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Qatar emir receives GCC summit invitation from Saudi king, in sign of waning blockade

Qatar has yet to confirm whether Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will attend [NurPhoto]

Date of publication: 5 December, 2018

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Qatar's official news agency has confirmed that a written invitation from King Salman has been sent to Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to attend a GCC conference in Riyadh.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has received a written invitation from Saudi Arabia's King Salman to attend the annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit being held in Riyadh on 9 December, the Qatar News Agency said on Tuesday.

Qatar has yet to confirm what level of representation it will be sending to the six-nation GCC summit.

The invitation comes amid signs that a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar is waning, with Doha having been able to weather sanctions enforced by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain since June 2017.

The Saudi-led bloc accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with Iran - charges that Doha has strongly denied.

At last year’s GCC summit - held in Kuwait, but planned for Qatar - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain sent ministers or deputy prime ministers, rather than heads of state.

The invite from the Saudi king comes a day after Qatar abruptly announced it was quitting OPEC after 57 years to focus on gas in an apparent swipe at the oil-producing bloc's de facto leader Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has come under immense pressure from global powers over its conduct since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

After initially denying that the journalist had gone missing in early October, Saudi Arabia later conceded that he had been murdered in a "rogue" operation. Turkish and American intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the order.

The Khashoggi affair has threatened to derail several of Saudi Arabia's key relationships, including with the United States, which is also a close ally of Qatar. Observers have suggested that Riyadh has had to reassess its foreign policy positions - including the blockade of Qatar - in the aftermath of Khashoggi's murder.

At a key Saudi investment forum in October that was widely boycotted over the Khashoggi murder, Prince Mohammed made a rare conciliatory remark about Qatar's economy, suggesting the beginning of a new approach towards Doha.

"Qatar, despite the differences we have, has a great economy and they will be doing a lot in the next five years," the prince said.

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