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Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

Background: In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and other Sunni states severed ties with Qatar and closed their airspace and sea routes to Qatari planes and vessels. They claimed their decision was based on Qatar's support for terror groups and relations with Iran.

Driving the news: Jared Kushner, White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and special adviser Brian Hook travelled earlier this week to Saudi Arabia and Qatar to try and hammer out a deal. Those talks yielded significant progress, the sources say.

  • The White House and the State Department have been working with the Kuwaiti government to try and solve the remaining disputes between the Saudis and the Qataris.
  • Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah issued a statement today hinting a deal is near. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar welcomed the statement.

What they're saying: The foreign minister of Kuwait said the talks were constructive and all parties were committed to working towards solidarity and stability in the Gulf with the aim of finalizing an agreement. al-Sabah thanked Kushner for his efforts.

  • Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the sides had taken “an imperative step towards resolving the Gulf crisis." He added, "The interest and security of the people of the Gulf and the region remain our top priority."
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said he was "optimistic a deal is within reach."

Between the lines: The Trump administration has been pushing the Saudis in recent months both to normalize relations with Israel and to make a deal with Qatar.

  • A former U.S. official, who is in touch with both Saudis and Qataris, told me the Saudis thought that it would be more manageable domestically — and more beneficial regionally — to end the crisis with Qatar.
  • Moreover, the progress in the talks comes as Saudi Arabia is preparing for the Biden administration to assume office. Relations are likely to be tense, and the Saudis want to enter with as clean a slate as possible.

What’s next: Talks will continue in the coming days to anchor down the agreement and get buy-in from the other Gulf states and other countries in the region, the sources say.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Netanyahu doesn't want a fight with Biden over Iran — yet

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Biden intends to try to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The two are on a collision course, and memories are fresh of the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations when Netanyahu was publicly campaigning against Barack Obama's attempts to reach a deal — including in a speech to Congress.

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Scoop: Sudan wants to seal Israel normalization deal at White House

Burhan. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty

Three months after Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel, it still hasn't signed an agreement to formally do so. Israeli officials tell me one reason has now emerged: Sudan wants to sign the deal at the White House.

Driving the news: Israel sent Sudan a draft agreement for establishing diplomatic relations several weeks ago, but the Sudanese didn’t reply, the officials say. On Tuesday, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Eli Cohen raised that issue in Khartoum during the first-ever visit of an Israeli minister to Sudan.

2 hours ago - Health

Biden gets COVID-19 booster shot on live television

President Biden received a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine booster shot on live television on Monday, while also urging Americans to get vaccinated.

Driving the news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended Pfizer booster shots for millions of people, including those 65 years and older and individuals at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

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