x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

Kuwait's Emir to meet Trump, Qatar breakthrough unlikely

While regional issues, such as the Qatar dispute and Iranian interference, will be addressed during their meeting on Thursday, it is the bilateral relations that will get the lion’s share of the talks

Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah shakes hands with US president Donald Trump during their meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21, 2017. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah shakes hands with US president Donald Trump during their meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21, 2017. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah arrived in Washington on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with US president Donald Trump in a wide-ranging visit that will tackle economic and security aspects of their countries’ relationship.

While regional issues, such as the Qatar dispute and Iranian interference, will be addressed during their meeting on Thursday, it is the bilateral relations that will get the lion’s share of the talks. Deepening both security and economic ties between Kuwait City and Washington are seen as a priority for the visit.

The Emir, whose last working visit to Washington was in 2013, is leading a large delegation, which includes Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, interior minister Sheikh Khalid Al Jarrah Al Sabah, finance minister Anas Khaled Al Saleh, and National Guard deputy chairman Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah.

A White House official told The National the three-day visit coincides with the second annual US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, which will convene Cabinet-level meetings on education, trade, investment, homeland security, and military co-operation. The official said those meetings will take place on Thursday and Friday in the different departments. 

Kuwait’s ambassador to the US Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that the visit is “historic in its time and objectives”.

“It marks a new beginning in our bilateral relations, and we will be looking for the next 25 years to advance our ties,” he said. 

Marcelle Wahba, president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, noted that the Emir of Kuwait was the first head of state from the GCC countries to visit Washington since Mr Trump took office.

“He is well-known and highly respected by senior US government officials and on Capitol Hill,” Ms Wahba, former US ambassador to the UAE, told The National. “The bilateral relationship is very important for both Kuwait and the US … that includes close partnering on security, military and counter-terrorism initiatives.”

The US approved in November a $10.1 billion (Dh37.1bn) foreign military sale of 40F/A-18 aircraft to Kuwait.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce will host on Wednesday the first US-Kuwait Economic Forum, with the participation of secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross. 

“The discussion will focus on how the governments and private sectors can work together to grow the bilateral trade and investment relationship,” a statement said. 

Kuwait's sovereign wealth fund investments in the US exceeded $300 billion, according to a recent report by KUNA.

Regionally, Kuwaiti and US officials will discuss Iran’s activity and ways to push back against Tehran’s interference in other countries. In July, Kuwait ordered Iran to reduce its diplomatic presence in the country and expelled 15 — including the Iranian ambassador — of the embassy’s 19 diplomats. The Kuwaiti authorities shut down the Iranian cultural and military missions for alleged links to a “spy and terror” cell in the country.  

While the Qatar stalemate will be at the centre stage of regional issues at the White House on Thursday, a breakthrough is not expected.

“The US will want to hear the Emir’s views on what more can be done to de-escalate tensions, but I do not expect any breakthrough announcements on Qatar during his visit,” said Ms Wahba.

Kuwait has been leading regional mediation efforts on the issue since the dispute started in June. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar over accusations it was supporting terrorist groups. Doha denies the allegations.

The Emir reportedly called the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Bahrain prior to his trip to the US, as Mr Trump has called for a “diplomatic resolution”. 

“At this point we are only trying to break the stalemate and start talks” a senior US official, who is involved in the Qatar mediation efforts, told The National. 

Ms Wahba said: “The US appreciates the Emir’s personal effort and commitment to de-escalating tensions in the region.”