Secretary of State Tillerson Calls on Arab States to Ease Blockade on Qatar

By Felicia Schwartz Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Trump administration on Friday weighed further into the conflict between its Arab allies, calling on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other states to ease an intensifying trade embargo on Qatar.

Continue Reading Below

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the siege on the Persian Gulf emirate, which hosts a large U.S. military base, was beginning to interfere in a U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist organization.

"The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS," Mr. Tillerson told a press briefing at the State Department. He said the blockade presented humanitarian challenges and harmed American business interests in the Persian Gulf.

Qatar is home to Al Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military facility in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Egypt and their Arab allies on Monday cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed their land borders and airspace. These Arab states charge Qatar's monarchs of providing funding for terrorist organizations in the region and promoting extremism through its Al Jazeera television network.

Qatar has denied these charges.

Continue Reading Below

Qatar, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a key ally of Washington's in its efforts to constrain both ISIS and Iran.

Mr. Tillerson said the U.S. backs a formal mediation between the countries, which is being led by the emir of Kuwait. The chief U.S. diplomat tried to evenly cast blame on the countries for the crisis days after President Donald Trump weighed in publicly against Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson urged Qatar to be "responsive to the concerns of its neighbors" and said all sides should cease escalating tensions further.

He said Qatar has made progress in halting financial support to terrorist groups as well as expelling terrorist groups from the country, but said Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani "must do more quickly."

Mr. Tillerson said Friday other countries must make similar efforts in their own borders.

Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and their allies have been drawing up demands Qatar must meet to return to normal diplomatic and economic relations, including steps to significantly scale back the Al Jazeera media network. They are also seeking guarantees that Qatar's government will stop its alleged financing of Middle East extremist groups and sever relations with the political leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamist movement.

Mr. Trump has talked to the leaders of Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in recent days in a bid to ease the crisis, said senior U.S. officials.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 09, 2017 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT)