By Prarthana Mitra
Heads of five middle-eastern states met at the 39th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, over the weekend. Pulling a no-show after the rest of the members severed diplomatic ties with the sixth member nation, the Qatari Emir’s absence loomed across the largely inconclusive session that concluded on Sunday.
What is the Gulf crisis?
Inaugurated by King Salman, the summit ended without any major breakthrough or a roadmap to resolve the diplomatic Gulf crisis that continues to grip the region. In view of the air, land and sea blockade that was imposed on the Qatari people by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt since June 2017, the isolated country’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani refused to attend the summit. His government has refuted the claims made by the quartet in the past, saying that boycotting Qatar for “supporting terrorism” was really an excuse to impinge on its sovereignty.
Despite calls for unity, no resolution was reached on the lifting on the 18-month-long blockade on Qatar as the leaders signed a joint communique.
Who all attended?
Oman was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Fahad bin Mahmoud Al Said, who was the first to arrive in the Saudi capital. The official has represented Oman in the GCC for several years. Shortly after his arrival, the delegation from the UAE landed, led by the country’s Vice President and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. He was accompanied by Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
The Emir of Kuwait Sabah Al Ahmed also arrived, accompanied by a delegation of ministers including, Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid, Deputy Prime Minister of Kuwait. Ahmed had served as the chief mediator in the crisis and hosted the summit last year.
What did both sides have to say?
While a spokesperson from the Qatari foreign ministry slammed the GCC for failing to discuss or resolve the crisis, Bahrain criticised the Qatari emir for having sent the country’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs as his proxy.
However, anticipating slim chances of a diplomatic resolution of the ongoing crisis, none of the leaders seemed keen to address the elephant in the room as they sat across from each other discussing economic and political reform to strengthen themselves against rival western and regional forces.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair insisted that cooperation between Qatar and other GCC members continues in the fields of military operations and training, and security and ministerial exchanges. He confidently addressed a press conference post-summit, saying that the absence of and crisis with Qatar had no adverse impact “on the council in general and its structure.”
“In reference to security, things are continuing, military cooperation and training are continuing, and as for the programmes for specific ministries, such as the health ministries and trade ministries, affairs are continuing,” al-Jubair continued, resonating King Salman’s opening remarks about the objectives of the summit this year.
What did the GCC agree on?
Among the GCC’s top priorities are setting up a coordination council and to adopt a strategy for economic, development and military integration, the Saudi head of state said.
“The goal is to preserve all of these important structures, until the crisis ends, hopefully soon,” he is reported as saying by Al Jazeera. King Salman further accused Iran of “continuing to interfere in the affairs of the countries in the region,” referring to their sponsorship of the Houthi rebels in Yemen who continue discrediting the “internationally recognised” Saudi-backed government, thus provoking the kindgom to carry out air strikes and port blockades.
Salman also stressed on the importance of the GCC and the need to “defend, in collaboration with our partners, security and stability in the Gulf”.
What is the GCC?
The GCC stands for a political and economic cooperation between countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Established in 1981 to foster socioeconomic, security, and cultural cooperation, its members include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE who gather every year to discuss cooperation and regional affairs.
After last year’s summit in Kuwait was truncated owing to the formation of a separate econo-military alliance between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, there were serious doubts if the 2018 summit would take place.
The uncertainties further peaked when host Saudi Arabia became embroiled in international conflict and scrutiny over leading the proxy-war on Yemen and conducting the premeditated murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. With respect to the former, the council agreed to continue supporting the Palestinian cause while exploring political solutions to end the war in Yemen.
The GCC council has agreed to host the 40th summit in the UAE next year.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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