Gulf crisis overshadows GCC summit in Saudi Arabia

Gulf crisis overshadows GCC summit in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is set to host a summit of Arab Gulf leaders on Sunday, as crises brew over a bitter diplomatic dispute with Qatar.
3 min read
09 December, 2018
The GCC was formed in 1981 at the height of the Iraq-Iran war [AFP]

Saudi Arabia is hoting a summit of Arab Gulf leaders as a crises over a bitter diplomatic dispute with Qatar continues to brew, while the war in Yemen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are also likely to overshadow the meet.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has been invited by Riyadh, which severed diplomatic ties with Doha in 2017 along with Bahrain and the UAE, to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) talks.

But it was unclear if the emir would attend the annual gathering of the GCC, whose others members - Kuwait and Oman - have stayed out of the worst political fallout between the energy-rich Gulf powers.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with their regional rival Iran.

Doha - which announced this month it was quitting the Saudi-dominated OPEC oil cartel - denies the allegations, but the dispute has dragged on.

"Qatar has burned all the bridges enabling it to take back" its place within the GCC, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa said in the run-up to the summit.

The GCC was formed in 1981 at the height of the Iraq-Iran war and two years after the Islamic revolution in Tehran sparked concern in Sunni-led Gulf states, many of which have sizable Shia populations, including in Bahrain.

GCC Secretary General Abdellatif al-Zayani has said the 39th summit in Riyadh would review ties with Iran after the US reimposed an oil embargo and other sanctions on Tehran.

The US administration, which pulled out from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers in May, has vowed to reduce Iran's oil sales to zero.

Saudi Arabia, along with allies UAE and Bahrain, accuses Tehran of fomenting unrest among Shia in the Gulf, and has backed the US in piling pressure on Iran.

This contrasts with Kuwait and Oman which prefer normalising ties with the Islamic republic. Kuwait has also been mediating between its Gulf partners and Qatar.

The Yemen war

Sunday's summit also comes as delegations from the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi rebels hold UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.

Yemen's capital has been held since 2014 by Houthi rebels who drove the government out and seized a string of ports.

The Yemeni government, based in the southern port city of Aden, has fought to drive back the rebels with support from a military coalition led by Riyadh and the UAE.

The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2015 when the coalition intervened, according to the World Health Organisation, though some rights group say the toll could be five times higher.

The UN calls it the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with as many as 20 million Yemeni's facing acute food shortages.

This and images of massive devastation after coalition bombing raids on Yemen have sparked outrage among rights groups and prompted global players to demand an end to the conflict.

Pressure has been piling up on Riyadh to ease off its offensive, particularly an assault launched in June on the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, a key lifeline for aid entering Yemen.

The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, under mounting pressure over the murder of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi.

A critic of the crown prince, Khashoggi was killed by a hit squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October in what Saudi Arabia described as a rogue operation.

Riyadh has steadfastly denied claims his grisly murder - he was reportedly dismembered - was ordered by Prince Mohammed.