US en­voy faces tough talks on Qatar row

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son faced an up­hill task in per­suad­ing four Arab states to end a boy­cott of Qatar in talks on Wed­nes­day after the four la­beled a US-Qatar ter­ror­ism fi­nanc­ing ac­cord an in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to their con­cerns.

Any res­o­lu­tion of the dis­pute has to ad­dress all the key con­cerns of Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and Egypt, in­clud­ing Doha’s un­der­min­ing of re­gional sta­bil­ity, a se­nior UAE of­fi­cial said ahead of the talks in Saudi Ara­bia.

The four coun­tries im­posed sanc­tions on Qatar on June 5, ac­cus­ing it of fi­nanc­ing ex­trem­ist groups and al­ly­ing with the Gulf Arab states’ arch-foe Iran, charges Doha de­nies. The four states and Qatar are all US al­lies.

Tiller­son was sched­uled to meet his coun­ter­parts from the four coun­tries in the Red Sea port city of Jed­dah to ad­vance ef­forts to end the worst dis­pute among Gulf Arab states since the for­ma­tion of their Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil re­gional body in 1981.

Shortly after Tiller­son signed a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on Tues­day in Doha on com­bat­ing the fi­nanc­ing of ter­ror­ism, the four coun­tries is­sued a state­ment la­bel­ing it in­ad­e­quate.

They also re­in­stated 13 wide-rang­ing de­mands they had orig­i­nally sub­mit­ted to Qatar but had later said were void.

The 13 in­clude curb­ing ties to Iran, clos­ing Al-Jazeera TV, clos­ing a Turk­ish mil­i­tary base in Qatar and the hand­ing over of all des­ig­nated ter­ror­ists on its ter­ri­tory.

The four states said in a joint state­ment they ap­pre­ci­ated US ef­forts in fight­ing ter­ror­ism.

“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 said.

An­war Gar­gash, UAE min­is­ter of state for for­eign af­fairs, said the dis­pute was rooted in an ab­sence of trust and that any so­lu­tion must ad­dress the four states’ griev­ances.

“Di­plo­macy must ad­dress Qatar’s sup­port for ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism and un­der­min­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity. A tem­po­rary so­lu­tion is not a wise one,” he said.

“We have a unique op­por­tu­nity to change (Qatar’s sup­port for ter­ror­ism). This is not four Gulf states feud­ing.”

The United States wor­ries the cri­sis could im­pact its mil­i­tary and coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions and in­crease the re­gional in­flu­ence of Iran, which has been sup­port­ing Qatar by al­low­ing it to use air and sea links through its ter­ri­tory.

Crit­i­cal stance

Qatar hosts Udeid Air Base, the largest US mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity in the Mid­dle East, from which US-led coali­tion air­craft stage sor­ties against Is­lamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Some Gulf Arab me­dia took a crit­i­cal stance to­ward Tiller­son ahead of his visit to Jed­dah.

“What makes Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing in Jed­dah dif­fi­cult is that Tiller­son has, since the be­gin­ning of the cri­sis, ap­peared to be tak­ing the Qatari side,” a com­men­tary pub­lished in Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat and Arab News news­pa­pers said on Wed­nes­day.

“Tiller­son can­not im­pose rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, but he could re­duce the dis­tance be­tween the par­ties in the diplo­matic rift — all of which are his al­lies — rather than tak­ing the side of one against the other,” said colum­nist Ab­dul­rah­man al-Rashed, the former gen­eral man­ager of the Saudi-owned al-Ara­biya chan­nel.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son meets with Qatari For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, on Tues­day.

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