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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

GCC summit to be attended by all six Gulf countries

The summit presents a chance to resolve the Gulf crisis with Qatar, Kuwait's deputy foreign minister says

GCC leaders attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City on December 5, 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP
GCC leaders attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City on December 5, 2017. Giuseppe Cacace / AFP

Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Al Jarallah has confirmed that all six Gulf countries will be attending the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh.

The news comes as a surprise as Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE and Bahrain, have been embroiled in a diplomatic standoff with GCC member Qatar over allegations of interference in regional affairs.

The summit, which is typically held in December, will be the trade bloc's 39th, and the second since the Arab Quartet (which also includes Egypt) cut ties with Qatar in June 2017.

The boycotting countries were represented by deputy-prime ministers and foreign ministers in last year’s conference held in Kuwait, instead of the usual heads of state.

Mr Al Jarallah said the summit could present a “hope to resolve the Gulf crisis and solve the differences”.

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The statement, which has yet to be echoed by the other five GCC countries, could indicate an attempt by the GCC to resolve the dispute.

Bahrain’s King Hamad Al Khalifa said in 2017 that his country will not attend any summit with Qatar unless it “returned to its senses”. Bahrain has since sent lower-ranking ministers to conferences attended by Doha.

It is still unclear who will represent the GCC countries at the summit. In April, Qatar was not represented by the Emir, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, at the Arab League Summit held in Saudi Arabia.

There has been no official contact between high-ranking officials of the three boycotting countries and their Qatari counterparts since a phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Tamim in September 2017.

After initially reporting that both sides welcomed a push to begin dialogue to resolve the dispute, the Saudi Press Agency said Saudi Arabia was suspending talks, accusing Doha of “distorting facts”.

Kuwait's Emir Sabah has worked to bring together the two sides, acting as a mediator in the crisis since it broke out in 2017. However, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE and Bahrain, said that dialogue can only come after it sees an earnest attempt from Doha to change its ways, which the three boycotting countries view as reckless.

The diplomatic spat has spilled beyond the borders of the GCC, with both sides spending millions in Washington to help shape public opinion on the matter. Qatar, in particular, has sought respite from the boycott by petitioning its case abroad.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE maintain that the solution to the crisis "can only be found in Riyadh", suggesting that if Qatar is amenable, a resolution to the crisis could be within reach at the forthcoming summit.