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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 January 2019

Anthony Zinni, US envoy tasked with resolving Qatar dispute, resigns

His resignation came on the eve of Mike Pompeo's Middle East tour

Retired US general Anthony Zinni has resigned as the envoy tasked with resolving the Qatar dispute. Getty
Retired US general Anthony Zinni has resigned as the envoy tasked with resolving the Qatar dispute. Getty

Anthony Zinni, a retired general and the United States envoy tasked with resolving the Qatar dispute, has resigned from his position at the State Department, dealing a blow to the Trump administration's efforts to resolve the Qatar crisis.

Mr Zinni’s resignation, first reported by CBS, was confirmed by The National. A US official told The National that the timing is unrelated to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tour of the Middle East and that Mr Zinni only agreed to join the administration in August 2017 on temporary basis.

The resignation, however, and the departure of another General from the administration – following the exits of Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – has overshadowed the news. Mr Zinni previously served as the special envoy to the Middle East under former President George W Bush, as well as the head of US Central Command.

Mr Zinni said he resigned after coming to the conclusion that he could not solve the Gulf dispute because of an inability to agree on what the mediation effort with Doha should be.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt all cut trade, transport and diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017 after accusing it of support for militant groups.

Mr Zinni made three trips to the Gulf since taking office in an attempt to reconcile differences between Qatar on the one hand and the boycotting countries. But despite his own personal relations with Gulf leaders, his mediation efforts stumbled and reflected a constrained US hand and leverage in addressing the crisis.

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He is the latest in a string of resignations by four-star generals, the most recent being Mr Mattis, from the Trump administration.

The resignation came on the same day that Mr Pompeo set off for an eight-day tour of the Middle East to reassure Washington's allies about its commitment to the region, after President Donald Trump's announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria and a contentious Senate vote on the Yemen civil war.

With his resignation, it is unclear what will happen to US efforts to resolve the Qatar dispute and bring together the GCC countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, in one coalition to be dubbed as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (Mesa) or the Arab Nato.

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A US official briefing reporters ahead of Mr Pompeo’s trip said the US is still hoping to host the summit to launch Mesa in the first quarter of 2019. The summit date was rescheduled from May 2018 until September, then August to January. Now, it is tentatively slated for the first quarter of 2019.

Mr Pompeo, accompanied by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Lenderking, will visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman later this week in an attempt to forge GCC unity.

But with Gen Zinni’s resignation, the continued standoff over what the quartet calls Qatar’s support for extremism, there is no diplomatic breakthrough for the crisis on the horizon. The US Senate has not confirmed Mr Trump’s nominations for Ambassadors to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Updated: January 9, 2019 09:38 AM

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