DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Saudi foreign minister on Friday expressed optimism the yearslong boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations, including the kingdom, may be nearing an end. His remarks came just hours after the top diplomat from mediator nation Kuwait described the ongoing talks over the crisis as “fruitful.”
However, the other three nations boycotting Qatar — Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — did not immediately acknowledge this burst of optimism. Over a year ago, a similar hope for an end to the dispute quickly faded.
However, the statement earlier in the day by Kuwait’s foreign minister marked the first time officials there have made a special televised communique on the Qatar crisis. And the Saudi acknowledgment appeared to signal that something was changing.
The boycott has torn apart the typically clubby Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation group comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Qatar, an energy-rich nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, has seen its state-run Qatar Airways blocked from the boycotting nations’ airspace and its only land border to Saudi Arabia shut over the crisis.
Speaking to Italy’s annual Mediterranean Dialogues, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the kingdom’s foreign minister, said: “We’ve made significant progress in the last few days.”
“We hope that this progress can lead to a final agreement which looks in reach, and I can say that I am somewhat optimistic that we are close to finalizing an agreement between all the nations in the dispute to come to a resolution that we think will be satisfactory to all,” the prince said.
That came just after Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah, Kuwait’s foreign minister, gave a brief statement as Kuwaiti state television began its 4 p.m. newscast. He said that discussions had been ongoing between parties under Kuwait’s new ruling emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, and President Donald Trump over the crisis.
“Fruitful discussions have taken place in the past period, where all parties affirmed their keenness on Gulf and Arab solidarity and stability and on reaching a final agreement that achieves the aspired permanent solidarity between their countries,” Sheikh Ahmed said, without elaborating.
Sheikh Ahmed also thanked Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers. Kushner and other American officials just traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar over the crisis in the waning days of the Trump administration.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, immediately wrote on Twitter that the Kuwaiti statement was an “imperative step towards resolving the GCC crisis.”
“We express our gratitude to the State of Kuwait for their mediation & the United States for their efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed wrote. “The interest and security of the people of the Gulf & the region remain our top priority.”
Oman, which also tried to mediate the dispute, welcomed the announcement in a statement carried by state television.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking remotely to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual Manama Dialogue, said he hoped any agreement between Qatar and the boycotting countries would be made on a “foundation that is lasting.”
“We are very hopeful that the dispute between the Saudis and the Qataris can be resolved,” Pompeo said. “We’re going to keep working to facilitate conversations and dialogues.”
“This needless crisis needs to come to an end,” said Sheikh Mohammed, speaking earlier to the Mediterranean Dialogues.
“There are some movements that we hope that this will put an end to this crisis,” he said. “We believe actually that Gulf unity is very important for the security of the region.”
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut ties to Qatar on June 5, 2017, just after a summit in Saudi Arabia in which Gulf leaders met with Trump. They say the crisis stems from Qatar’s support for extremist groups in the region, charges denied by Doha. Qatar has backed Islamists in the Mideast, something strongly opposed by the four Arab states.
The four nations also have pointed to Qatar’s close relationship with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore gas field that provides the peninsular nation its wealth. Qatar restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Sheikh Mohammed defended Qatar’s ties to both Iran and Turkey, which has a small military base in Doha, during his remarks.
Qatar is a valued partner of the U.S. Some 10,000 American troops are hosted at Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base, which also serves as the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command.