Tillerson Headed to Qatar as Efforts to Resolve Rift IntensifyBy
Alliance vows to keep anti-Qatar measures until demands met
U.S. secretary of state adds one more Qatar stop to travels
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was set to visit Doha on Thursday for the second time this week as he seeks to broker a solution to the worst political crisis among Gulf Arab monarchies.
The top U.S. diplomat is expected to hold talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He spent much of Wednesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, speeding back and forth between the royal court for visits with the king and the crown prince and an airport terminal reserved for visiting dignitaries. While there, he met with the key players opposed to Qatar: the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, plus a Kuwaiti mediator. He’s expected to return to Washington later on Thursday.
Tillerson’s movements Wednesday didn’t yield immediate, tangible results, only a curious scene just before the secretary of state departed for an overnight stay in Kuwait: He and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stood alone in the airport terminal’s cavernous lounge in deep discussion, then sat down in chairs to make calls and tap on their phones. Both declined to answer if they’d made any progress, but after Tillerson returned to Kuwait City, where he’s been staying all week, spokesman R.C. Hammond announced that they would make the additional stop in Qatar Thursday.
That decision suggested Tillerson was bringing a fresh proposal to Qatari leaders to help resolve the crisis, which began after the four nations severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5. The bloc accuses the Gulf nation of destabilizing the region by supporting proxies of Shiite-dominant Iran and Sunni extremists, charges it denies.
The Gulf crisis has put the U.S. in a difficult spot. It’s allied with nations on both sides of the dispute. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the Pentagon depends on to target Islamic State. Saudi Arabia has strong counterterrorism ties with the U.S. and is a top customer for American weapons makers.
On July 11, Tillerson signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar laying out steps the two countries will take over coming months and years to interrupt and disable terrorist financing flows. Before Tillerson’s arrival in Jeddah, the Saudi-led bloc said that pact “isn’t enough” to clear up the crisis.
The alliance said Tuesday’s agreement between the U.S. and Qatar came about thanks to years of pressure from the bloc, according to a joint statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. They also vowed to maintain the recent measures against Qatar until their demands -- which includes shutting down the Al Jazeera television network -- are met in full.
Still, the pact with Qatar ought to change the nature of those discussions, according to Allison Wood, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Control Risks in Dubai. “It forces the Saudis to be more explicit about their other grievances against Qatar and how they can constructively address them,” Wood said.
The memorandum of understanding and Tillerson’s diplomacy reflected how the U.S. is now deeply entrenched in mediation, though the State Department has repeatedly said Kuwait, not Tillerson, is mediating.
While in Jeddah, Tillerson met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and the kingdom’s crown prince, who sounded upbeat about a solution. The crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said through a translator that the Saudis are “full of trust that the two leaderships in both countries will be able to overcome all of these challenges.”
The spat is hurting the economy of Qatar, whose currency, like most other Gulf nations, is pegged to the U.S. dollar. The longer the dispute goes on, the higher the likelihood Qatar will abandon the peg, according to Commerzbank AG.
“The central bank has to constantly intervene against the depreciation pressure and therefore constantly loses foreign currency reserves,” analyst Lutz Karpowitz said in an emailed note. What’s more, “the economic difficulties of the small country are likely to increase over time,” Karpowitz said.
— With assistance by Zainab Fattah