Tiller­son fin­ishes Gulf di­plo­macy

But any mend­ing of Qatar’s rift with neigh­bors ap­pears elu­sive

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - ADAM SCHRECK

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — The top U.S. diplo­mat wrapped up his first foray in shut­tle di­plo­macy on Thurs­day with lit­tle sign of progress in break­ing a dead­lock be­tween Qatar and four Arab neigh­bors that are iso­lat­ing it.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son trav­eled to the tiny, U.S.-al­lied Per­sian Gulf na­tion for a sec­ond time for a lunch meet­ing with Emir Tamim bin Ha­mad Al Thani be­fore head­ing back to Wash­ing­ton later in the day.

Tiller­son and his Qatari coun­ter­part ap­peared be­fore cam­eras in the cap­i­tal, Doha, but ig­nored re­porters’ ques­tions be­fore he left.

Tiller­son, a former Exxon Mo­bil chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer with deep ex­pe­ri­ence in the oil-rich Per­sian Gulf, has been shut­tling be­tween Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia and me­di­a­tor Kuwait since Mon­day try­ing to re­pair a rift that is di­vid­ing some of Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant Mideast al­lies.

Of­fi­cials have down­played ex­pec­ta­tions and say any res­o­lu­tion could be months away.

His clear­est achieve­ment has been to se­cure a me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Qatar to strengthen its coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts and ad­dress short­falls in polic­ing ter­ror­ism fund­ing.

That deal goes to the core of the anti-Qatar quar­tet’s com­plaints against the nat­u­ral gas-rich state: that it pro­vides sup­port for ex­trem­ist groups.

Qatar ve­he­mently de­nies the al­le­ga­tion, though it has pro­vided aid that helps Is­lamist groups that oth­ers have branded as ter­ror­ists, such as the Mus­lim Brother­hood and the Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group Ha­mas.

The anti-Qatar bloc ar­gues that the pres­sure and de­mands it has placed on Qatar helped lead to the coun­tert­er­ror­ism pact, but it says the agree­ment does not go far enough to end the dis­pute.

It is hold­ing fast to its in­sis­tence that Qatar bow to a 13-point list of de­mands that in­cludes 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 coun­try.

Qatar has re­jected the de­mands, say­ing that agree­ing to them whole­sale would un­der­mine its sovereignty.

It is in­tent on wait­ing out the cri­sis de­spite its neigh­bors’ at­tempts to iso­late it.

Ship­ping com­pa­nies have set up other routes to get sup­plies in with­out go­ing through the blockad­ing coun­tries, and flag car­rier Qatar Air­ways con­tin­ues to op­er­ate its 200-plane fleet by de­tour­ing over friend­lier airspace.

The gov­ern­ment says it is cov­er­ing a ten­fold in­crease in ship­ping costs for es­sen­tials. Ally Turkey and nearby Iran also have boosted ex­ports to Qatar, and the coun­try has even taken to im­port­ing cows to meet a dairy short­fall caused by the clo­sure of its only land bor­der with Saudi Ara­bia.

Still, the rift is caus­ing hard­ship for some.

Hu­man Rights Watch said Thurs­day that the dis­pute has left fam­i­lies sep­a­rated, forced stu­dents out of their uni­ver­si­ties, and im­peded med­i­cal care, in­clud­ing for a child who missed a sched­uled brain surgery.

The rights group also raised con­cerns about mi­grant work­ers based in Qatar who have been left stranded in Saudi Ara­bia and oth­ers in Doha who are strug­gling with a rise in food costs be­cause of the block­ade.

“Gulf au­to­crats’ po­lit­i­cal dis­putes are vi­o­lat­ing the rights of peace­ful Gulf res­i­dents who were liv­ing their lives and car­ing for their fam­i­lies,” Sarah Leah Whit­son, the group’s Mideast di­rec­tor, said in a state­ment.

Mean­while, 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 hub for U.S.-led op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist 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 United Arab Emi­rates.

AP/State Depart­ment/ALEXAN­DER W. RIEDEL

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son walks Thurs­day with Qatari Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al Thani (right) and oth­ers after ar­riv­ing in Doha, Qatar.

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