WASHINGTON - The US State Department has turned sceptical on the embargo against Qatar by fellow Gulf states and Egypt, triggered by Saudi Arabia on June 5.
Reading out a brief statement to media, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday (June 20) said that since the embargo was first enforced on June 5, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had had more than 20 phone calls and meetings with Gulf and other regional and international actors.
These included three phone calls with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, three with the foreign minister of Qatar, and three with the Emir of Qatar, she said.
“Now that it’s been more than two weeks since the embargo started we are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public nor to the Qataris the details about the claims they are making toward Qatar” Ms Nauert said.
“The more the time goes by the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At this point, we are left with one simple question – were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries.”
The GCC or Gulf Cooperation Council clubs Saudi Arabia,Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. All joined the embargo against Qatar, a key US ally and home to the US’s biggest base in the Middle East and its hub for operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
President Donald Trump had at first welcomed the embargo against Qatar, tweeting “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”
He also tweeted “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
The embargo set off potentially the biggest crisis in decades in the Middle East, and forced Qatar to turn to Iran and Turkey for supplies as its Gulf neighbours suspended shipping.
But it plunged the US, also a Saudi ally, into a delicate balancing act because of its Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where it has some 10,000 troops.
And while analysts have assumed the embargo against Qatar is related to that country’s support for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood – seen as a political threat by Egypt and other Gulf states - and Hamas, and its closeness to Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran, the Gulf states have not made specific demands.
“The Secretary is determined to remain engaged as we monitor the situation and he has been delivering the same message to other diplomats overseas” Ms Nauert said.
“We are encouraging all sides to de-escalate tensions and engage in constructive dialogue. We once again call on all parties to focus on the core regional and international goal of fighting terrorism” she added.