Rex Tillerson softens US stance on 'reasonable' Qatar in attempt to ease Gulf crisis

The US and Qatar have signed an agreement on combating terrorism and its financing

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson escorts Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani prior to a scheduled meeting at the State Department
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson escorts Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani prior to a scheduled meeting at the State Department

Qatar has been “reasonable” in its positions on a growing Gulf Region dispute, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has claimed.

America’s top diplomat was in the region this week, working to smooth over tensions that have left Qatar cut off from nearly every major Gulf power.

"I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions, and I think those have been very reasonable,” Tillerson said at a meeting in the Qatari capitol, adding that he is “hopeful we can make some progress to begin to bring this to a point of resolution”.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Egypt and others have all cut ties with the tiny Arab country, accusing it of funding terrorism and allying with Iran. Qatar denies these allegations.

Mr Tillerson will work closely with diplomats from Kuwait, the mediator in the crisis, on his tour through Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. He has so far met with representatives from both the Kuwaiti and Qatari governments.

The US and Qatar announced on Tuesday that they had signed an agreement on combatting terrorism. The agreement outlines ways in which Qatar can help fight terrorism and address its funding, according to Mr Tillerson’s senior adviser, RC Hammond.

"This is a hopeful step forward," Mr Hammond told reporters.

Mr Tillerson has been largely supportive of Qatar through a crisis that has shocked its stock markets and terrified its citizens. In remarks before his trip, Mr Tillerson called for “thoughtful dialogue” between the Gulf countries and “no further escalation by the parties in the region”.

President Donald Trump, however, has come down harshly on the embattled nation, accusing it of funding terrorism “at a very high level”. The President recently tweeted his support of Saudi Arabia for leading the blockade, and suggested it may be the “beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism”.

“Everybody was taken by surprise by the president’s comments,” a State Department official told The Washington Post. The official added: “The policy that is being worked is the Tillerson policy, Trump’s comments notwithstanding.”

US officials fear the crisis could impact counter-terrorism operations within the country, and strengthen the regional power of Iran. Qatar is also home to the Udeid Air Base, America’s largest military facility in the Middle East, which the US uses to run air campaigns against Isis groups in Syria and Iraq.

The US, Britain and Kuwait have all urged the Gulf nations to resolve their differences quickly, through dialogue, according to Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA.

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