Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with foreign ministers in Jeddah | Flickr, US Department of State

The Facts

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Tuesday with senior Qatari officials in Doha, Qatar’s capital, to “discuss ongoing efforts to resolve [the] Gulf dispute.”
  • Tillerson met with Emir (“Muslim ruler”) Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Thani to discuss combating the financing of terrorism in the region and the current “blockade” against Qatar.

  • Tillerson and the Qatari foreign minister also signed “a memorandum of understanding strengthening cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”
    • Mohammed al-Thani described the memorandum as the result of Qatar and the United States’ “joint efforts to develop mechanisms to combat financing terrorism.”

“The United States has one goal… to drive terrorism off the face of the Earth. Together the US and Qatar will do more to collaborate, share information, and keep the region and our homeland safe.”

  • He added that Tuesday’s agreement is one that the US and Qatar have been “working on for quite some time,” and that “elements of this work” have been “underway as long as a year ago.”
  • Foreign Minister al-Thani said:

“[F]or long, the blockading countries have accused Qatar of financing terrorism. Now the state of Qatar is the first country to sign this memorandum of understanding with the United States. We invite the other blockading countries to join signing this understanding.”

Context on the Geopolitical Situation in the Persian Gulf

  • Secretary Tillerson met with Kuwait’s Emir and other Kuwaiti officials on Monday — the day before his meeting with senior Qatari officials — to discuss Qatar and its relationship with the Gulf states.
    • According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, Tillerson traveled to Kuwait at “the invitation of the Emir” to support Kuwait’s on-going diplomatic efforts to mediate the conflict between Qatar and other GCC states.
    • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), founded in May 1981, is a formal political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries.
      • Its member states include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

$1 Billion Ransom 

  • On 5 June, Financial Times reported that in April Qatar paid up to $1 billion to Iran and al-Qaeda-linked groups to secure the release of 26 people — including members of Qatar’s royal family — who were kidnapped in Syria by jihadis while on a hunting trip in southern Iraq.
    • Financial Times reported that about $700 million went to Iranian figures and regional Shia militias supported by Iran.
      • $200 to $300 million “went to Islamist groups in Syria, most of that to Tahrir al-Sham, a group with links to al-Qaeda.”
  • Iran is Saudi Arabia’s regional archrival. 

Severing Diplomatic Ties

  • The GCC nations’ decision to sever ties with Qatar last month came in response to Qatar’s alleged “support, funding and hosting of terror groups,” and, according to the UAE’s Foreign Ministry, Qatar’s “sustained endeavors to promote the ideologies of Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda across its direct and indirect media.”
  • Qatari officials have repeatedly denied allegations that the country aides terrorist groups.
    • According to the Saudi Press, the Gulf states’ severing of ties with Qatar was in response to the country’s purported “failure to implement [the so-called] Riyadh Agreement.”
    • The agreement, much of which was brokered by Kuwait in 2014, was a regional pact between the GCC nations aimed at pressuring Qatar to change policies that would better “stabilize” the region.
    • Riyadh specifically sought changes in Qatar’s long-standing policies of harboring members of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization, as well as Qatar’s use of state-funded news network Al Jazeera.
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE also closed all ports of entry between the three countries and restricted Qatari use of airspace across the region.
  • Qatar’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to other GCC states’ decision to sever economic and diplomatic ties:

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar expressed its deep regret and surprise at the decisions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain to close their borders and airspace, and sever diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar, bearing in mind that these measures are unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions…

The State of Qatar has been subjected to a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication. It reveals a hidden plan to undermine the State of Qatar…Qatar is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and is fully committed to its charter.”

  • On 6 June, President Donald Trump tweeted:

  • The following day, Trump spoke by phone with Qatari leader Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and “emphasized the importance of all countries in the region working together to prevent the financing of terrorist organizations.”
    • According to the White House, during the exchange, Trump also “urged that a united Gulf Cooperation Council and a strong United States-Gulf Cooperation Council partnership are critical to defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability.”
      • That same day, Trump spoke with the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and “emphasized the importance of maintaining a united Gulf Cooperation Council to promote regional stability, but never at the expense of eliminating funding for radical extremism or defeating terrorism,” according to the White House.
  • Two days later, in a 9 June joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Trump told reporters:

“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level, and… [Arab] nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior…We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding[.]”

  • On 12 June, the Associated Press reported that Qatar “had begun shipping cargo through Oman to bypass Gulf countries that have cut off sea routes,” and that adjusted shipping routes were “the latest move by Doha to show it can survive a diplomatic dispute with its neighbors.”

The US-Qatari Relationship

  • The Persian Gulf nations’ decision last month to break ties with Qatar carried immediate diplomatic implications for US relations with GCC member states due in part to the United States having one its largest military bases in the region located in the Qatari capital. The base hosts the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), which “provides the command and control of airpower throughout the… 20 nation region stretching from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia.”
    • CAOC, with “more than 67 miles of high-capacity and fiber optic cable,” is “the most advanced operations center in history,” according to the US Air Force.
  • According to a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on US-Qatari relations:
    • In June 1992, Qatar signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States, opening “a period of close coordination in military affairs that has continued to the present.”
    • Qatar has deployed military aircraft to “support NATO-led operations in Libya and US-led operations against the Islamic State in Syria” and remains an important regional military partner for the US.
    • Qatar also holds the “third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world” and is one of the largest exporters of liquified natural gas.
  • Qatar has also purchased US weapons systems, including “US air and missile defense” technologies.

“The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

  • The CRS report also said that aside from the air base, the US Army Corps of Engineers has awarded “over $100 million dollars in Military Construction Air Force contracts for the construction… of housing, service, command, and communication facilities.”
  • James Lindsay, senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a recent interview that “the United States’ deep military ties to all countries involved” in the Qatar situation “complicates the crisis.”
    • He added that the manner in which the US will “exert its influence in the showdown in the Gulf” remains to be seen, at least in part because Qatar “hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia Gives Qatar a List of Demands

  • On 22 June, the Saudi-led block of GCC nations issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar and told the country it had 10 days to comply.
    • The list of demands included closing Qatar’s state-funded news agency (Al Jazeera), shutting down a Turkish military base, and restricting its ties to Iran.
  • On 1 July, Qatar’s foreign minister issued a statement saying the demands “were meant to be rejected,” and that they “violated international law.”

States Blockading Qatar Meet in Cairo 

  • Four days later, on 5 July, the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, issued a joint statement following a meeting in Cairo on the Qatar situation.
  • The GCC leaders detailed six “principles,” or terms, for reinstating consular and economic ties with Qatar.
    • The terms were designed to “stop… Qatar’s support for extremism and terrorism and its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries,” according to the statement.
  • The “principles” are as follows:
  1. “Commitment to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and to prevent their financing or the provision of safe havens.”
  2. “Prohibiting all acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence.”
  3. “Full commitment to Riyadh Agreement 2013 and the supplementary agreement and its executive mechanism for 2014 within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States.”
  4. “Commitment to all the outcomes of the Arab-Islamic-US Summit held in Riyadh in May 2017.”
  5. “Refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of States and from supporting illegal entities.”
  6. “The responsibility of all States of international community to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism as a threat to international peace and security.”
  • The four foreign ministers also expressed “their thanks and appreciation” to the Emir of Kuwait “for his efforts and endeavor to resolve the crisis with the State of Qatar.”
  • Two days later, on 7 July, Qatar responded to the four countries’ statements, calling the allegations “baseless” and “false,” and that the accusations “amount to defamation in contradiction with the established foundations of international relations.”
  • Qatar also thanked the Emir of Kuwait for mediating negotiations, adding that the Qatari “government and people highly appreciate his sincere efforts to reach a solution to the crisis.”

Responses to Tillerson Meeting & Memorandum

  • Addressing the United States’ priorities in the region, Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, a reporter covering the situation from Kuwait, said Tuesday:

“[Secretary] Tillerson was basically visiting each side to take the temperature in this dispute… After some initial missteps from the White House, in which the president seemed to take sides with the Saudis and their allegations, the US position now is to try to shore up the Kuwait efforts to mediate the crisis.”

  • On Tuesday, in response to the memorandum signed by Secretary Tillerson and Qatar’s foreign minister, UAE’s Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted:

  • Robbie Gramer, who covers the conflict for Foreign Policy magazine, wrote Monday:

“Tillerson’s travel to the Gulf, announced only days in advance, signals his reluctant acknowledgement things could get worse if he doesn’t play a more active and higher-profile role.”

  • Bruce Riedel, senior fellow in foreign policy and director of the intelligence project at the Brookings Institution, wrote on Tuesday:

“The Saudis always viewed themselves at the helm of the GCC, but the Qataris wanted it to be independent. This dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been occurring for 20 years, but it’s now reached a peak… This could be the end of the GCC, which has been a principle mechanism for the United States to bring together its friends in the Middle East since the 1980s…

The Trump administration, after some initial confusion, looks like it’s trying very hard to see if it can put humpty dumpty back together again, but that’s going to be difficult to do.”

  • John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote last week:

“The United States’ response [to the Qatar situation] so far has been confused. President Trump has vocally supported the Saudi campaign, but the State Department has publicly taken a different view, urging that GCC members resolve their differences quietly.”

Christopher Putney and Jinghong Chen contributed to this report. 

The Whim News Team

The Whim News Desk

We'd rather be second and accurate than be first and wrong. The Whim News Desk is a dedicated team of researchers and investigators committed to presenting the news without bias. Follow us @TheWhimOnline for daily news coverage without the spin!

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