Top US diplomat wraps up Gulf tour, but impasse grinds on

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani address a press conference in Doha on July 11. (AP)
Updated 13 July 2017

Top US diplomat wraps up Gulf tour, but impasse grinds on

DUBAI: The top US diplomat wrapped up his first foray in shuttle diplomacy on Thursday with little sign of progress in breaking a deadlock between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATI) comprising Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the tiny, US-allied Gulf nation for a second time for a lunch meeting with 37-year-old Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani before heading back to Washington later in the day.
Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart appeared before cameras in the capital, Doha, but ignored reporters’ questions before he left.
“Hope to see you again under better circumstances,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir’s brother, said, seeing Tillerson off at the airport in Doha.
Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO with deep experience in the oil-rich Gulf, has been shuttling between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and mediator Kuwait since Monday trying to repair a rift that is dividing some of America’s most important Middle East allies.
The diplomatic slack now appears likely to be picked up again by the Europeans, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian heading to the region at the weekend.
A French diplomatic source in Paris said that Le Drian would try “to recreate confidence, create an interest of all parties to engage in de-escalation.”
“We must find a way out.”
Le Drian’s visit will follow similar trips made by his counterparts from Germany and Britain in recent weeks.
Officials have downplayed expectations and say any resolution could be months away.
His clearest achievement has been to secure a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Qatar to strengthen its counterterrorism efforts and address shortfalls in policing terrorism funding.
That deal goes to the core of the ATQ’s complaints against the natural gas-rich state: That it provides support for extremist groups.
The ATQ argued the pressure and demands it placed on Qatar helped lead to the counterterrorism pact, but it said the agreement does not go far enough to end the dispute.
It is holding fast to its insistence that Qatar bow to a 13-point list of demands that includes shutting down Qatar’s flagship Al Jazeera network and other news outlets, cutting ties with radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, limiting Qatar’s ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the Gulf country.
“No wavering on the 13 demands” the headline of the Abu Dhabi government-linked Al-Ittihad newspaper read on Thursday, referring to the list.
Qatar has rejected the demands, saying that agreeing to them wholesale would undermine its sovereignty.
It is intent on waiting out the crisis despite its neighbors’ attempts to isolate it.
Shipping companies have set up alternate routes to get supplies in without going through the blockading countries, and flag carrier Qatar Airways continues to operate its 200-strong fleet by detouring over friendlier airspace.
The government has said it is covering a tenfold increase in shipping costs for essentials. Ally Turkey and nearby Iran have also boosted exports to Qatar, and the country has even taken to importing cows to meet a dairy shortfall caused by the closure of its only land border with Saudi Arabia.
Still, the rift is causing hardship for some.
“For public consumption at least, the US State Department is trying to send out a signal that it has worked hard with its three allies — Saudi, UAE, Qatar — to try to find a mutually agreeable solution,” Christopher Davidson, an expert on Middle East politics at Britain’s Durham University, told AFP.
“Britain and now France are also trying to do much the same. Underneath the surface however... the US — including Tillerson — likely sees significant strategic and lucrative benefits to any long-running stand-off between these states.”


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