The announcement that Donald Trump’s scheduled summit to discuss the boycott of Qatar with Gulf leaders next month has been postponed suggests that the various parties are sinking deeper into their own trenches, especially given the conflicting statements that are emerging. It seems that the Trump administration is not ready to put real pressure on the conflicting parties in order to reach a solution. However, in order to better understand the postponement and the prospects for the summit’s success — if and when it happens — we can analyse the situation of each party individually.
In Qatar’s case, any concession offered today would be made for no clear reason, especially since it has overcome the bottleneck politically, militarily and economically. Furthermore, resolving the crisis, although necessary on a moral and political level, will not eliminate its causes. This means that regardless of any price paid by Qatar for a resolution will not contribute to normalising relations with its neighbours, especially since the officials in those countries cannot back down from the ceiling they have set for themselves in their hostility towards the small state, at least not in the general media. Hence, the government in Doha can only accept US pressure that forces the blockading countries to make a big concession in the face of Qatar’s concessions, as was the case in the 2014 Riyadh Agreement.
As for Saudi Arabia, the situation is more complicated, due to the fact that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who is seeking to secure his place on the throne, cannot accept a defeat or retreat, neither in the conflict with Qatar nor in the war in Yemen; nor, indeed, in any of the other thorny issues on which he has taken firm public positions. He thus needs a great moral victory. Furthermore, given the complexity of the Saudi government’s relationship with Washington — due to the political blackmail exercised by the US President — Bin Salman is in an awkward situation, as he is facing an economic crisis as his country’s resources are exhausted in Yemen. At the same time, he does not feel real pressure from the US to change his position on Qatar, and so Saudi Arabia is relying on the UAE’s inflexible approach, thus allowing it to be more flexible with the US — according to a source in the US State Department — and sparing Riyadh any embarrassment.
In the UAE’s case, the options have become limited. Although it had a moral victory represented by the dismissal of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the weakening of US Special Envoy and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Abu Dhabi’s emergence as a party in the Russia investigation being conducted by Robert Mueller, seem to have caused a less sympathetic attitude towards the UAE within the Trump administration. For the first time since Trump took office, we have heard statements to the New York Times, albeit from a source in the White House, criticising Abu Dhabi for being uncompromising about the Qatar crisis. Moreover, the postponement of the Emirati Crown Prince’s visit to Washington at the request of the UAE government, and the failure to schedule an alternative date signifies that the honeymoon period between Mohammed Bin Zayed and Trump is over. Instead of this resulting in a less severe position being taken by the UAE, it seems that it has decided to raise the bar, increase its inflexibility and continue to work through the back door in order to influence Washington. Hence, the idea of holding a reconciliation summit would be rejected in principle.
In Washington itself, perhaps the most prominent issue we see is a lack of preparation. First of all, there is no clear strategy for the Gulf in general other than the president focusing on the fact that these countries have money and that some of that money must be spent on purchasing weapons, preferably from America and thus providing jobs in the US. This exploitation may benefit Washington during this crisis, in the context of a carrot and stick policy, but its benefits will wear off after the Gulf States are certain that the most that they will get from Washington is a neutral position, something that the latter does not seem able to change at the moment. In addition, the team concerned with foreign policy is not complete within the US administration, which apparently has a revolving door. The strategy of inaction will be like a giant billboard for America’s allies and enemies alike, telling them that paying off Washington is enough to stop it from taking international action.
In general, therefore, it does not seem that the environment is conducive to a comprehensive Gulf dialogue under US auspices, as the facts on the ground say that the most likely scenario is the continuation of the status quo. There is no party that is suffering serious losses in this crisis that would push it to do something that would make a real change. Perhaps the biggest problem in this crisis is that the actual cost to the governments involved is low, or at least something that they can all afford. Will we see a solution soon? It’s unlikely.