(Bloomberg) -- The Qatari emir was the only head of state -- other than his Kuwaiti host -- at a Gulf summit on Tuesday, as leaders including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman stayed away from a meeting that was overshadowed by the rift with Qatar and ended a day early.
The Saudi delegation was headed by Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, while Bahrain sent its deputy prime minister to the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting, hosted by Kuwaiti leader Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah. The United Arab Emirates was represented by its junior foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, while Oman followed its recent precedent by sending its deputy premier to represent Sultan Qaboos.
The leaders’ absence was an apparent snub to Qatari ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and to Kuwait’s efforts to mediate an end to the Saudi-led boycott of the gas-rich nation. Saudi Arabia, along with the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt, cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in early June, accusing it of funding extremism and criticizing its ties with Shiite-led Iran. Doha has repeatedly denied the allegations.
On the eve of the Kuwait meeting, the U.A.E. set up a committee to bolster military, economic, trade and cultural ties with Saudi Arabia. While it’s not clear whether the committee will undercut the role played by the GCC -- a loose alliance aimed at promoting ties, the timing was symbolic.
Allowing the summit to go ahead but announcing the committee just before “seems even more of a snub to Emir Sabah than if the summit hadn’t taken place at all, or if the anti-Qatar states had stayed away,” Kristian Ulrichsen, Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote on Twitter.
The U.A.E.’s announcement was not a surprise and was designed to pressure Qatar, according to Hani Sabra, founder of New York-based Alef Advisory. It’s likely that the two countries will invite Bahrain, Kuwait, and possibly Oman, to join “in an attempt to more clearly formalize Qatar’s isolation,” he said.
The Saudi-led bloc has demanded that Qatar shut down Al Jazeera television, refrain from backing Islamist groups and scale back relations with Tehran. The standoff has endured despite regional and international efforts to end the embargo and reunite the oil-rich region.
The Kuwaitis started the meeting by reciting verses from the Koran warning against allowing differences to break up believers and weaken them. Sheikh Sabah then called for revising the GCC charter to set up a “mechanism for dispute resolution.”
The meeting had been scheduled to run for two days. The final declaration made no mention of the Qatar feud, and stressed that work will continue on economic goals including a single market and customs union.
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