Tiller­son meets with anti-Qatar bloc

Four not pla­cated by coun­tert­er­ror­ism pact he signed for U.S. in Doha ear­lier

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - ADAM SCHRECK In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Aya Batrawy of The Associated Press.

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Wed­nes­day wrapped up talks with the king of Saudi Ara­bia and other of­fi­cials from Arab coun­tries lined up against Qatar, but there was no sign of a break­through in the diplo­matic dis­pute.

The sec­re­tary of state’s trip from Kuwait to the west­ern Saudi city of Jid­dah 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 more than a month ago, ac­cus­ing Qatar of sup­port­ing ex­trem­ist groups. Qatar de­nies the al­le­ga­tions.

The four na­tions have given no in­di­ca­tion they would be will­ing to back off from their stance. Hours be­fore Tiller­son’s ar­rival in Jid­dah, the four Arab states said the coun­tert­er­ror­ism deal that Qatar signed 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, plac­ing him next in line to the throne. Tiller­son also met with the for­eign min­is­ters of the four coun­tries op­pos­ing Qatar.

Of­fi­cials gave lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of what was dis­cussed, but Tiller­son pre­vi­ously ad­vo­cated for the bloc to ease up on some of its de­mands. He was likely to main­tain that stance af­ter he se­cured the deal for Qatar to in­ten­sify its fight against ter­ror­ism and ad­dress short­falls in polic­ing ter­ror­ism fund­ing.

He is ex­pected to travel back to Qatar to­day for more talks with the emir.

The four coun­tries last month is­sued to Qatar a 13-point list of de­mands that in­cluded shut­ting down its flag­ship Al-Jazeera net­work and other news out­lets, cut­ting ties with Is­lamist groups such as the Mus­lim Brother­hood, lim­it­ing its ties with Iran and ex­pelling Turk­ish troops sta­tioned in the 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.”

While wel­com­ing U. S.led ef­forts to dry up ter­ror­ist fund­ing, the four na­tions 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 de­mands for Qatar to change its pol­icy of sup­port­ing op­po­si­tion Is­lamists in the re­gion.

The four na­tions have mixed the 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.

Saudi com­men­ta­tors were quick to crit­i­cize the re­sult of Tiller­son’s visit to Qatar.

“What makes Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing in Jid­dah 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.”

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 U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion in the Mid­dle East and the hub for U.S.-led op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group in Iraq and Syria. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, while Amer­i­can sur­veil­lance planes and other air­craft fly from the UAE.

AP/U.S. State Depart­ment

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son (cen­ter left) is wel­comed by Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel alJubeir on Wed­nes­day upon his ar­rival in Jid­dah, Saudi Ara­bia.

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