Watch CBS News

UAE joins Saudis in dropping Qatar blockade as Persian Gulf crisis ends

Saudi Arabia-Qatar borders set to reopen
Arabian Gulf leaders sign a declaration easing tensions with Qatar 07:18

Amman, Jordan — The United Arab Emirates said Friday that it would reopen all of its land, sea and air borders with Persian Gulf neighbor Qatar, the latest significant step to end a crisis that was a major diplomatic thorn in the side of U.S. policy for several years. In a statement carried by the country's official news agency, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said the end of his country's blockade of Qatar would include "practical measures of airlines, shipping and trade." 

The move followed a Gulf Cooperation Council summit on Tuesday in the ancient Saudi city of Al-Ula, where a breakthrough agreement marked the end of the rift between Qatar and its neighbors. Late on Monday, Saudi Arabia, the biggest country involved in the blockade, said it would reopen its airspace and land border to Qatar in the first step toward ending the crisis. 

Saudi Arabian television carried live pictures of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warmly welcoming Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to the summit. The pictures from the tarmac at the Saudi airport sent a powerful signal. 

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Saudi Arabia
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman ahead of the 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, January 5, 2021. Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The breakthrough came after an extensive diplomatic push led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. It also came just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's swearing in. 

The incoming U.S. administration is expected to take a firmer stance towards the kingdom than President Trump, whose family has close ties with the Saudi royals

The blockade began in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accused the tiny state of Qatar of supporting Islamic extremists — charges Qatar has always firmly denied. 

Qatar not only survived, but managed largely to avoid any serious impact from the blockade thanks to its wealth, accumulated over decades from vast natural gas reserves.

The GCC leaders signed an agreement this week for a "complete resumption of diplomatic relations" between the boycotting Arab quartet and Qatar, and to jointly confront "any threats to Gulf security." 

The Blockade of Qatar 13:15

The chief threat alluded to in the statement by the Gulf nations was that posed by their other neighbor, Iran. The U.S. government has long relied on its allies in the Gulf to present a united front against the Shiite Muslim powerhouse. 

Qatar Airways has announced that its planes will return to using Saudi airspace. During the blockade, the airline was forced to divert most of its flights through Iranian airspace, and Washington was keen to deprive Tehran of the hundreds of millions of dollars in "overflight" fees the Qataris were paying.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, speaks at an event at Chatham House in London, England, July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Speaking at a virtual news conference on Thursday, Gargash, the UAE's top diplomat, said his country was "behind this deal, and positive about the prospect of reestablishing relations with Qatar."

He added, however, that restoring full diplomatic ties would take time and depended on Qatar's future dealings with Iran, Turkey and Islamic extremist groups. "We have a very good start," said Gargash, "but we have issues with rebuilding trust."

"The basic issues that the Emiratis are talking about are still there," Dr. Hassan Barari, professor of international relations at Qatar University, told CBS News on Friday. "The differences are going to continue, but the problem is how to manage these differences."  

"People here in Doha insist on their right to have a different foreign policy," Barari said of Qatar's leadership. "The reconciliation with Saudi Arabia is very important for Qataris, but for them it is more important to be independent."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.