In the latest fallout over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the United States is demanding that Saudi Arabia make nice with Qatar, according to sources quoted in Bloomberg.
Three officials with knowledge of the issue have described to Bloomberg that the US is “raising pressure” on the kingdom to “wind down” its ongoing “political and economic isolation of Qatar” at a moment that Riyadh is potentially facing its own such isolation as international outrage has grown since the October 2nd slaying of Khashoggi inside the Istanbul consulate.
One U.S. official further says the Saudis are being asked to “take steps” to wind down its over three-year long bombing campaign in Yemen, or at least to greatly mitigate the factors causing a massive humanitarian crisis in famine — an ironic and contradictory request given the Pentagon’s own lead role as part of the Saudi coalition.
Since June of 2017, when a rift came out in the open and Saudi Arabia led a full economic and diplomatic blockade of its tiny oil and gas rich neighbor along side three other Gulf Cooperation Council states of the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain (non-GCC Egypt also initially cut ties), the two sides have essentially been in a state of war; however Qatar has remained defiant throughout the unprecedented crisis, relying on its vast oil wealth to weather the storm.
The land, air, and sea Saudi-led boycott has included aggressive economic sanctions, even food blockages, as most of Qatar’s basic staples had previously been supplied by land via Saudi Arabia. But it’s been hugely awkward for Western allies of both countries like the United States and Britain, as Qatar hosts the largest US/UK military base in the Middle East, Al Udeid Air Base, located 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital of Doha and home to some 11,000 US military personnel, plus Royal Air Force units.
Given Washington’s close economic and military ties to both countries, healing the inter-GCC schism has been a priority for the White House, and it now appears to be using the international outcry to pressure Riyadh in an amenable direction regarding Qatar.
Could the pressure already be working? Last week at the Saudi Future Investment Initiative (FII) hosted in Riyadh, which a number of Western companies and media outlets boycotted, Crown Prince MbS took the the previously unheard of step (since the 16-month crisis with Doha began) of acknowledging the resilience of Qatar’s “strong economy” and forecast progress over the next half decade.
“Even Qatar, despite our differences with them, has a very strong economy and will be very different” in the next five years, the prince said at an investment summit in the Saudi capital as he explained his vision for the Middle East’s place in the world. — Bloomberg
These words alone signal an opening between the two countries that could lead to detente under Washington oversight.
Though Trump had previously seemed to endorse the Saudi position that Qatar is a state sponsor of terror in the region and had helped facilitate Iranian influence and expansion, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had previously attempted to negotiate an agreeable closure to the crisis and softening of tensions, without success.
But it appears that in the end the Saudis will only perhaps respond to what they know best — blackmail. So ultimately should MbS survive the heat of the Khashoggi investigation, it will likely come at the expense of having to make nice with Qatar and play by other Washington rules as well.
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