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GCC crisis: Why is Kuwaiti mediation not working?

GCC crisis: Why is Kuwaiti mediation not working?
From Al Jazeera - August 11, 2017

Kuwait has long played a constructive role in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by bringing opposing parties together. It also enjoys strong relations with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So when Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain cut ties to Qatar in early June, Kuwait was seen as an acceptable mediator that can mend the latest rift within the GCC.

Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah served for 40 years as foreign minister (1963-2003), and then as prime minister before becoming the emir of Kuwaitin 2006. The vast experience he had in these positions and the intensity of his involvement in the issues that affect the region as a whole made him the right man for this hard task.

So when the crisis erupted, both the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar turned to Al-Sabah. But they had very different motivations for doing so.

For Qatar, Kuwait is a trustworthy neighbour that has no vested interest in any kind of internal GCC conflict. Also, Sheikh Al-Sabah is praised in Doha as a wise and experienced statesman. Most importantly, Kuwait - as a small country - knows very well from its own experience with Iraq what it is to face aggression from a big and powerful neighbour. Thus Doha believes that Kuwait can easily understand and help to solve the current situation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies.

On the other hand, the Saudi-led bloc has a very different perspective regarding the nature of the role Kuwait can play in this crisis. Although they also seem to be welcoming Kuwaiti mediation, their motivation for doing so is to lessen the influence of outside actors in the crisis. They seem to be unwilling to solve the crisis which is posing serious challenges for Kuwait.

Blocking mediation efforts

Even though there is a broad regional and international consensus to support the role of Al-Sabah as a mediator in the crisis, Kuwait was unable to be effective and three rounds of mediation did not lead to the desired outcomes yet. US President Donald Trump's toxic influence also played a role in the failure of Kuwait's efforts; however, the most important reason behind it was the Saudi-led bloc's refusal to participate in and show any enthusiasm for a meaningful mediation process.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Saudi-led bloc imposed serious restrictions on the role Kuwait can play in the crisis. By doing so, they wanted to ensure Riyadh's strong influence over small GCC countries and to force Qatar to comply.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis - All the latest updates

At the very beginning of the crisis, on June 5, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, adviser of the Saudi King Salman, visited Kuwait to deliver a message to its Emir. Kuwait's state-run news agency KUNA did not disclose the contents of the message; however, one source with knowledge of the situation told me that "The purpose was to discourage the Emir [of Kuwait's mediation efforts]".

The same source said thatat that time: "The Emir of Qatar was preparing to deliver a strong speech with retaliatory measures in response to the measures taken against his country." But, despite Saudi efforts to discourage mediation, "al-Sabah called [Qatar's Emir] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and urged him for restraint".

The Emir of Kuwait was interested in avoiding a vicious cycle of destructive actions and reactions by both sides. And Qatar's Emir aided his mediatory mission by not delivering the strong speech he had prepared. However, actions of the US President Donald Trump disrupted Qatar and Kuwait's efforts to de-escalate the situation.

On June 6, a tweet by Trump implying that Qatar is "funding a radical ideology" empowered the Saudi-led bloc, and made Kuwait's job much harder. Following the US president's now infamous tweet, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE escalated their attacks against Qatar. UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said: "There is nothing to negotiate with Qatar," thus sabotaging the first round of the Kuwaiti mediation efforts.

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