Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: Tillerson arrives in the Middle East
On June 5th Qatar was blockaded (officially a trade and diplomatic embargo) by its neighboring countries.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain accused Qatar of a number of wrongdoings, the most serious being supporting terrorism and maintaining a close relationship with Iran. Since the beginning of June, other countries in the region have thrown their support behind the blockade as well. The conflict has provided a diplomatic nightmare for the United States because while Saudi Arabia is the strongest nation in the area and has long been a strategic ally with America, US-Qatar relations have also been very warm. To highlight this point, Qatar hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East, with thousands of US civilians stationed there permanently.
As the complexities in the relationship between the Gulf countries are numerous, where the truth lies in this disagreement is tough to ascertain. Along with funding terrorism and cooperating with Iran, Qatar has also been accused of supporting the Muslim brotherhood, sowing seeds of discord into neighboring governments, and being too close to Israel. While some of these allegations may be true, there have been many reports that the blockading countries participate in these activities as well. For instance, Saudi Arabia is considered by many to be the leading funder of terrorism globally.
To make things more complicated, since the blockade Qatar has been supported by Iran and Turkey, with both nations flying in supplies and providing diplomatic support where necessary. The United States, along with Kuwait, have attempted to play the role of mediator but have been met with little success.
At first, after prompting by the US government, Qatar was handed a list of 13 demands to fulfill in order for the blockade to be lifted. Among these demands included shutting down al-Jazeera, submitting to monthly external compliance checks, and removing all Turkish military presence stationed in the country. Many publications have been quick to point out that accepting all 13 of these demands would effectively make Qatar’s foreign policy no longer independent, but in the interests of the Gulf as a region. It was completely expected when Qatar rejected these demands, refusing to cede to any of the complaints.
Initially, the Trump Administration was quick to assert that the nations in the Gulf should be left with figuring out a way to end the embargo themselves. After weeks of clear inaction however, Secretary Tillerson was sent to Qatar to assist in achieving a diplomatic solution. This resulted in a deal signed between the US and Qatar aimed at cutting out any terrorism financing occurring within the country. Unsurprisingly, the response from the blockading group was lukewarm to this deal as they continue to assert that the Qatari government is not to be trusted.
The arrival of Tillerson in Qatar, signals just how pressing this dispute is not only for the Gulf countries, but also those outside hoping for stability within the region. While the agreement signed with Qatar did not affect the position of the blockading countries, it is a clear attempt at mediation. Tillerson is expected to meet with other Gulf leaders in the coming days in the hopes of brokering an end to the dispute. Hopefully this is can be achieved soon because as recent history has shown, discord within the Middle East can lead to the rise of groups of ISIS and al-Qaeda who attack the stability of governments across the region.