Officials from Saudi Arabia and Qatar did not immediately confirm that there was an agreement between the two countries.
The Gulf countries’ decision in 2017 to cut ties with Qatar, severing diplomatic relations and suspending land, air and sea travel, forced the tiny monarchy into immediate crisis. Trade and commerce that used to flow smoothly around the Gulf fell apart; some families were abruptly left unable to see relatives who lived on the other side of the divide; thousands of people had to leave their homes practically overnight to return to Qatar or the other countries.
Since then, however, Qatar has leaned on its enormous natural gas wealth to become more self-sufficient and build stronger relationships with both Iran and Turkey, another foe of the blockading countries, the United Arab Emirates in particular.
Combined with the pressure from Washington, the path for negotiations grew clearer in recent months, with officials on both sides signaling they were in talks. And analysts said Saudi Arabia may have seen mending the break as a way to begin the kingdom’s relationship with the incoming Biden administration, which has threatened to take a tougher line on Saudi Arabia, on a positive note.
But some analysts say there is little to suggest Qatar will change its behavior when it comes to the practices that most frustrate its neighbors — neither fully reining in the megaphone it uses to spread its message and pester its enemies, the Al Jazeera media network, nor pulling away from Iran and Turkey.
Getting Qatar to modify its relationship with Turkey “may prove wishful thinking,” Hussein Ibish, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, wrote in December. “Given the number of issues likely to remain unresolved, there is significant potential for future discord and perhaps another crisis over Qatari policies sometime in the foreseeable future.”
According to Mr. al-Sabah, the agreement calls for Saudi Arabia to allow Qatar Airways to fly over its airspace, which would carry geopolitical as well as symbolic weight: not only would Qatari planes spend less time flying convoluted routes from Doha to avoid off-limits airspace, but Iran would lose up to $100 million in annual fees Qatar has been paying to fly over Iran instead at a time when Iran’s economy is already suffering under stringent American sanctions.