Tillerson leaves Gulf with crisis unresolved

US secretary's shuttle diplomacy took him to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar over 4 days

DOHA • United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has wrapped up a four-day mission to the Gulf with little sign of progress in resolving the diplomatic crisis pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar.

Mr Tillerson met Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for the second time in 48 hours, together with a Kuwaiti mediator, on the final leg of his trip before heading back to Washington yesterday.

Despite an intense round of shuttle diplomacy that also took him to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, tensions remained high between Qatar and four Arab states that accuse Doha of supporting extremism and being too close to their archrival Iran.

The diplomatic slack now appears likely to be picked up again by the Europeans, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian heading to the region at the weekend.

A French diplomatic source in Paris said that Mr Le Drian would try "to recreate confidence, create an interest of all parties to engage in de-escalation".

"We must find a way out."

Mr Le Drian's visit will follow similar trips made by his counterparts from Germany and Britain in recent weeks.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a boycott on Qatar since June 5.

They have imposed sanctions on Doha, including closing its only land border, refusing Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from Qatar.

They also presented the emirate with a list of 13 demands with which to comply to end the worst political crisis in the region in years.

Qatar denies the charges of extremism and called the demands "unrealistic".

It also claims that the boycott has led to human rights violations, and yesterday one human rights group said abuses were one consequence of the crisis.

"Hundreds of Saudis, Bahrainis, and Emiratis have been forced into the impossible situation of either disregarding their countries' orders or leaving behind their families and job," said Ms Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.

Mr Tillerson arrived back in Doha yesterday after meeting Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman just 24 hours earlier.

On his previous visit on Tuesday, the US and Qatar signed an agreement to combat terror funding, subsequently dismissed as "insufficient" by the Saudi-led states.

While Saudi Arabia is a key US ally, Qatar is home to the US military's largest air base in the region, Al-Udeid.

Rival Bahrain houses the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

But an ongoing crisis may not be looked upon as such a bad thing in the West, at least according to one analyst. "For public consumption at least, the US State Department is trying to send out a signal that it has worked hard with its three allies - Saudi, UAE, Qatar - to try to find a mutually agreeable solution," said Dr Christopher Davidson, an expert on Middle East politics at Britain's Durham University.

"Britain, and now France, are also trying to do much the same. Underneath the surface however... the US - including Tillerson - likely sees significant strategic and lucrative benefits to any long-running stand-off between these states."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline 'Tillerson leaves Gulf with crisis unresolved'. Print Edition | Subscribe