Tillerson launches personal diplomacy in Persian Gulf dispute – Washington Post
Part of the problem is President Trump himself, who has publicly taken Saudi Arabia’s side in a series of tweets and statements. The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have accused Qatar of financing and supporting terrorist organizations, a charge they hammered home with Trump when Riyadh hosted him for a lavish, three-day visit on his first trip abroad in May.
Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has called for the parties to resolve their differences sooner rather than later. While both agree that Qatar could do more to stem terror financing from within its borders, they believe the same, in varying degrees, of all the gulf countries.
Tillerson has pointedly suggested that the Saudis are using the headline-grabbing terrorism issue as a cover to alter other Qatari policies they have long found displeasing. After consultation with the secretary, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) last month vowed that Congress would not approve arms deals with states in the region, including most of the $110 billion in proposed U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia touted by Trump during his visit there, until the dispute was resolved.
Mattis has gone out of his way to lock arms with Qatar as a security partner. He hosted its defense minister last month in Washington. On Thursday, the Pentagon announced another Mattis call to the minister, Khalid al-Attiya, in which it said the two “affirmed their commitment to continued U.S. cooperation and deepening their strategic partnership.”
After Qatar refused their demands last week, the Saudis and their partners vowed to impose unspecified harsher actions. Arab diplomats have said they could include freezing Qatari bank accounts as well as other sanctions, a major step in a region where economies and finance often span borders. As the situation now stands, there appears to be no way out that does not involve a humiliating stand-down by one side or the other.
“We’ve become increasingly concerned that the dispute is at an impasse at this point,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday as Tillerson began to plan his shuttle diplomacy. “We believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks. It could drag on for months. It could possibly even intensify.”
The terrorism-financing charge that gained Trump’s attention may be the easiest to resolve with increased U.S. monitoring, administration officials said.
But most of the demands Saudi Arabia and its partners have made, and Qatar has rejected, revolve around years-long disputes about the role of political Islam and internal control by the region’s authoritarian governments. They include a demand to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, the Pan-Arab Islamist movement that operates in different guises in different countries.
Administration officials agree that Qatar’s position in hosting Brotherhood officials and supporting them in other countries is troublesome. But they believe a compromise could be worked out, perhaps by Qatar stopping its support for Brotherhood organizations in Egypt and Libya. Similarly, they hope the demand to shut down the Qatar-funded media operation Al Jazeera can be addressed with changes in programming.
Until now, however, Saudi Arabia has said that its demands are “nonnegotiable.”