Middle East Eye / November 17, 2020
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said White House intends to end three-year Gulf blockade on Qatar.
The Trump administration is working to lift a three-year Gulf blockade on Qatar before the president leaves office, national security adviser Robert O’Brien has said.
The Hill reported on Monday that O’Brien said there was a “possibility” of resolving the Gulf crisis, where Qatar has been under a land, sea and air blockade from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since June 2017.
“I’d like to see that get done before – if we end up leaving office – I’d like to see that get done in the next 70 days,” O’Brien said during an interview at the 2020 Global Security Forum. “I think there’s a possibility for it.”
O’Brien also said he was hopeful “an air bridge” could be established, allowing flights to and from Qatar to pass over Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in the coming weeks.
The remarks come as other Trump administration officials have said they would like to see the dispute resolved as part of Washington’s efforts to isolate Iran.
“It’s in America’s interest to have harmonious relationships within the [Gulf Cooperation Council] because that provides an important counter-balance to Iran,” O’Brien said.
The blockading states cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, claiming it supported “terrorism” and demanded that it shutter a Turkish military base, cut links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrade ties with Iran.
Since the crisis erupted, Doha has restored full diplomatic ties with Tehran, with which it shares a massive offshore gas field that provides the peninsular nation with its wealth.
Normalisation with Israel
O’Brien said a resolution to the Gulf conflict was also aimed at “pushing for more Arab countries to open diplomatic relations with Israel”.
“It would open up the opportunity for more peace deals with Israel and creating a real economic opportunity zone across the Middle East and even being able to take that out to other parts of the Muslim and the Arab world.”
In recent months, the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan have formalised relations with Israel in deals brokered by the Trump administration, with the Palestinian leadership denouncing the agreements as a “stab in the back” and a “betrayal” of the Palestinian cause.
For years, the Palestinians have said that normalisation would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that only an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and acceptance of Palestinian statehood would allow for normal relations with the Arab countries.
Early in 2020, Donald Trump presented a plan to end the conflict, dubbed the “deal of the century”, that would allow Israel to keep all of its West Bank settlements in exchange for recognising a disjointed Palestinian state with no control over its borders.
Palestinian leaders dismissed the deal and rejected Washington as a mediator.
On Monday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Arab states that established ties with Israel undermined efforts for Palestinian statehood.
“I think it’s better to have a united [Arab] front to put the interests of the Palestinians [first] to end the [Israeli] occupation,” Sheikh Mohammed said at the online Global Security Forum.
‘A family dispute’
O’Brien said resolving the Gulf crisis is a “priority” for President Trump and compared the issue to a family dispute.
“This is really kind of a family dispute. And like family disputes, sometimes those are the hardest to solve,” he said.
“But we’d like to get all these cousins back together at the Thanksgiving table, so to speak.”
Qatar’s foreign minister said on Monday that there were no winners in the blockade, and hoped tensions would ease “at any moment”.
However, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, told Israel’s Channel 12 on Sunday that he did not believe a resolution to the Gulf crisis was imminent and accused Doha of playing the victim.
He added Qatar must comply with a list of 13 demands previously given for the blockade to be lifted, including closing a Turkish military base in Qatar, ending ties with Iran, and shutting down the Al Jazeera Media Network.
“I don’t think it gets resolved anytime soon simply because I don’t think there has been any introspection,” al-Otaiba said.