Tiller­son starts his Qatar-cri­sis rounds

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MATTHEW LEE AND FAY ABUELGASIM In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Josh Le­d­er­man of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

KUWAIT CITY — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion tossed aside its aver­sion to me­di­at­ing a weeks-long Per­sian Gulf dis­pute Mon­day, as the top U.S. diplo­mat flew to the re­gion hop­ing to cor­ral Qatar and its neigh­bors into ne­go­ti­a­tion.

On his first foray into shut­tle diplo­macy since be­com­ing sec­re­tary of state, Rex Tiller­son will hop be­tween Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia from Mon­day un­til Thurs­day, test­ing ways to break an im­passe that has per­sisted de­spite Kuwaiti me­di­a­tion ef­forts. The cri­sis has badly dam­aged ties be­tween sev­eral key Amer­i­can part­ners, in­clud­ing hosts of two ma­jor U.S. mil­i­tary bases, threat­en­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts.

Tiller­son landed in Kuwait City late Mon­day and was greeted at the air­port by the Gulf coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter, who chat­ted with Tiller­son in the sear­ing Kuwaiti sun and shared a tra­di­tional Ara­bic cof­fee. On his first day in the coun­try, Tiller­son also met with Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah.

“We are try­ing to re­solve an is­sue that con­cerns not just us but the whole world,” Sabah told the vis­it­ing U.S. diplo­mat.

U.S. of­fi­cials said Tiller­son doesn’t ex­pect an im­me­di­ate break­through, which they warned could be months away. Rather, they said, he wants to ex­plore pos­si­bil­i­ties for spark­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We’ve had one round of ex­changes and di­a­logue and didn’t ad­vance the ball,” se­nior Tiller­son ad­viser R.C. Ham­mond said.

For the U. S., there are risks in get­ting so in­ti­mately in­volved in the fight among Gulf neigh­bors, re­flected in Tiller­son’s ini­tial re­luc­tance to play a cen­tral me­di­at­ing role. Alien­at­ing ei­ther side of the con­flict could pose broader chal­lenges for U.S. pri­or­i­ties in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the fight against the Is­lamic State group and other ex­trem­ists.

Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a Gulf ex­pert at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, said the U.S. has had some suc­cess in re­cent years per­suad­ing Qatar to take ac­tion against ter­ror­ist fi­nanciers. She said if the U.S. ap­pears to be sid­ing with the Saudis and the oth­ers, the Qataris could re­spond by re­vert­ing to old habits.

Qatar has re­jected 13 de­mands of Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emi­rates and Egypt to re­store diplo­matic re­la­tions and end a block­ade they’ve im­posed on the small, gas-rich monarchy since early June. They in­clude Qatar shut­ting down the me­dia net­work Al- Jazeera, cut­ting ties with Is­lamist groups in­clud­ing the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, lim­it­ing ties with Iran and ex­pelling Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in the coun­try.

Ham­mond said the pack­age of de­mands, as is­sued by Qatar’s neigh­bors, was not vi­able, but said there were in­di­vid­ual items on the list “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 who each have been ac­cused of fund­ing ex­trem­ists in some way. “There are no clean hands.”

U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ests are at stake, too. Bahrain hosts the U. S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which pa­trols Gulf wa­ters with a close eye on Iran. Qatar hosts al-Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in the Mid­dle East and hub for the U.S.-led anti-Is­lamic State coali­tion op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Syria.

The specifics of Tiller­son’s shut­tle travel, in­clud­ing ex­act dates for each stop, were still in flux on Mon­day and not im­me­di­ately an­nounced.

Ear­lier Mon­day, Tiller­son spoke to Turkey-based Amer­i­can diplo­mats in Istanbul and ac­knowl­edged se­vere strains in U.S.-Turkey re­la­tions. He said he is hope­ful, how­ever, of mend­ing ties with the NATO ally and part­ner in the anti-Is­lamic State coali­tion. He also said he hoped that the U.S. and Turkey could repli­cate an agree­ment reached last week be­tween the U.S., Rus­sia and Jor­dan for a cease­fire in south­west­ern Syria in the north of the coun­try.

Tiller­son said he be­lieved the two coun­tries are be­gin­ning to re­store mu­tual trust that had been lost over the course of the past sev­eral years. He said since be­com­ing sec­re­tary of state, he had met three times with Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan — in­clud­ing a lengthy ses­sion on Sun­day night — and that each time the tone of the con­ver­sa­tion had im­proved. While chal­lenges re­main, Tiller­son said he be­lieved the first steps to re-es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tions “on the proper ba­sis” have been taken.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.