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Qatar’s Emir Unlikely to Attend Gulf Summit in Riyadh

Fiona MacDonald, Samer Khalil Al-Atrush and Simone Foxman

(Bloomberg) -- Qatar’s emir isn’t likely to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council heads of state summit starting Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, according to people familiar with the matter who confirmed progress toward mending a drawn-out regional rift while tempering expectations of a breakthrough this week.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was invited to the meeting last week by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, potentially paving the way for major progress toward ending the 30-month feud between the emirate and several of its neighbors.

While Saudi Arabia and Qatar have made strides toward a possible reconciliation, Qatar’s prime minister is expected to represent his country at the meeting in Riyadh, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t official. Things haven’t been finalized and the situation remains fluid, the person said.

On Monday, Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs arrived in the Saudi capital for a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers ahead of the gathering of rulers.

Sheikh Tamim is traveling to Rwanda on Monday to present an international anti-corruption excellence award in his name, according to the official Qatar News Agency.

The Gulf rift began in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar, accusing the gas-rich emirate of building close ties with regional foe, Iran, and funding militant groups. Doha denies the claims and has weathered the embargo, digging into its deep pockets and strengthening alliances with other countries including Turkey.

30-Month Rift

Qatar’s emir rebuffed an invitation to the GCC summit last year, sending a minister instead. But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated in May, Gulf nations started showing an openness to working together. Qatar’s prime minister attended a meeting of Gulf leaders in Mecca that month, after attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz sparked concerns that the region was nearing conflict with Iran. In recent weeks, signals of a rapprochement have multiplied.

Gulf states, spooked by the possibility of a devastating confrontation with Iran and its proxies, are backing away from Donald Trump and his campaign to crush the Iranian economy. A brazen September strike on Saudi oil facilities, which knocked out half of the kingdom’s crude production, drove home the risks and shattered any illusion that Washington would protect its Gulf allies from an Iranian attack. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani recently traveled to Riyadh, and last week said the countries discussed “a future vision regarding ties,” according to Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera.

The diplomacy has also extended to the soccer field, with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain sending teams to participate in the Arabian Gulf Cup, a tournament currently taking place in Doha.

(Updates with Qatari state minister for foreign affairs arriving in Riyadh in third paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Fiona MacDonald in Kuwait at fmacdonald4@bloomberg.net;Samer Khalil Al-Atrush in Cairo at skhalilalatr@bloomberg.net;Simone Foxman in Doha at sfoxman4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Michael Gunn

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