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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Rex Tillerson warns of 'those looking to exploit Qatar crisis' to destabilise region

US secretary of state says in Doha that the dispute will have negative consequences economically and militarily

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson departs with Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, after a press conference in Doha on October 22, 2017. Alex Brandon / Pool / Reuters
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson departs with Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, after a press conference in Doha on October 22, 2017. Alex Brandon / Pool / Reuters

Qatar claimed on Monday is was looking to the next GCC summit to begin repairing its rift with other Gulf and Arab countries as the US secretary of state visited the country.

It comes a day after regional newspapers reported that the GCC summit, scheduled to take place in Kuwait in December, would most likely be postponed until mid-2018 due to the ongoing row between Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, over Doha's links to extremist groups.

The four countries accuse Qatar of financing terror groups, providing a safe haven for extremist figures and interfering in the internal affairs of other GCC states. The quartet announced in June a diplomatic, trade and travel boycott against Doha until it changed its behaviour.

The meeting between Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Rex Tillerson was dominated by statements regarding the Qatar crisis, with Rex Tillerson expressing his concern over the rift.

The US is a key ally of all four boycotting countries, but also has close ties with Qatar. America's largest military base in the region is in Qatar.

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“We ask that everyone minimise the rhetoric and de-escalate the tensions and take steps to do so. It’s not a healthy environment that we find for the current situation,” Mr Tillerson said in Qatar, where he arrived after spending two nights in Saudi Arabia.

He said the dispute will have negative consequences economically and military for those involved and that Washington finds it “very important for the GCC to continue to pursue unity. It is most effective when it is unified, and none of us can afford to let this dispute linger”.

Mr Tillerson said the United States is willing to help find a diplomatic solution to the crisis but “does not have any intention to impose a solution on anyone in the current dispute”.

The US secretary of state said he had met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Sunday and “ask[ed] him to please engage” with Doha.

But the four countries say they have presented Doha with a list of demands, which if they accepted, would lead to talks to end the boycott.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said earlier this month that Qatar’s policies to support extremism had led to its isolation,

If a solution to the Qatar crisis is not found until mid-2018, the date until which the GCC summit is expected to be postponed, it would make it the longest such diplomatic dispute the Arab Gulf has ever faced.

"Holding any GCC meeting would present a golden opportunity at least to commence this dialogue," Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed said.

Both countries have commended Kuwait’s attempts at mediating the conflict, saying the guidance of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed will help solve the crisis.

The US secretary of state urged both sides to come to the table for talks, saying that the longer the crisis remains, the more likely it is that those looking to destabilise the region will be able to take advantage of the dispute.

“Anytime there is conflict and destabilisation among countries that are typically allies, someone will always come in to exploit those differences,” he said in a likely reference to Iran.