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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Tillerson to meet Saudi, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain counterparts in Jeddah

Four countries issue statement on Qatar ahead of US Secretary of State's visit 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Doha on Tuesday. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Doha on Tuesday. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson will meet the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain in Jeddah on Wednesday to discuss the Gulf crisis.

The meeting follows Mr Tillerson's discussions with the emir of Qatar on Tuesday which resulted in an agreement between Washington and Doha to strike down terrorist fundraising. But even before the secretary of state set foot in Jeddah, the four nations made it clear that nothing would change unless Doha complied with their demands.

In a joint statement released late on Tuesday evening, the quartet said they appreciated Mr Tillerson's efforts in fighting terrorism but that they would keep close watch on the seriousness of Qatar's efforts in the task.

"The signing of the memorandum of understanding on combating the financing of terrorism between the US and Qatar authorities came as a result of repeated pressure and demands over the past years on Qatar [by the four countries and their partners] to stop supporting terrorism, they emphasise that such a step is not enough and [the four countries] will closely monitor the seriousness of Qatar in combating all forms of funding, supporting and fostering of terrorism. "

It was Qatar's continued support of terrorism and "spreading a rhetoric of hate and extremist and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries" that had compelled them to impose sanctions on Qatar, the statement added.

"Qatar should completely and finally stop these activities and implement the list of 13 fair and legitimate demands" imposed by Qatar's three neighbours plus Egypt.

Qatar, they added, "cannot be trusted" to keep to any commitment without the imposition of "strict monitoring mechanisms to ensure its sincerity to return to the rightful course".

The four Arab countries have cut ties with Qatar, which they accuse of destabilising the region and refusing to cease its support of terrorism.

Hours after Mr Tillerson arrived in Kuwait on Monday night to mediate in the crisis, documents were leaked showing confidential agreements between GCC countries that Qatar has breached repeatedly - a key reason behind quartet's boycott.

Mr Tillerson, who calls himself "a friend to the region", met Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim in Doha on Tuesday. He went on to say: "The United States has one goal: drive terrorism off the face of the Earth."

The US and Qatar signed an agreement on combating terrorism, which stemmed from Donald Trump's visit to a summit in Riyadh in May.

Mr Tillerson said the agreement lays out a series of steps the two countries will take over the coming months and years to interrupt and disable terror financing flows and intensify counterterrorism activities globally.

"The agreement includes milestones to ensure both countries are accountable to their commitments," he said.

Accountability has been one issue that the four boycotting countries have been calling for.

"I am hopeful we can make some progress to begin to bring this to a point of resolution," Mr Tillerson said alongside the Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman.

The memorandum of understanding outlines “efforts Qatar can take to fortify its fight against terrorism and actively address terrorism funding issues”, said a senior adviser to Mr Tillerson, RC Hammond.

The documents leaked to CNN on Monday, showed the GCC countries had signed agreements in 2013 and 2014 committing to stop funding extremist and pledging non-interference in the domestic affairs of other members.

The publication of the documents, which has been kept secret since its signing, has highlighted some of the key issues that the GCC has raised with Qatar previously.

Now in its second month, the boycott imposed by the Arab quartet on June 5 is showing no signs of letting up.

Mr Tillerson is shuttling between the Gulf countries involved in the crisis and Kuwait, the chief mediator in the dispute.

The American diplomat believes the Qatar dispute is hampering US military operations in the region and the campaign against ISIL. The regional headquarters of US central command is hosted by Qatar at the Al Udeid airbase - home to some 11,000 American troops.

Earlier in July, the US state department said the crisis could last months and possibly even intensify.

The mediation efforts by Mr Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobile executive with experience in the region, will be his first real test since assuming the role of secretary of state in February.

Efforts to mediate have mostly been led by Kuwait’s monarch, Sheikh Sabah, who began shuttling between the Arab countries shortly after ties with Qatar were severed.

"We've had one round of exchanges and dialogue and didn't advance the ball," said Mr Hammond. "We will work with Kuwait and see if we can hash out a different strategy."

All diplomatic ties were cut and diplomats and nationals were ordered to return home within two weeks of the boycott on June 5.

The Arab countries issued Doha 13 demands that, if agreed to, would end the sanctions imposed on Qatar. They included the shutting down of Al Jazeera network and monthly audits.

"Individually there are things in there that could work," said Mr Hammond.

"This is a two-way street," he said.