The neutral zone was originally devised because the boundary between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, demarcated by the Anglo–Turkish Convention of 1913, was not ratified due to the outbreak of World War I. When the British government recognized the sovereignty of Ibn Saʿud in 1915, a compromise was reached on the disputed boundary that involved the establishment of a 2,000-square-mile (5,180 sq. km) neutral zone. This was incorporated in the Uqayr Conference in 1922, which set up a similar neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq that abuts the Kuwaiti-Saudi neutral zone. The convention allowed the parties to explore, on an equal basis, the natural resources (presumably petroleum—oil and gas) of the neutral zone but did not address the question of sovereignty ("sharing equal economic rights" in the neutral zone does not necessarily mean that the two parties are co-sovereign in the zone). In fact, each of the two countries administers its part of the zone as if it were a part of its state, but both states share in the oil exploration in the zone. For years political sovereignty was not an issue, because the zone remained isolated and uninhabited. With the expansion of oil and gas exploration, both on-shore and offshore, divergent claims propelled the neutral zone to the forefront of regional politics.
Accepted practice has been that either Kuwait or Saudi Arabia could grant separate oil concessions to foreign companies for exploration in the neutral zone without prior approval from the other. Neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia can sign any binding agreement, however, regarding the entire zone without the other's approval. In July 1965, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia agreed to partition the neutral zone equally, with each state annexing its own part of the zone; however, the two states retained a shared sovereignty arrangement regarding the exploitation of natural resources. The status of the neutral zone did not change after the 1990 Gulf Crisis.
see also gulf crisis (1990–1991).
Baharna, Husain al-. The Arabian Gulf States: Their Legal and Political Status and Their International Problems, 2nd revised edition. Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1975.
emile a. nakhleh