Saudis and allies to likely ratchet up pressure on Qatar as US mediation fails
London- Saudi Arabia and its allies were expected to continue their isolation of and could increase pressure on Qatar after efforts by the United States to defuse the tensions apparently faltered.
A week of shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which he visited Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, showed no significant results.
The Saudi-led bloc’s stance received a strong boost in the wake of Tillerson’s departure from the region as US President Donald Trump, in Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) interview,
reiterated his accusation of Qatar having a history of financing terrorism. In a phone call with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on July 14, he seemed to be expressing support for Saudi Arabia in the crisis. The “president emphasised the need to cut all funding for terrorism and discredit extremist ideology,” the White House said in a statement.
On July 12, a day after meeting with Qatari officials in Doha, Tillerson was in Jeddah with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. Gulf officials said Tillerson was taken aback by the countries’ refusal to make concessions to Qatar. The sources said that, despite the Gulf states welcoming Trump to the US presidency and working to deepen bilateral cooperation, they were looking for partners, not masters.
Saudi media, which usually convey the government’s official stance on issues, accused Tillerson of bias towards Doha.
“When the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with angry ministers of the quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — he will find himself facing governments that have already made a decision,” wrote former Al Arabiya TV General Manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed for the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“What makes [the July 12] meeting in Jeddah difficult is that Tillerson has, since the beginning of the crisis, appeared to be taking the Qatari side,” Rashed wrote, encouraging the US secretary of state to “save Qatar from itself.”
Al-Hayat, another Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily, quoted the Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Zuhair al-Harthi as saying the United States “was among the first countries to point out Qatar’s involvement in supporting terrorism.”
Regarding the recently agreed-to US-Qatari accord to clamp down on terror funding, Harthi said: “This agreement provides evidence of Qatar’s involvement in supporting and funding terrorism. The United States might think that Qatar needs to make a firm commitment to stop this support, so they forced them through this agreement announced in Doha.”
The agreement to curb terror financing is a new initiative, Tillerson said, that “represents weeks of intensive discussions between experts and reinvigorates the spirit of the Riyadh summit.” However, a statement by the four countries involved in the dispute with Qatar said the memorandum of understanding did not go far enough.
“The four nations value the efforts being made by the United States to counter terrorism and dry up sources of terror finance as well as honour the full-fledged robust partnership demonstrated in the Islamic-US summit, which formed a decisive international position against extremism and terrorism, regardless of their sources and origin,” the statement by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt said.
“While the four nations believe that the Memorandum of Understanding between the [United States] and the Qatari authorities is a result of repeated pressures and demands over the past years to stop supporting terrorism, they affirm that such a step is not enough, and they will closely monitor the seriousness of Qatar in combating all forms of funding, supporting and fostering of terrorism,” the statement added.
A further indicator that Tillerson’s trip failed to generate a breakthrough involved comments by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, who stated on social media that the dispute with Qatar appears to be a lengthy one, with no quick solutions.
“We are headed for a long estrangement… we are very far from a political solution involving a change in Qatar’s course and in light of that nothing will change and we have to look for a different format of relations,” Gargash said on Twitter.
While saying Tillerson’s mediation attempt cannot be described as a failure, Qatar’s foreign minister admitted that the crisis “cannot be solved in a day.”
The crisis broke out June 5 with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severing diplomatic and transport ties with Doha over its alleged links to extremist groups and Iran. A list of 13 demands by the four countries for Doha to meet to resolve the crisis is still on the table. Gulf officials, however, said further sanctions were possible.