Saudi Arabia’s MBS kicks off Gulf regional tour

Mohammed bin Salman will visit Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait before annual GCC summit this month.

Prince Mohammed will arrive in Qatar on Wednesday [Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court via Reuters]

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) embarked on a tour of Gulf Arab states ahead of an annual Gulf summit this month that comes amid crucial talks aimed at salvaging a nuclear pact between Iran and the West.

Prince Mohammed will visit Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported. Oman will be the first stop of the tour on Monday.

Qatar’s Amiri Diwan, the administrative office of the emir, said the Saudi royal will be arriving in Qatar on Wednesday, his first trip to the country since Riyadh and its allies imposed a blockade on Doha in mid-2017 which lasted until January this year.

A Gulf official with knowledge of the visit confirmed Prince Mohammed’s trip to Doha to Al Jazeera.

MBS’ visit coincides with a flurry of other diplomatic meetings in the region, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to ally Qatar, and a visit by a high-ranking security official from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Iran.

Erdogan, whose country rushed to support Qatar during the standoff that ended earlier this year with other Arab states, said Turkey welcomes reconciliation efforts in the Gulf region. Turkey has been trying to repair frayed relations with some Arab states, including with a visit by Erdogan to the UAE in February.

Regional summit

MBS’ tour will also take him to the UAE where a rivalry has heated up for business amid diverging foreign policies between the traditional allies, said diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss tour details.

The diplomats said the tour aims to eliminate geopolitical differences.

Saudi diplomatic sources told German news agency dpa the tour focuses on strengthening cooperation and coordination among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The tour, the sources said, will also discuss regional issues such as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the political developments in Iraq in light of the recent parliamentary elections results, the situation in Syria and Libya, and the developments of the Palestinian cause.

Al Arabiya said the summit of Gulf Arab leaders would be held in the Saudi capital Riyadh in mid-December.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have engaged with longtime foe Iran in a bid to contain regional tensions as indirect talks between Washington and Tehran to revive the nuclear pact drag.

In the latest round of talks in Vienna last week, Western powers questioned Iran’s determination to salvage the 2015 agreement, which Gulf states saw as flawed for not addressing Tehran’s missile programme and network of proxy forces in parts of the Middle East.

Then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions, prompting Iran to begin moving away from commitments made in the agreement starting in 2019. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.

While relations among the GCC are underpinned by cultural, religious and tribal ties, they have widely different foreign policy stances on Iran. Oman, Kuwait and Qatar have all maintained relations with Iran, while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have seen tensions spike and actively work to curtail Iran’s reach in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies