The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will reopen its borders to Qatar from Saturday, its official news agency said, making it the first of several boycotting countries to do so after a blockade lasting more than three years. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in June 2017 cut air, land and sea links with Qatar over claims the gas-rich nation backed radical groups and was too close to Iran – charges Doha denied.
The quartet agreed to lift the restrictions at a summit Tuesday in the Saudi desert city of Al-Ula, after a flurry of diplomatic activity by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
The UAE "will work to reopen all land, sea and air borders to incoming and outgoing" traffic from Qatar, said Khalid Abdullah Belhoul, under-secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation, quoted by the official WAM news agency.
The measures would take effect on Saturday, according to the statement. The UAE had said Thursday that Gulf states would restore travel, trade and transport links with Qatar within a week. Its minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said that although rebuilding confidence and addressing difficult geopolitical issues were longer-term tasks, there was a push to quickly restore physical links.
"The practical measures will be within a week ... including travel, transportation, trade et cetera," he told a media briefing, also flagging the prompt reopening of diplomatic missions. Qatar lacks direct land borders with the UAE, and overland traffic from the country must pass through Saudi Arabia.
On Monday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al Sabah announced on state TV that a deal had been agreed to "open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar" but the move has yet to be implemented.
Abu Dhabi, the staunchest critic of Qatar and its leadership throughout the crisis, was seen as a reluctant party to the rapprochement. But Gargash said the UAE endorsed the process, even if the thornier issues including Qatar's relationship with Iran and Turkey's presence in the Gulf may take time to work through.
Neither Qatar Airways nor UAE carriers Etihad Airways and Emirates have announced the resumption of flights.