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A View to a Deal? [Updated]

President Donald Trump and Emir Sabah Al Sabah, sept. 2017 (Source: White House)

In advance of a visit this Thursday by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah to the White House, more rumors than normal are circulating about a potential solution to the 2+ year standoff between Qatar and the “anti-terror” quartet of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt (Beth Dickinson with a run-down). This could reflect one of two broad dynamics (or infinite variations in between):

  1. A deal is in the works, it will be announced shortly, and we are seeing efforts to lay the groundwork for this

  2. A deal is not in the works, but either some outlets are overly optimistic or there is an effort to drum up publicity ahead of the Emir’s visit in an attempt to attract greater U.S. engagement

I lean much more towards explanation #2 [though I previously put down #1 due the caffeine taking too long to hit my bloodstream] but I will try to lay out all evidence for both.

Before proceeding, it is worth reading Greg Gause’s 2015 article during the last Gulf crisis about the ebb and flow of intra-GCC disputes, which (in short) argues that greater external threat (Iran, ISIS) in terms fosters greater internal cooperation.

Based on this, the pro-reconciliation narrative would broadly argue that Saudi Arabia in particular is now more willing to make concessions due to mounting tensions in the Gulf (with Iran), the seeming inability or unwillingness of the Trump administration to do much about those tensions save cranking up sanctions, and troubled alliance dynamics in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

Qatar-based commentator Suhaib Jamal Nasir has been aggregating all indications of a coming deal:

Surge in shuttle diplomacy, & backchannel talks w/ #Saudi, between #Qatar & #Kuwait in recent days w/ letters exchanged b/w both HHs Amirs, meeting b/w Qatari FM & Kuwaiti Parliament Speaker, visit of exPM Qatar HBJ & Personal Rep (& Elder Brother) of Amir Shk. Jassim to Kuwait. — Suhaib Jamal Nasir (@suhaibnasir) September 2, 2019

Former Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim tweeted about the importance of resolving the Gulf Crisis at the end of August, although it wouldn’t be the first time he has issued comment on the diplomatic dispute.

The GCC has a major role to play, especially in the Arab League, as well as in the international community, to try to stave off threats and challenges or to propose solutions that do not harm the interests of its countries. Unfortunately, the Council stalled out in the face of the difficult circumstances surrounding us because of the current dispute, which is not in the interest of Qatar or the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]. The kingdom has likewise been thrown into other crises that are not in its interest. I think it is time for the larger brother nation to see that the Gulf interest requires that they play their role in reconciliation and safeguard the Council from challenges and risks. Qatar is not your enemy, but has always maintained this relationship with mutual respect. HBJ, Former Qatari PM and FM

كان لمجلس التعاون الدور الرئيسي لتحريك الأمور خاصةً في الجامعة العربية وأيضا في المجتمع الدولي لمحاولة درء الخطر والتحديات او اقتراح حلول لا تضر بمصالح دوله. ولكن للأسف اصبح المجلس معطّل في ظل الظروف الصعبة التي تحيط بنا بسبب الخلاف الحالي الذي ليس لقطر او للملكة بالذات مصلحة فيه — حمد بن جاسم بن جبر (@hamadjjalthani) August 28, 2019

مثلما زُجْت المملكة في أزمات أخرى ليس لها مصلحة فيها. وأعتقد انه آن الأوان للشقيقة الكبرى ان ترى ان المصلحة الخليجية تقتضي ان يقوموا بدورهم في لم الشمل وتحصين المجلس من التحديات والمخاطر. فقطر ليست عدوكم بل كانت دائماً تحافظ على هذه العلاقة في ظل الاحترام المتبادل. — حمد بن جاسم بن جبر (@hamadjjalthani) August 28, 2019

While there might be something to subtle shifts in language in how HBJ has discussed the crisis over the years, Saudi nationalist Twitter was not exactly enthusiastic about his overtures.

Saudi does not “get thrown into” things, but Qatar is no stranger to foolish words. The Gulf interest, from a responsible view, is to bury the Doha regime, who opened its country to becoming a hotbed of Persian and Turkish forces threatening Qatar’s security. Finally, if planning to kill the king, and set the rules for the region, and pour out media attention, and support every mercenary, is not the act of an enemy, then who is an enemy! Monther Al Mubarak, Saudi commentator

#السعودية لاتُزج ولكن لاغرابة من ألفاظ حمقى #قطر ، المصلحة الخليجية ومن منطلق المسؤولية توجب دفن نظام #الدوحة الذي فتح بلاده وجعلها مرتعاً لقوات فارسية وتركية تهدد أمنه أخيراً إن لم يكن تخطيط قتل ملك ووضع قواعد وتسليط إعلام ودعم كل مرتزق فعل عدو فمن العدو! — منذر آل الشيخ مبارك (@monther72) August 28, 2019

A lengthy Wednesday report on Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language website (perhaps not the most neutral source) was bullish on the prospects of reconciliation, citing two Kuwaiti political analysts to the effect that recent infighting in Yemen had prompted a greater Saudi interest in reconciliation. The article strongly implies that “an oral message conveyed by [a Saudi minister on behalf of the King and Crown Prince] to the Emir of Kuwait” was in turn related to “Kuwait National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al Ghanim conveying a written message to the Emir of Qatar” but with no evidence of the content of the messages.

Speculation was further stoked by the leak of a video clip (conveyed here by journalist Zaid Benjamin) featuring Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki and Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani of Qatar’s ruling family, which made vague reference to something “being resolved” – although this could be related to the alleged disappearance of Qatari citizens inside Saudi Arabia.

Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud, Saudi Ambassador to Jordan, lights the cigarette of Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani, as they both sit next to [Saudi] Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. Prince Khalid had previously said that the Gulf countries have been patient with Qatar for 21 years, considering it smaller than a neighborhood in Riyadh.

خالد بن فيصل آل سعود سفير #السعودية  في #الأردن يولع سيجارة الشيخ خليفة بن أحمد آل ثاني الجالس وبقربه الامير عبدالعزيز بن أحمد بن عبدالعزيز. سبق للامير خالد القول إن دول الخليج صبرت على #قطر التي تعتبر أصغر من حارة في مدينة #الرياض 21 عاما. — ZaidBenjamin الحساب البديل (@ZaidBenjamin5) September 5, 2019
“It will be resolved… it will be resolved…” “Brothers… eventually they will return “ Clips of the conversations of Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki and the Qatari Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani in the waiting hall of Queen Alia Airport in

"بتنحل .. بتنحل" "اخوان .. ومصيرهم يرجعون لبعض" مقاطع من احاديث الامير خالد بن فيصل بن تركي والشيخ القطري خليفة بن احمد ال ثاني في صالة الانتظار الخاصة بمطار الملكة عالية في #عمّان #الأردن. — ZaidBenjamin الحساب البديل (@ZaidBenjamin5) September 6, 2019

Seemingly in response to the above speculation, the Saudi Press Agency issued a somewhat rambling 3200-word, 9-part press release regarding the crisis, dealing largely with the treatment of Qatar individuals in the Kingdom but also reaffirming the Kingdom’s “sovereign right” to to close its borders to Qatar in the face of security concerns.

Riyadh anticipates meeting with Emir of Kuwait and US President in Washington with a statement confirming that its boycott of Qatar is a sovereign right.

#الرياض تستبق لقاء امير #الكويت والرئيس الاميركي في واشنطن ببيان تؤكد فيه على ان مقاطعتها لدولة #قطر حق سيادي. — ZaidBenjamin الحساب البديل (@ZaidBenjamin5) September 7, 2019

Legal Justification

The decision to cut off diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar was based on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign rights guaranteed by international law and the protection of its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism, as indicated in UN General Assembly Resolution A / RES / 48/141 on 7/1/1994, paragraph (a) of Article (3) of the Resolution affirmed respecting sovereignty of States, their territorial integrity and their domestic jurisdiction. The Kingdom has taken the decision to boycott as a result of abuses by the authorities in Doha since 1995, like infringing on sovereignty of the Saudi Arabia, embracing terrorist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Da’esh, and Al-Qaeda, and promoting rhetoric and schemes of these groups across their media permanently. SPA, 9.7.2019

On the Rights of Qataris Within the Kingdom

Basic rules of government in Saudi Arabia include in articles (26), (39) and (43) that the state protects human rights, in accordance with Islamic law, and that the media and publishing and all means of expression adhere to the good word and state regulations, and contribute to educating the nation and support its unity and prohibits what leads to sedition, division, or threats to state security and public relations, or offends human dignity and rights. Regarding the alleged criminalization of sympathy for Qatar, including the fact that the Kingdom imposed penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million riyals in the case of sympathy for Qatar, this is not true, as the Kingdom’s laws guarantee freedom of opinion and expression for every human being, unless there is a violation of public order. This restriction has a legislative basis at the national in accordance with relevant international standards, the most prominent of which is contained in article 29, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates that an individual shall be subject to the exercise of his rights and freedoms. SPA, 9.7.2019

On a Potential Resolution

There will be no solution to this crisis unless Qatar responds to the demands of the four countries and stops supporting terrorism, embracing extremists and stopping its interventions in the internal affairs of the four countries to become a close neighbor and partner. The solution will only be through Kuwaiti mediation and through the GCC system. SPA, 9.7.2019

In some sense, there was something for everyone in the SPA press release. Kuwaiti media, for example, seized on the line regarding Kuwait’s role in ultimately solving the crisis – Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid al-Jarallah noted that “Today, we are more optimistic than pessimism in this regard.” Still, Jarallah has been hopeful to one degree or another for at least two years now, so perhaps this statement should be taken with a grain of salt.

Saudi media, on the other hand, decidedly sought to convey the sense that the demands of the anti-terror quartet had not changed, and that there would be no resolution unless or until Qatar met these demands. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ official Twitter account:

There is no solution to the Qatari crisis unless Qatar responds to the demands of the four countries and stops supporting terrorism

#إنفوجرافيك_الخارجية | لا حلّ للأزمة القطرية إلا باستجابة قطر لمطالب الدول الأربع وتوقّفها عن دعم #الإرهاب — وزارة الخارجية 🇸🇦 (@KSAMOFA) September 7, 2019

Interestingly, though, while this same aspect of the press release was initially covered on Saudi outlets like al-Riyadh, the news was later wiped from the al-Riyadh albeit still up on Okaz.

From my view, Saudi announcements reflect nothing like the trial balloons that appeared in various Saudi outlets over the past two years regarding the Trump/Kushner “Deal of the Century” – which have largely disappeared now that even sympathetic observers have panned the administration’s approach. Still, we should have a clearer sense of what’s afoot by this Thursday.

Update (9/10/2019) – Kuwaiti Emir’s Visit Postponed, Further Speculation

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, will not visit the White House on the 12th (this Thursday) after being hospitalized in the United States for unspecified reasons. Even some of the most stridently nationalist Saudi accounts on Twitter were full of praise and well-wishing for the Emir.

اللهم رب الناس أذهب الباس اشفه أنت الشافي ، أسأل الله رب العرش العظيم أن يشفي والدنا الشيخ #صباح_الاحمد شفاء لا يغادر سقما ويقر عين الخليج وعين أهلنا في #الكويت بالشفاء التام — منذر آل الشيخ مبارك (@monther72) September 9, 2019

At the same time, the Qatari Foreign Ministry issued a statement responding to the Saudi statement noted above, noting that:

As all parties to the Gulf crisis should have [emphasis added] cooperated with Kuwaiti mediation efforts instead of escalating tensions in the region, we in Qatar were surprised that Saudi Arabia issued a statement on September 7, 2019, which essentially baseless and reiterates the same allegations as before, which were not based on the facts… Saudi Arabia… claims to welcome Qatari nationals in its territory, even as a number of Qatari nationals have been recorded as having been forcibly disappeared the Kingdom, including the recent enforced disappearance of a Qatari citizen and his son… In addition, Saudi Arabia has criminalized some forms of sympathy for the State of Qatar, threatening that any criticism of Saudi Arabia’s arbitrary policies against Qatar could subject a person to up to five years in prison. The criminalization of sympathy for the State of Qatar is a crime against the right to freedom of expression and has undoubtedly created a climate of fear for Qataris, their relatives and non-Qatari friends.  The Quartet (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) issued a list of unreasonable and unenforceable demands that included the closure of a number of media channels, a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression, and a clear violation of international law protecting freedom of expression, which Riyadh claims to respect… Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 9.9.2019

This was summarized by Qatar’s Lolwah al-Khater as:

  1. Saudi statement is surprising given efforts at reconciliation via Kuwait

  2. Portraying the siege as if it were “merely” cutting diplomatic ties overlooks the arbitrary and discriminatory realities of measures taken against the Qatari people…

١.توقيت البيان السعودي مستغرب في ظل الجهود الحثيثة للوساطة من قبل الأشقاء في الكويت ٢.تصوير الحصار بأنه "مجرد" قطع للعلاقات الدبلوماسية مجافٍ لحقيقة الإجراءات التعسفية والعنصرية ضد الشعب القطري وليس أقلها طرد المعتمرين إبان الحصار،وقد كان آخرها الإخفاء القسري لمواطن قطري وابنه. — لولوة الخاطر Lolwah Alkhater (@Lolwah_Alkhater) September 9, 2019

This in turn provoked considerable pushback from Saudi commentators:

The timing of the Saudi statement came amid Doha’s lies about our people [meaning brother nation, Qatari citizens] in Qatar, leading them to live in a fantasy land. You used cheap tools to try and “bring back the revolutions” to split the [Saudi-Emirati] Alliance, then the Brotherhood in Kuwait came to promote similar falsehoods. This statement is a reminder that the solution in in Riyadh, through the mediation of Kuwait

توقيت بيان #السعودية جاء في وقته في ظل كذب #الدوحة على أهلنا في #قطر وجعلهم يعيشون في الأوهام ، استخدمتم أدوات رخيصة بدأت في محاولة #رجيع_الثورات شق التحالف ثم كان دور أذناب جماعة #الإخوان في #الكويت البعيد كل البعد عن الحقيقة. البيان تذكير بأن #الحل_في_الرياض وعبر وساطة الكويت — منذر آل الشيخ مبارك (@monther72) September 9, 2019
The Saudi statement [must have been] painful, at it showed the number of Qataris who entered the Kingdom and the number who benefited from health services since the severance of the relationship with the Terrorist Hamadayn Organization. The statement blew up three years of your shuttle [diplomacy] with the rest of your fellow clowns.

مؤلم البيان السعودي الذي وضح بالأرقام عدد القطريين الذين دخلوا المملكة وعدد الذين استفادوا من الخدمات الصحية منذ قطع العلاقة مع #تنظيم_الحمدين_الارهابي وبالتالي نسف البيان ثلاث سنوات من رحلاتك المكوكية مع بقية زملائك المهرجين. #لولوة_تكسر_الخاطر — بن هباس 🇸🇦 (@5a1di) September 9, 2019
Dear sister Lulwa, Qatar is a marginal state that has lost its sovereignty; you will not benefit from efforts to “flee forwards” If you are serious about “repentance”, you should not seek to save face; the leadership of your regime is stained with treachery and betrayal. You simply have to apply all 13 demands [of the Quartet].

الأخت الكريمة لولوة، #قطر دولة هامشية و مفقودة السيادة؛ ولم ولن تستفيدوا من أساليب 'الهروب إلى الأمام' إن كنتم جادين بخصوص"التوبة"؛ فعليكم أن لاتسعوا للحفاظ على ماء الوجه؛ فوجيه نظامكم ملطخة بالغدر والخيانة. عليكم ببساطة أن تطبقوا كافة المتطلبات ال١٣؛ وبعدها يتم النظر في أمركم. — Salman Al-Ansari (@Salansar1) September 10, 2019

On Tuesday, though, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman received “a letter” from the Kuwaiti Emir’s envoy, Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.

#عاجل#خادم_الحرمين_الشريفين يتسلم رسالة من سمو أمير دولة #الكويت.واس — واس (@spagov) September 10, 2019
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