Tillerson in Saudi Arabia to seek end to Qatar dispute
Posted July 12
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Saudi Arabia Wednesday to continue his efforts to try to resolve a stand-off between Qatar and four Arab nations, who have accused their gas-rich neighbor of supporting terrorism.
He is holding talks in Jeddah with foreign ministers from the four nations leading the boycott of Qatar, namely, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, after meeting first with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The visit comes a day after Tillerson signed a memorandum of understanding between the US and Qatar on fighting terrorism. The top US diplomat said he hoped it might help facilitate progress on the dispute.
However, the four states responded with a joint statement saying the announcement of the memorandum was "not enough," and that sanctions on Qatar would continue until the "just and full demands that will ensure that terrorism is addressed and stability and security are established in the region."
The statement thanked the US for its "efforts" in the "fight against terrorism and its financing," saying the memorandum was the result of "repeated pressures and demands" from the four nations for Qatar "to stop its support for terrorism." Qatar denies that it funds or supports extremist groups.
Asked about the agreement as he greeted Tillerson at the airport, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said: "We have many thoughts and I will discuss them with the Secretary."
At its core, the dispute reflects long-standing Gulf frustration with Qatar's foreign policy, including its support for Islamist groups and its ties to Iran, with which Qatar shares the world's largest gas field.
The regional feud threatens to undermine a central foreign policy goal of the Trump administration, since all the countries involved in the dispute are members of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Qatar is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, from which flights against the terrorist group are coordinated.
READ: Isolated Qatar is defiant. What happens next?
More Turkish troops
The four countries have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, closed their airspace to its airline, banned their citizens from traveling to or residing in Qatar after giving Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their countries after the decision was announced June 5.
Gulf officials have said the restrictions will stay in place until Qatar meets a series of demands, including severing all ties with Iran and "terrorist" groups, shutting down the Qatari media organization Al Jazeera, ending its military cooperation with Turkey and halting the construction of a Turkish military base on its territory, and aligning its foreign, military and political policies with its neighbors. Qatar has rejected those demands.
Additional Turkish troops arrived in Doha on Tuesday, the Qatari Ministry of Defense's moral guidance department said in a statement. This was the fifth group of troops to make it to Doha since June 19, shortly after the four Arab countries enforced their blockade on Qatar, it said.
"The defense cooperation between Ankara and Doha is part of the joint military cooperation vision to support counter terrorism and extremism efforts in the region and preserve security and stability," the ministry said.
Tillerson: 'Friend to the region'
Tillerson said Tuesday he was in the Gulf as a "friend to the region."
Speaking at a joint news conference in Doha with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Thani, the US Secretary of State said he was "hopeful we can make some progress to bring this to a point of resolution."
He added, "I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions and I think very reasonable and we want to talk now (about) how do we take things forward, and that's my purpose in coming."
Work on the memorandum of understanding has been underway for as long as a year, Tillerson said. It lays out a series of steps the two countries will take over the coming months and years "to interrupt, disable terror financing flows and intensify counter terrorism activities globally," he said.
The agreement includes milestones to ensure both countries are accountable to their commitments. "Together, the US and Qatar will do more to track down funding sources, collaborate and share information and do more to keep the region and our homeland safe," Tillerson said.
He also applauded Qatar's emir for being "the first to respond to President Trump's challenge" at a May summit in Saudi Arabia to stop the funding of terrorism.
Qatari officials are pushing back against the boycott led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. The four nations have been joined in their campaign by five others, including Yemen and the government based in eastern Libya.