Saudi Arabia will open land, air borders with Qatar after three year blockade

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In this May 5, 2018 photo, a giant image of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, adorns a tower in Doha, Qatar.
In this May 5, 2018 photo, a giant image of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, adorns a tower in Doha, Qatar.   -  Copyright  Kamran Jebreili/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry announced Monday that Saudi Arabia will open its air and land borders with Qatar in the first steps toward ending a diplomatic crisis that has deeply divided regional U.S. allies since 2017.

The state-run Kuwait News Agency reported the announcement, saying that Saudi Arabia would open its borders with Qatar starting Monday evening.

Qatar's only land border has been mostly closed since mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain launched a blockade against the tiny Gulf state, accusing it of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties with Iran. The border has opened just briefly during the past three years to allow Qataris into Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic hajj pilgrimage.

Kuwait has been mediating between Qatar and the four Arab states. On Monday, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad Al Sabah reportedly traveled to Qatar to deliver a message to Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia paves the way for Qatar’s ruler to attend a summit of Gulf leaders Tuesday that will be held in the kingdom’s desert city of Al-Ula. The summit would traditionally be chaired by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, though his son and heir, the crown prince, may instead lead the meeting.

'A bright new page'

Kuwait’s foreign minister said in a statement carried on state TV that the Kuwaiti emir had spoken with Qatar’s emir and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. The conversations "emphasized that everyone was keen on reunification,” and would gather in Al-Ula to sign a statement that promises to “usher in a bright page of brotherly relations.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council summit will be “inclusive,” leading the states toward “reunification and solidarity in facing the challenges of our region,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying in remarks carried by the Saudi state-run news agency.

The decision by the close U.S. allies comes in the final days of the Trump administration's time in office. Trump's advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar in early December in a final attempt to secure a diplomatic breakthrough.

The decision to end the Saudi blockade of Qatar also comes just ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's swearing in. Saudi Arabia may be seeking to clear contentious files that could prove stumbling blocs to building warm ties with the Biden administration, which is expected to take a firmer stance toward the kingdom's policies than Trump's four years in office.

There was no immediate comment by the UAE, Egypt or Bahrain on the announcement. However, in recent days Emirati and Egyptian statements have been made welcoming Saudi efforts to resolving the dispute.