In Qatar, Pom­peo urges Gulf states to heal rift


DOHA (Reuters) – US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said on Sun­day that a rift be­tween Qatar and its Gulf neigh­bors had gone on for too long and was threat­en­ing re­gional unity that is needed to counter Iran.

Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain and non-Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) mem­ber Egypt cut diplo­matic, trans­port and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, ac­cus­ing it of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism and their re­gional foe Shi’ite Iran, some­thing that Qatar de­nies.

The United States, an ally of the six-na­tion Sunni Mus­lim GCC, sees the rift as a threat to ef­forts to con­tain Iran and has pushed for a united Gulf front.

“When we have a com­mon chal­lenge, dis­putes be­tween coun­tries with shared ob­jec­tives are never help­ful,” Pom­peo, who is on an eight-day tour of the Mid­dle East, told a news con­fer­ence in the Qatari cap­i­tal Doha.

“They never per­mit you to have as ro­bust a re­sponse to com­mon ad­ver­saries or com­mon chal­lenges as you might,” he added.

Gas-rich Qatar says the boy­cott is aimed at un­der­min­ing its sovereignty and has started chart­ing a course away from its Gulf neigh­bors, in­clud­ing forg­ing new trade part­ner­ships, strength­en­ing its ties with Tur­key and quit­ting OPEC. Those moves have deep­ened ex­pec­ta­tions that the row will not be re­solved quickly.

“We’re hop­ing that the unity of GCC will in­crease in the days and weeks and months ahead,” Pom­peo said, adding that Gulf unity was es­sen­tial for a planned Mid­dle East Strate­gic Al­liance (MESA) that would also in­clude Jor­dan and Egypt.

Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE have re­peat­edly said the dis­pute is not a top pri­or­ity and as­sured Wash­ing­ton it will not af­fect de­fense co­op­er­a­tion.

Pom­peo later told re­porters that he had brought up the rift with of­fi­cials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE. “It’s not at all clear that the rift is any closer to be­ing re­solved to­day than it was yes­ter­day and I re­gret that,” he said.

Pom­peo has used the re­gional tour, which in­cluded stops in Abu Dhabi and Cairo, to shore up sup­port for the US troop with­drawal from Syria.

He will head next to Saudi Ara­bia, where he said the US would en­sure there is “full and com­plete” ac­count­abil­ity on the mur­der of Ja­mal Khashoggi, The Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist from Saudi Ara­bia.

“We will con­tinue to talk about that and make sure we have all the facts so that they are held ac­count­able cer­tainly by the Saudis, but by the US as well where ap­pro­pri­ate,” Pom­peo told the news con­fer­ence.

Khashoggi, a long-time royal in­sider who had be­come a critic of the king­dom’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, was killed in­side the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul on Oc­to­ber 2.

US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies be­lieve that the crown prince or­dered an op­er­a­tion to kill Khashoggi, whose body was dis­mem­bered and re­moved from the build­ing to a lo­ca­tion still un­known. Top Turk­ish of­fi­cials have also tied his death to the high­est lev­els of Saudi lead­er­ship.

Saudi of­fi­cials de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions that the prince or­dered the mur­der, which has left the king­dom fac­ing its worst po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in gen­er­a­tions, strained ties with Western al­lies and fo­cused at­ten­tion on the prince’s do­mes­tic crack­down on dis­sent and the war in Ye­men.

The sis­ter of Lou­jain al-Hathloul – one of sev­eral Saudi women’s rights ac­tivists de­tained in the king­dom and ac­cused of trea­son – pressed Pom­peo to raise the is­sue with of­fi­cials in Riyadh.

In a New York Times op-ed, Alia al-Hathloul de­scribed how her sis­ter was al­legedly tor­tured and threat­ened while in de­ten­tion. “Even to­day, I am torn about writ­ing about Lou­jain, scared that speak­ing about her or­deal might harm her,” she wrote.

The Saudi au­thor­i­ties have de­nied such charges.

(An­drew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters)

US SEC­RE­TARY OF STATE Mike Pom­peo talks with Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man bin Jas­sim Al Thani, the Qatari deputy prime min­is­ter and for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, at the Sher­a­ton Grand in Doha yes­ter­day.

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