Qatar and the U.S. on Tuesday struck a pact to strengthen Qatari action against terrorist funding, the agreement was the most concrete step the U.S. has taken to end the standoff, which started after the four nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 over accusations Doha supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran.
The Gulf crisis has put the U.S. in a difficult spot, it’s allied with nations on both sides of the dispute, the agreement is part of a package the U.S. has been proposing to end the crisis. The Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar said a counter-terrorism pact between Qatar and the U.S. is “insufficient” to end the Gulf diplomatic crisis, the four Arab states stated on Tuesday that the embargo against Qatar would continue until their demands are met in full.
Saudi-Led Bloc Says U.S.-Qatar Anti-Terror Pact ‘Isn’t Enough’
The Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar said a counter-terrorism pact struck with the U.S. in Doha to strengthen Qatari action against terrorist funding “isn’t enough” to end the Gulf diplomatic crisis.
The alliance, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, said Tuesday’s agreement between the U.S. and Qatar came about due to years of pressure from the bloc, according to a joint statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. They also pledged to maintain the recent measures against Qatar until their demands are met in full.
The U.S.’s memorandum of understanding with Qatar came as part of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s sweep through the region in pursuit of a negotiated settlement of the feud, now in its second month. It was the most concrete step the U.S. has taken to end the standoff, which started after the four nations severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5. The bloc accuses the Gulf nation of destabilizing the region by supporting proxies of Shiite-dominant Iran and Sunni extremists, charges it denies.
The U.S.’s top diplomat is meeting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the kingdom’s crown prince in Jeddah on Wednesday, and is also due to hold talks with the foreign ministers of the four nations boycotting Qatar.
The pact with Qatar will change the nature of those talks, according to Allison Wood, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Control Risks in Dubai. “It forces the Saudis to be more explicit about their other grievances against Qatar and how they can constructively address them,” Wood said.
The agreement lays out a series of steps the two countries will take over the coming months and years to interrupt and disable terrorist financing flows, Tillerson said on Tuesday in Doha.
Qatar “has been quite clear in its positions, and I think very reasonable, and we want to talk now how do we take things forward — that’s my purpose in coming,” Tillerson told reporters.
The Gulf crisis has put the U.S. in a difficult spot. It’s allied with nations on both sides of the dispute. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for the U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the Pentagon depends on to target Islamic State. Saudi Arabia has strong counter-terrorism ties with the U.S. and is the top buyer of American weapons.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Tuesday that his nation was the first to sign the pact with the U.S., and invited other countries to join. He also said the agreement wasn’t linked to the Gulf impasse and had been planned for weeks. Tillerson applauded Qatar’s leadership for “being the first to respond” to President Donald Trump’s call in Riyadh in May for countries in the region to stop funding terrorism.
“The idea of a U.S.-Qatari agreement on terror financing has been floating around for a few weeks now,” said Peter Salisbury, senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program. “It’s part of a package the U.S. has been proposing to end the crisis, and I think people at State Department will see it as a smart way of neutralizing the Gang-of-Four argument that Qatar is the weakest link in the region when it comes to funding for terror groups.”
The Saudi-led bloc last month demanded that Qatar scale back ties with Iran, the Shiite Muslim powerhouse that’s the main rival to Saudi Arabia in the region; sever relations with the Muslim Brotherhood; and shut the Al Jazeera media network that’s riled governments throughout the Middle East. The Qatari foreign minister said last week that Saudi Arabia and its allies see Qatar as “punching above its weight” and want to silence an alternative voice.
Source: Bloomberg, Nick Wadhams and Zainab Fattah, July 12, 2017