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The Qatar boycott: no end in sight

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis have stalled, but there's no indication of imminent escalation

In June last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an economic boycott on Qatar. They accused the Qataris of, among other things, supporting terrorism and working in cahoots with Iran.

Since then, a ruthless war of words in the media has poisoned the atmosphere within the Gulf Cooperation Council. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has recently hosted more dissenting members of the ruling family in Qatar, suggesting that the coalition still wants to see regime change in Doha.

Despite the bad feeling between the two sides in the dispute there have been some inconsistencies. For example, Qatar continues to supply natural gas to the UAE via the sub-sea Dolphin pipeline. Then, this week, Qatar Petroleum said it had renewed a concession agreement with the UAE under which the two states share in the development and operation of their al-Bunduq offshore oilfield.

While that might seem a promising sign, a spokesman for Abu Dhabi's Supreme Petroleum Council pointed out that the agreement represented nothing newit had been in place for four decades. He added that the extension of the accord had involved " no direct communication or engagement between the two states ".

It's hard at present to imagine how the boycott crisis will be resolved. At the same time, according to a recent report from Japanese financial services institution/bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), "a material escalation in sanctions against Qatar is unlikely in the near term". It added that the, "latest evidence supports the narrative that Qatar's economy continues to withstand the impasse with the Saudi-led alliance. However, a swift resolution to the standoff appears increasingly remote".

Nevertheless, the consultancy spots a crumb of hope in the decision of President Donald Trump to meet GCC leaders this month and next. The idea is to prepare for a GCC summit in Washington during the summer. In MUFG's view, "President Trump [is] likely to pressure both sides to moderate their demands and adopt a more constructive stance to achieve a resolution".

But that's still a long way from being able to say that a solution is around the corner. The two sides in the crisis have put down many strong red lines that will be hard to wipe out—or erase from the collective memory of what's already a very bruised and sorry—looking GCC.

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