Tiller­son ar­rives in Kuwait in bid to defuse Gulf cri­sis

Top US diplo­mat meets Amir Ter­ror fi­nance mon­i­tor­ing mulled

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

KUWAIT: US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son ar­rived yes­ter­day in Kuwait, the key me­di­a­tor be­tween Qatar and its Arab neigh­bors, for talks aimed at de­fus­ing the Gulf’s worst cri­sis in years. He im­me­di­ately held talks with HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ah­mad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who is lead­ing the me­di­a­tion ef­fort be­tween the Gulf states. Tiller­son will shut­tle be­tween Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia un­til Thurs­day in what is the first se­ri­ous in­ter­ven­tion by Wash­ing­ton in the Gulf cri­sis. In Doha, a Western diplo­mat said cre­ation of a “ter­ror fi­nance mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism” would fea­ture in the talks, but de­clined to elab­o­rate.

Tiller­son was due to dis­cuss the cri­sis later with Kuwait’s act­ing Prime Min­is­ter and For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah. UK Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Mark Sid­well, who was also re­ceived by the Amir, was sched­uled to at­tend part of the meet­ing be­tween Tiller­son and the Kuwaiti for­eign min­is­ter. The dis­pute has seen a Saudi-led al­liance im­pose sanc­tions on Doha over its al­leged ties to both Is­lamist ex­trem­ist groups and Iran.

As they met in Egypt last week, Saudi Ara­bia and its al­lies said they planned to tighten sanc­tions against the gas-rich emi­rate, af­ter Qatar re­fused to com­ply with a list of de­mands. A spokesman for Tiller­son said ahead of his land­ing in Kuwait that it re­mained to be seen “if there’s even a pos­si­bil­ity of some out­comes” to­wards re­solv­ing the cri­sis. “Right now, af­ter Egypt, we’re months away from what we think would be an ac­tual res­o­lu­tion and that’s very dis­cour­ag­ing,” RC Ham­mond told re­porters.

On June 5, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly sev­ered diplo­matic ties with Qatar, sus­pend­ing trans­port links with Doha and or­der­ing all Qataris to repa­tri­ate within 14 days. The four na­tions later is­sued a list of 13 de­mands to be met to lift the sanc­tions, in­clud­ing that Qatar shut down broad­caster Al­Jazeera, close a Turk­ish mil­i­tary base and down­grade diplo­matic ties with Iran. Qatar re­fused to meet the de­mands last week on the grounds they un­der­mined its na­tional sovereignty. It has also cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied hav­ing any ties to ex­trem­ist groups.

“We will work with Kuwait and see if we can hash out a dif­fer­ent strat­egy,” Ham­mond said, adding that the de­mands weren’t vi­able, at least as a pack­age. “In­di­vid­u­ally there are things in there that could work.” Ham­mond would not elab­o­rate on which de­mands Qatar could meet, but said con­ces­sions from the oth­ers would be re­quired. “This is a two-way street,” he said of a dis­pute among par­ties that each have been ac­cused of fund­ing ex­trem­ists in some way. “There are no clean hands.”

“The pa­tience of the world has changed,” Ham­mond said, not­ing Bri­tish and Ger­man for­eign min­is­ter vis­its to Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar in the past week to try to re­solve the cri­sis quicker. A res­o­lu­tion could have rip­ple ef­fects as well, he said, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing Iran’s in­flu­ence and abil­ity to sup­port ex­trem­ists. Iran has been build­ing closer ties with Qatar and is send­ing food and other sup­plies there to make up for prod­ucts the Arab em­bargo has kept out.

Tiller­son, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of en­ergy gi­ant Exxon Mo­bil, ar­rived in Kuwait af­ter a stop in Istanbul, where he dis­cussed the Syria war and a failed 2016 coup in Turkey. Tiller­son was greeted at the air­port by his Kuwaiti coun­ter­part. The two chat­ted in the sear­ing Kuwaiti sun and shared tra­di­tional Ara­bic cof­fee be­fore sit­ting down for a meet­ing. An­a­lysts say Tiller­son’s suc­cess in the Gulf may be con­tin­gent on his abil­ity to ma­noeu­ver re­gional skep­ti­cism over con­flict­ing stances from Wash­ing­ton on the cri­sis. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ini­tially sup­ported long­time US ally Saudi Ara­bia, but his stance was later con­tra­dicted when the US De­part­ment of State took a more neu­tral po­si­tion.

Tiller­son’s im­pact largely de­pends on whether re­gional of­fi­cials “be­lieve that the sec­re­tary of state is fully backed by Pres­i­dent Trump”, Lon­don-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Neil Par­trick said. “If Tiller­son can con­vinc­ingly frame his mis­sion as de­liv­er­ing a deal for the United States that is all about de­feat­ing ter­ror­ism... then he may have some chance,” said Par­trick, who fo­cuses on Gulf pol­i­tics.

But de­spite strong me­di­a­tion ef­forts by Kuwait and oth­ers, gov­ern­ments across the re­gion say they may re­main dead­locked for the fore­see­able fu­ture. “No diplo­matic ef­fort or... me­di­a­tion will suc­ceed with­out Doha be­ing ra­tio­nal, ma­ture and re­al­is­tic,” UAE state min­is­ter for for­eign af­fairs An­war Gar­gash tweeted last week. Tiller­son’s visit comes on the heels of a string of of­fi­cial vis­its to the re­gion, in­clud­ing UN diplo­mats and the for­eign min­is­ters of Bri­tain, Germany and Oman.

De­spite the dead­lock, re­gional ex­perts say Wash­ing­ton’s in­ter­est in find­ing a solution to the cri­sis is a wel­come step. “The tour comes af­ter con­tra­dic­tory state­ments from Wash­ing­ton over the dis­pute,” said an­a­lyst Ab­dul­lah AlShayeji, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Kuwait Uni­ver­sity. “It is a last-ditch ef­fort to res­cue the sit­u­a­tion and try to re­solve the cri­sis, which is im­pact­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity, the war on ter­ror and the cam­paign against the Is­lamic State” group, Shayeji said. He said mu­tual con­ces­sions from the feud­ing states would how­ever be nec­es­sary.

The United States and its Western al­lies have vast eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests in the Gulf, which pumps one fifth of the world’s oil sup­plies, houses one third of proven global crude re­serves and sits on one fifth of the world’s nat­u­ral gas de­posits.

Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a Gulf ex­pert at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, said the US has had some suc­cess in re­cent years per­suad­ing Qatar to take ac­tion against ter­ror­ist fi­nanciers. She said if the US ap­pears to be sid­ing with the Saudis and the oth­ers, the Qataris could re­spond by re­vert­ing to old habits. “If they feel a de­crease in sup­port from their neigh­bors and a bit more chal­leng­ing re­la­tion­ship with the US, will they pro­vide ad­di­tional sup­port to dan­ger­ous ac­tors in the re­gion, as part of their se­cu­rity strat­egy?” Plotkin Boghardt said. She added of Tiller­son: “He’s putting his rep­u­ta­tion as sec­re­tary of state on the line.” — Agen­cies

— KUNA

KUWAIT: HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ah­mad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah re­ceives US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son yes­ter­day.

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