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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Trump postpones GCC summit again

The continued Qatar stalemate has stymied preparations for the meeting

Donald Trump has postponed a summit with Gulf and other regional allies to 2019. Reuters
Donald Trump has postponed a summit with Gulf and other regional allies to 2019. Reuters

The Trump administration has postponed a summit with Gulf partners and other regional countries for the second time because of a lack of progress on the Qatar dispute, The National has learned.

The delay, first reported by Al Monitor, has pushed the summit back from mid-October until early next year, with January 2019 as a tentative date.

The news site attributed the delay to US President Donald Trump’s “packed travel schedule before November’s midterm elections” but high-level regional sources told The National it was linked to the Qatar dispute.

Initial plans, as reported by The National in July, were to hold the summit with Gulf nations, Jordan, Egypt and possibly Morocco in mid-October. Working groups meeting in August and September would nail down the agenda.

The focus for the summit would be on security co-operation including maritime navigation and ballistic missile threats, counter-aggression work mainly related to Iran, and efforts to counter extremism.

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US officials told Reuters in July that Washington’s plan is to forge an "Arab Nato” tentatively known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (Mesa).

The summit had been initially planned for May but the North Korea meetings and continued stalemate in the Qatar dispute delayed it until October.

In Washington, Mr Trump’s trips and Islamic holidays were rumored to be behind the delay [there are no Islamic holidays in October]. The administration appears convinced it can gather Gulf leaders, set up Mesa without resolving the Qatar dispute.

But Marcelle Wahba, a former US Ambassador to the UAE and the President of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, was not surprised by the postponement. “It will be difficult to hold a summit or launch Mesa as long as there is no progress or resolution for the Qatar dispute” Ms Wahba told The National.

“There has been absolutely no movement” in resolving the dispute between Qatar and the Quartet countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) boycotting Doha since June 2017. “The American side really wanted to see some progress on the issue if not total resolution, before Mesa and that didn’t happen” explained Ms Wahba.

Preparatory plans for the summit have now included Morocco. In an August 29 meeting, US defense chief James Mattis hosted a regional security roundtable at the Pentagon with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman), Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.

Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White said a broad range of security issues were discussed and they agreed to reconvene in the “coming months” to continue talks on shared strategic objectives.

Last May, Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran and accused Tehran of supporting the Polisario Front, a western Sahara independence movement. Morocco has argued that the disputed area forms an integral part of its territory. In August, it warned its banks to stop dealing with Iran.

Countering Iran is expected to be high on the summit agenda when it is held. The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.