July 10, 2017 – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins a week-long tour of the Middle East today. Secretary Tillerson will visit the capitals of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to speak with the respective leaders of each country.
Tillerson seeks to address and try to ease the tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the leading nation in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Last month Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut Qatar off both diplomatically and economically.
Qatar is accused of supporting both Sunni extremists and groups with ties to Iran, allegations which Qatar denies.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “The diplomacy is part of a bid by Tillerson to bridge the differences between Qatar and the four-nation Saudi bloc that has isolated it. We’ve had one round of exchanges and dialogue and didn’t advance the ball. We will work with Kuwait and see if we can hash out a different strategy.”
Secretary Tillerson created close relationships with several Gulf oil producers when he was the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. With his personal ties and the help of Kuwait, Secretary Tillerson plans to bring all parties to the table for talks.
Saudi Arabia is a strong counter-terrorism partner and buys large amounts of American weapons, and the U.S. has a strategic air base in Qatar that the Pentagon uses to target ISIS forces. Being allies with both countries puts the U.S. in a delicate situation.
The four-nation bloc delivered a list of 13 demands that Qatar had to meet to end the standoff. Demands included severing most of Qatar’s ties with Iran, sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Jazeera media network, and close the Turkish air base in their country. The Qatar government, led by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, rejected the demands outright. This led the Saudi-led nations to further accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and threaten even more sanctions against the country. At this point, having the nations resume diplomatic relations seems a tall order.
“They are done, they are not worth revisiting as a package, but individually there are things in there that could work,” commented Hammond regarding the list of demands.
So far, Qatar shows no signs of submitting to the Saudi-led bloc, and one reason that the country doesn’t have to is, money. The small Arabian country has the highest per capita income in the world and is the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
The boycott against Qatar hasn’t shaken the country much, as it has over $340 billion in reserves, according to their central bank. The country was also able to turn to Turkey and Iran for food imports, which also softened the blow of the boycott.
Secretary Rex Tillerson definitely has a busy week ahead in trying to end the standoff between the U.S. allied nations.
Article written by HEI contributor Raymond Arrasmith.