x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

GCC summit must seek to end Qatar crisis, Kuwait foreign minister says

The opening of the first session, behind closed doors, will take place at Bayan Palace on Tuesday at 5.30pm

The annual summit of heads of state of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday in Kuwait despite the ongoing Qatar crisis.

Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled told fellow GCC ministers on Monday that the dispute would have to be addressed over the two days, even if not resolved, sources present at their meeting told The National.

The meeting at Al Bayan Palace was the highest-level direct contact the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain have had with Qatar since they imposed a boycott on their fellow GCC state on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and extremist groups.

Sheikh Sabah used the meeting to lay the groundwork for a possible resolution to the crisis, warning the ministers that the integrity of the GCC cannot be compromised, the sources said.

Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs Yussef bin Alawi, whose country has remained neutral in the dispute, sat between Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani and his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al Jubeir.

Kuwait has played mediator and acted as a conduit for communication between the boycotting countries and Qatar. A flurry of recent messages sent to the Kuwaiti capital are believed to be confirmations of attendance for the summit, which had been in doubt because of the dispute.

The opening of the first session, behind closed doors, will take place at Bayan Palace on Tuesday at 5.30pm, after which the leaders will attend an official dinner hosted by the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah.

On Wednesday, the leaders are expected to convene for the second closed session at 11.30am.

A joint press conference will be held at 12.30pm between Kuwait’s first deputy prime minister and foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled Al Hamad Al Sabah and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, secretary general of the GCC.

According to the agenda of the meeting, there will be four sessions in total for the summit.

The summit going ahead despite the stand-off reflects the efforts of Sheikh Sabah, Kuwait’s 88-year old monarch who was pivotal in resolving a similar diplomatic row between the three countries and Qatar in 2014. He has a track record as a bridge-builder, having served as foreign minister from 1965 to 2003.

Leaders from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are in large part attending the summit to ensure Kuwati’s hosting of the summit is successful, and in line with the GCC’s 36-year history of annual summits. The Qatar crisis was not officially on the agenda and a resolution seemed unlikely as Qatar has not responded to the demands of the boycotting countries.

However, while Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani will reportedly be attending, it was still not clear who will represent Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. Kuwait's traffic authority said most major roads from the airport to the meeting venue would be closed on Tuesday morning, suggesting the arrival of heads of state.

Security forces in Kuwait have been put on standby, and heavily armed soldiers were guarding Bayan Palace and the Jumeirah Hotel, where many delegation members are staying.

Anwar Gargash, UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Monday that he was “happy” to be in Kuwait.

“Happy to be in the brotherly [country of] Kuwait, the land of Al Sabah and of authentic and loyal people,” he said on Twitter. “Kuwait remains dear to the heart of every Emirati forever and always.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar and was formed in 1981, just two years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It has since served as a counterbalance to Tehran’s ambitions in the Middle East.