US en­voy meets quar­tet, no break­through in sight

Bloc says Qatar-US ter­ror ac­cord ‘in­suf­fi­cient’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son wrapped up talks with the king of Saudi Ara­bia and other of­fi­cials from Arab coun­tries lined up against Qatar yes­ter­day with no sign of a break­through in an in­creas­ingly en­trenched dis­pute that has di­vided some of Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant Mideast al­lies. The sec­re­tary of state’s trip from Kuwait to the west­ern Saudi city of Jed­dah fol­lowed dis­cus­sions the pre­vi­ous day with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al-Thani that ended with the sign­ing of a coun­tert­er­ror­ism pact.

Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Egypt and Bahrain sev­ered re­la­tions with Qatar and cut air, sea and land routes with it over a month ago, ac­cus­ing Doha of sup­port­ing ex­trem­ist groups. Qatar de­nies the al­le­ga­tions. The quar­tet has given no in­di­ca­tion it would be will­ing to back off from its hard-nosed stance. Just hours be­fore Tiller­son’s ar­rival in Jed­dah, the four Arab states said the coun­tert­er­ror­ism deal that Qatar signed with him on Tues­day was “not enough” to ease their con­cerns.

Tiller­son’s visit to Saudi Ara­bia in­cluded talks with King Sal­man and his son Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, who was re­cently el­e­vated to the role of crown prince. He also met with the for­eign min­is­ters of the four coun­tries in the anti-Qatar bloc. Of­fi­cials gave lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of what was dis­cussed, but Tiller­son was likely to press the bloc to ease up on some of its de­mands after he se­cured the deal for Qatar to in­ten­sify its fight against ter­ror­ism and ad­dress short­falls in polic­ing ter­ror­ism fund­ing.

The four anti-Qatar coun­tries last month is­sued a tough 13-point list of de­mands that in­cluded shut­ting down Qatar’s flag­ship Al-Jazeera net­work and other news out­lets, cut­ting ties with Is­lamist groups such as the Mus­lim Brother­hood, lim­it­ing Qatar’s ties with Iran

and ex­pelling Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in the tiny Gulf coun­try. Qatar has re­jected the de­mands, say­ing that agree­ing to them whole­sale would un­der­mine its sovereignty. The head of Qatar’s gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion of­fice, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, has ac­cused the quar­tet of or­ga­niz­ing “a smear cam­paign in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia to dam­age Qatar’s rep­u­ta­tion” and said they are “not in­ter­ested in en­gag­ing in hon­est ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­solve our dif­fer­ences”. The anti-Qatar bloc took par­tial credit for the US coun­tert­er­ror­ism deal Qatar signed Tues­day, say­ing it was the re­sult of “re­peated pres­sures and de­mands” by the four coun­tries and oth­ers, but that it failed to go far enough.

While wel­com­ing US-led ef­forts to dry up ter­ror­ist fund­ing, the four main­tained a hard line that Qatar must meet their list of what they said were “fair and le­git­i­mate de­mands”. “The quar­tet af­firms that the mea­sures they have taken were mo­ti­vated by the con­tin­u­ous and di­ver­si­fied ac­tiv­i­ties of the Qatari au­thor­i­ties in sup­port­ing, fund­ing and har­bor­ing ter­ror­ism and ter­ror­ists, as well as pro­mot­ing hate­ful and ex­trem­ist rhetoric and in­ter­fer­ing in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of states,” they said in a joint state­ment.

The deal struck be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Doha falls far short of the sweep­ing de­mands made by the Arab quar­tet for Qatar to change its pol­icy of sup­port­ing op­po­si­tion Is­lamists in the re­gion. The group has mixed its ac­cu­sa­tions that Qatar sup­ports ex­trem­ists with de­mands that it end sup­port for po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents that they have branded as ter­ror­ists. That broad def­i­ni­tion of ter­ror­ism is seen as an over­reach by many West­ern al­lies, which do not view groups like the Mus­lim Brother­hood as ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions.

But yes­ter­day Tiller­son un­der­scored the shared mu­tual in­ter­ests be­tween the United States and Saudi Ara­bia no­tably in the ar­eas of “se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity... and eco­nomic pros­per­ity”. Speak­ing after meet­ing with the Saudi crown prince, Tiller­son stressed the two coun­tries shared a “strong part­ner­ship”.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hus­sein on June 30 said the de­mand to close Al-Jazeera rep­re­sented “an un­ac­cept­able at­tack on the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and opin­ion,” prompt­ing a harsh re­sponse from the United Arab Emi­rates. In a let­ter to the rights chief, UAE state min­is­ter for for­eign af­fairs An­war Gar­gash ac­cused Al-Jazeera of anti-Semitism and in­cit­ing view­ers to dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence. The let­ter lists the broad­cast­ing of “ser­mons by the spir­i­tual leader of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, in which he praised Hitler, de­scribed the Holo­caust as ‘divine pun­ish­ment’” and the reg­u­lar air­ing of the speeches of slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and oth­ers as ex­am­ples of ha­tred.

Saudi com­men­ta­tors were quick to crit­i­cize the re­sult of Tiller­son’s visit to Qatar. “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,” Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Rashed, the gen­eral man­ager of the Saudi-owned Al Ara­biya satel­lite news chan­nel, wrote in a col­umn pub­lished in the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat news­pa­per. “He has to re­al­ize that he will be fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing an al­ready com­plex mat­ter and pro­long­ing the cri­sis,” he added, em­pha­siz­ing that the goal of the four Arab coun­tries is to change Qatar’s “agenda”. Faisal Ab­bas, edi­tor-in-chief of the Saudi daily Arab News, framed the se­cu­rity agree­ment signed be­tween the US and Qatar as a win for the quar­tet, but added that “it is not time to party just yet”.

The squab­ble among five of its Mideast al­lies has put the United States in an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion and risks com­pli­cat­ing the Pen­tagon’s oper­a­tions in the re­gion. Qatar hosts Al-Udeid Air Base, the largest US mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in the Mid­dle East and hub for US-led oper­a­tions against the Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, while Amer­i­can surveil­lance planes and other air­craft fly from the UAE. — Agen­cies

JED­DAH: Saudi King Sal­man re­ceives US For­eign Sec­re­tary Rex Tiller­son yes­ter­day. — AP

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