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Qatar emir skips summit but warm words point to thaw with S. Arabia

By AFP - Dec 10,2019 - Last updated at Dec 10,2019

This handout photo provided by the Saudi Royal Palace shows from left to right: Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah and Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and Qatar's Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani attending the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council summit held at the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday (AFP photo)

RIYADH — Qatar's emir on Tuesday skipped a Gulf summit billed as a potential "reconciliation conference", but leaders' calls for integration provided more signs of a thaw between Doha and regional power Saudi Arabia.

In a sign of the changing mood, the Doha delegation received a warm welcome in Riyadh, with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the Qatari prime minister exchanging smiles and pleasantries.

"The people of Qatar, welcome, to your second country," said the commentator on Saudi state television, in a friendly greeting.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017, translating into a blockade.

The four nations accused Doha of backing radical Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeking closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran — allegations Qatar vehemently denies.

The emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, sent Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani in his place to the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In his speech, King Salman did not address the Qatar dispute directly but called for Gulf unity in the face of threats including "aggressive acts" by Iran.

GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al Zayani also called on Gulf nations to remain "integrated and intertwined", stressing the need for "cohesion".

Hopes for reconciliation have been raised by indications of a detente between Qatar and its former allies, despite Doha's refusal to meet 13 key demands made by the Riyadh-led bloc, including shutting down Al Jazeera, downgrading ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base on its territory.

Following Saudi King Salman's invitation to the emir, Qatar's foreign minister said there had been "some progress" in talks with Riyadh.

In a U-turn last month, three of the boycotting countries sent teams to a regional football tournament hosted by Qatar, leading to speculation of an imminent diplomatic breakthrough.

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