Doha (AFP) - Qatar's prime minister will attend talks in Saudi Arabia over soaring regional tensions, the foreign ministry said Wednesday, one of the first high-level contacts following a two-year Riyadh-led boycott of Doha.
Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates and their allies have enforced a boycott of Qatar including bans on shipping, trade, direct flights, overflight and land crossings.
The alliance, which also includes Bahrain and Egypt, accuses Doha of supporting Islamist movements and backing Iran -- claims Qatar rejects.
The Qatari "leadership decided to (send)... the Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani to the three summits in Mecca," foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah al-Khater said, referring to the gatherings of Gulf, Arab and Islamic leaders.
They are expected to address mounting hostility between Iran and the United States and its regional allies, as well as recent violent incidents in the region.
Several tankers in Gulf waters were targeted under mysterious circumstances in recent weeks, and a Saudi crude pipeline was hit by drone strikes coordinated by Yemen's Huthi rebels -- who Riyadh said were acting on Iranian orders.
"Qatar, which has never failed to participate actively and positively on Arab, Islamic and international matters, once again considers the greater good of the region," the spokeswoman said.
The United States, which had tried without success to broker reconciliation among its Gulf allies, welcomed the announcement.
"Gulf unity is essential to confronting Iran's malign influence, it's essential to countering terrorism and, of course, in securing a prosperous future," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.
Al Jazeera, a Doha-based and state-funded news network, reported that meetings between the prime minister "and top officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other countries" will start on Thursday.
However Qatar's ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was "unlikely to attend the three-day meeting", Al Jazeera added.
- 'Saudis feel somewhat threatened' -
Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at King's College London, said dialogue between Doha and Riyadh emerged after the invitation to the talks "was received -- and it was very well received".
"(There were) very kind words directly from the king which is an outreach we haven't seen over the past two years of the crisis.
"What the Qataris read between the lines is that the Saudis feel somewhat threatened by what's going on in the region -- by the Huthis, by Iranian activities."
US National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday that Iran was almost certainly behind the oil tanker attacks that sent Gulf tensions soaring. Riyadh's regional rival Tehran dismissed the accusation as "laughable".
It follows a US military buildup that includes the deployment of an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and 1,500 more troops to the region.
Krieg added that the Saudis were looking for a broad consensus "across the region" on how best to tackle the Iranian issue.
"But the Qataris are in a pickle because the Saudis haven't made any concessions -- sending the emir wouldn't be possible. Nonetheless the effective head of the government is a very senior minister to send, it shows the Qataris are willing to make a contribution".