Gulf States to Resume Trade, Air Links With Qatar in Days

Gulf states expect to open their airspace to Qatar and resume trade with the natural-gas powerhouse within a week of the Jan. 5 signing of an accord ending their rift, a senior United Arab Emirates minister said Thursday.

The agreement signed in Saudi Arabia at a summit of Gulf leaders has “a note about ending measures within a week,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a virtual media briefing, referring to the air and trade measures.

Under the accord, four Arab states including the UAE agreed to fully restore ties with Qatar, ending a three-year dispute that divided the energy-producing region at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and its Gulf allies and Iran.

The deal came two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to reengage diplomatically with Tehran. Details of the pact weren’t made public but Gargash said it included clauses on respecting each other’s sovereignty and addressing extremism and terrorism.

“We have a very good start, putting this matter of Qatar crisis behind us but we do have an issue of re-building confidence and we need to do that,” said Gargash.

Back in 2017, the four boycotting states accused Doha of meddling in their internal affairs, supporting Islamist groups and building ties with Iran. Charges that Qatar has denied.

As the deal was sealed, Gargash told CNN that the 13 conditions made by the bloc in 2017 for repairing ties with Qatar were a “maximalist negotiating position.” He reiterated that in Thursday’s briefing.

The minister said the states expected to “move very quickly” to restore full diplomatic ties. Legal cases that arose between the countries during the rift will be suspended and dropped, he said.

As of Thursday morning, Qatar Airways was still avoiding Saudi airspace, according to a playback on flight-tracking website FlightRadar 24. Once the state-owned carrier resumes flights to the four Arab nations, which included up to 52 daily flights before the crisis.

Qatar had increasingly turned to Iran and Turkey -- another regional rival of Saudi Arabia and the UAE -- for support, relying on Iranian airspace for overflights.

Gargash sought to downplay concerns of a rift with Ankara. “The UAE is Turkey’s number one trade partner in the Middle East,” he said. “We don’t cherish any feuds with Turkey.”

“The UAE’s major problem with Turkey is that the latter wants to expand its role at the expense of Arab countries.”

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