability and prosperity is our top priority,” said UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash in a social media statement. “We have more work ahead and we are headed in the right direction.”

The border shutdown began in mid-2017, when a Saudi-led coalition - including the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - blockaded Qatar's shipping, air traffic and (where applicable) land border crossings. The coalition accused Qatar of maintaining ties with Iran and supporting terrorism; the coalition objects to Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political movement that was once supported by the Saudi government but is now considered a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar denies providing support for terrorism, and Western nations do not classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. 

The embargo had immediate effects on Qatari shipping interests - like the UAE's ban on Qatar-bound cargo, which closed off all Qatari access to the key boxship hub of Jebel Ali - but Qatar was able to partially offset these losses by creating alternative shipping services and boosting trade with Iran. Its status as the world's largest LNG exporter has continued unchanged, insulating its economy from regional restrictions.