Qatar emir to skip Saudi-hosted summit with Gulf rivals

Qatar emir to skip Saudi-hosted summit with Gulf rivals

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrives to attend a visit and a dinner at the Orsay Museum on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day. Reuters file photo.

Qatar said its emir will skip a summit on Sunday of Arab Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia, which has spearheaded a boycott of the small but energy-flush neighbour and sparked a major regional diplomatic row.

Riyadh is hosting the annual gathering as crises brew over the 18-month-old dispute with Doha, the war in Yemen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

The regional powerhouse had invited Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to attend the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council talks, but the foreign ministry in Doha said he will not go.

Instead, Qatar will be represented by the minister of state for foreign affairs, Sultan al-Muraikhi, it said.

Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, severed diplomatic ties with Doha in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with their regional rival Iran.

Doha -- which announced this month it was quitting the Saudi-dominated OPEC oil cartel -- denies the allegations, but the dispute has dragged on.

"Qatar has burned all the bridges enabling it to take back" its place within the GCC, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa said in the run-up to the summit.

Kuwait, which along with fellow GCC member Oman has stayed out of the worst political fallout between the energy-rich Gulf powers, has tried unsuccessfully to mediate a solution to the dispute.

The GCC was formed in 1981 at the height of the Iraq-Iran war and two years after the Islamic revolution in Tehran sparked concern in Sunni-led Gulf states, many of which have sizable Shiite populations, including in Bahrain.

GCC secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani has said the 39th summit in Riyadh would review ties with Iran after the US reimposed an oil embargo and other sanctions on Tehran.

The US administration, which pulled out from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers in May, has vowed to reduce Iran's oil sales to zero, despite waivers granted to some major buyers.

Saudi Arabia, along with allies the UAE and Bahrain, accuses Tehran of fomenting unrest among Shiites in the Gulf and has backed the US in piling pressure on Iran.

This contrasts with Kuwait and Oman which prefer normalising ties with the Islamic republic.

No major announcements are expected to come out of Sunday's summit.

The meeting comes as delegations from the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Iran-linked Shiite rebels hold UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.

Yemen's capital has been held since 2014 by Huthi rebels who drove the government out and seized a string of ports.

The Yemeni government, based in the southern port city of Aden, has fought to push back the rebels with support from a military coalition led by Riyadh and the UAE.

The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2015 when the coalition intervened, according to the World Health Organization, though some rights group say the toll could be five times higher.

The UN calls it the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with as many as 20 million Yemenis facing acute food shortages.

This and images of massive devastation after coalition bombing raids on Yemen have sparked outrage among rights groups and prompted global players to demand an end to the conflict.

Pressure has been piling up on Riyadh to ease off its offensive, particularly an assault launched in June on the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, a key lifeline for aid entering Yemen.

The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, under mounting pressure over the murder of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi.

A critic of the crown prince, Khashoggi was killed by a hit squad in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 in what Saudi Arabia described as a rogue operation.

Riyadh has steadfastly denied claims his grisly murder -- he was reportedly dismembered -- was ordered by Prince Mohammed.