Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council take a group photograph on Tuesday before a summit in the northwestern Saudi city of al-Ula. [SAUDI ROYAL PALACE/AGENCE France-PRESSE]

AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia-Gulf Arab leaders signed a declaration on Tuesday to ease a rift with Qatar following Saudi Arabia’s decision to end an embargo of the energy-rich neighbor that deeply divided regional US security allies and frayed ties across the Arabian Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia also said it was restoring full diplomatic relations with Qatar, although it was not clear how soon the step would be followed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which had joined the kingdom in isolating the country over its regional policies.

The quartet severed ties with Qatar in early June 2017, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs, charges Qatar has always denied.

On Monday, the eve of the Gulf Arab leaders’ summit in the ancient desert city of Al-Ula, the Saudis announced they would open the kingdom’s airspace and borders to Qatar, the first major step toward ending the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017, when the United States was starting to raise pressure on Iran.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday welcomed the declaration on “solidarity and stability” announced at the summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC.

The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told reporters after the summit that diplomatic relations would be restored in full with Qatar, although no time frame was given.

‘Everybody is satisfied’

“We are extremely pleased with having been able to achieve this very important breakthrough that we believe will contribute very much to the stability and security of all our nations in the region,” Prince Faisal said.

“We are at a place where everybody is satisfied and happy … the return of diplomatic relations, flights, etc, all of that will now go back to normal.”

The diplomatic breakthrough followed a final push by the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump and Kuwait to mediate the dispute.

It also came as Saudi Arabia seeks to unify Arab ranks ahead of the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden, which is expected to take a firmer stand toward the kingdom and reengage with Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif congratulated Qatar “for the success of its brave resistance to pressure extortion”.

He also said in a message to other Arab leaders that “Iran is neither an enemy nor threat-especially with your reckless patron on his way out”, referring to Trump.

This year’s GCC summit is the first since Washington brokered normalization deals between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in rapid succession, marking a major shift in regional alliances.

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who spearheaded those deals, was at the summit for the signing of the Gulf declaration.

“The Trump administration will claim this as another victory for sure,” said Royal United Services Institute analyst Tobias Borck.

Agencies – Xinhua