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Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to help end Gulf crisis, sources say

In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and launched a blockade against their former ally.
Image: Jared Kushner with Qatar's ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
Jared Kushner meets Qatar's ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha on Wednesday.AFP - Getty Images

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are expected to reach an agreement within days that will help ease a standoff that has embroiled the Gulf region since 2017, three people briefed on the discussions told NBC News on Friday.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut off all diplomatic ties to Qatar three years ago and began a blockade against their former ally, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the claims.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud welcomed "progress" in the Qatar talks and said a "final agreement" appeared to be within reach, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said there were "some movements" that Qatar hopes will put an end to the crisis.

"We see and we believe actually that Gulf unity is very important for the security of the region, for the stability of that region and for the sake of our people this needless crisis needs to end," he told an online conference.

Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump's son-in-law, was in Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week to “resolve the rift,” according to a senior administration official, as the White House seeks to notch a final diplomatic win in the Middle East before Trump leaves office.

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The preliminary deal would hinge on Saudi Arabia allowing Qataris to resume flights through Saudi airspace, according to two of the people briefed who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. In exchange, the Qataris would drop pending international lawsuits against Saudi Arabia, according to one source.

The U.S. has long been behind a diplomatic effort to renew relations between the Arab states, but the push to resolve the airspace issue first began in earnest in February, according to one source.

Discussions between the Gulf kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which has one of the world's highest per capita GDP in the world, had temporarily resumed last year before breaking off again, but they have now been back in contact for a number of months.

The source said that the White House became fixated on solving the rift between Doha and its neighbors this summer following the success of the Abraham Accords, which laid the groundwork for the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.

The four countries severed ties with Qatar in June 2017 and cut air, sea and land routes to the tiny kingdom, accusing it of supporting extremist groups, a charge it denies, and of maintaining close relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archrival.

The four Arab countries issued a list of 13 wide-ranging demands for Qatar to be brought back into the fold, including shutting down the prominent Qatari news outlet Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations. Other demands included cutting ties with Islamist groups — particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the break in relations, Qatar’s ties with Iran have grown closer. In August 2017, Doha restored full diplomatic relations with Tehran, deepening the feud with the other countries.

Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Egypt, UAE and Bahrain still remain at odds with Qatar and it was unclear whether they would follow Saudi Arabia’s lead and begin to thaw relations with the energy-rich nation.

The Qatari foreign minister said Friday that mediation by Kuwait was carried out between Doha and the four Arab countries and that any resolution should be “holistic.”

“Qatar is not distinguishing between any country and the other,” Sheikh Mohammed said.