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Qatar PM arrives in Saudi Arabia for Mecca summits on first visit since blockade

Delegates in Mecca are expected to discuss rising tensions over Iran [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 May, 2019

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Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani is the highest-ranking Qatari official to visit Saudi Arabia since the kingdom led a regional blockade on Doha.
Qatar's prime minister on Thursday arrived in Saudi Arabia for the first time since Riyadh imposed an ongoing blockade on the Gulf nation two years ago, state media said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani joins leaders from across the Arab and Muslim worlds attending three emergency summits in Mecca at the behest of Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to tackle Iranian "interference" across the region after a series of high-profile sabotage attempts allegedly directed by Iran.

"Prime Minister and Minister of Interior [bin Nasser al-Thani] arrived in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Qatar News Agency said in a tweet on Thursday, adding that he had been received upon arrival by Saudi officials.

The prime minister is the highest ranking official to visit the kingdom since June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed a punishing air, land and sea blockade on Qatar, accusing the small Gulf state of "supporting" terrorism in the region.

The talks are expected to address rising tensions in the region over Iranian influence.

"Qatar, which has never failed to participate actively and positively on Arab, Islamic and international matters, once again considers the greater good of the region," Qatari government spokeswoman Lolwah al-Khater said, according to AFP.

The announcement of the visit on Wednesday came just days after a plane from the Qatari Emiri fleet landed in Jeddah, marking another first as Qatar nears the second anniversary of the blockade on 5 June.

Qatar on Sunday said it had been invited by Saudi Arabia to attend the three emergency summits.

Read more: Mecca emergency meetings: Without embracing real dialogue, Saudi Arabia will only get 'verbal solidarity'

The prime minister will chair the Qatari delegation to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League emergency summits, in addition to the 14th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Among other leaders arriving in the kingdom on Thursday were Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, and the head of Sudan's governing military council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, according to Saudi state media.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI, however, has snubbed the summit.

Riyadh called for the talks last week after a spate of attacks both Saudi Arabia and the US have linked to Iran.

In recent weeks, tensions have soared as the US beefed up its military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to a still-unexplained threat from Iran.

The US has accused Iran of being behind a string of incidents, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers near the UAE coast and a rocket that landed near the US Embassy in Baghdad, while the Houthis, an Iran-linked Yemeni rebel group, have launched a string of drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia.               

Iran has rejected those accusations, with foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi calling them "laughable claims".

"Tehran's support for Houthi rebels in Yemen is proof of Iranian interference in other nations' affairs and this is something that... Islamic countries should reject," Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf told foreign ministers from the OIC on Wednesday evening.

He added that the attacks on oil pipelines and tankers should be addressed with "firmness and determination".

Iran was among the countries present at the OIC gathering on Wednesday night, with a delegation headed by Reza Najafi, the director general for international peace and security affairs in Iran's foreign ministry.

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