US urges Gulf states to ease blockade against Qatar

 09 Jun 2017 - 20:47

US urges Gulf states to ease blockade against Qatar
Rex Tillerson

By Nick Wadhams / Bloomberg

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on a Saudi Arabia-led coalition to ease its blockade of Qatar, saying that the cutoff is hindering the fight against Islamic State and provoking food shortages.

After speaking with leaders in the region, Tillerson said Friday in Washington that he believes the countries involved in the dispute -- all US allies -- are stronger together, and “the elements of a solution are available.”

A group of Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties as well as land, sea and air travel with Qatar on June 5, accusing the country of supporting Sunni extremist groups and Iranian-backed Shiite militants to destabilize the region. The crisis has thrust the US into a delicate position because of its alliances with all sides -- and because Qatar hosts the nerve center for US air operations in the Middle East, including the fight against Islamic State.

The announcement by Tillerson reflected the return of a more even-handed approach after President Donald Trump offered what seemed an offhand endorsement of the Saudi-led move, writing on Twitter on Tuesday: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar -- look!”

Tillerson said the blockade had led to food shortages in tiny Qatar and forced families to uproot themselves and pull their children from school. On Thursday, Trump had offered up Tillerson to mediate the crisis.

In reading the statement, after which he took no questions, Tillerson struck a careful tone.

“We call for calm and thoughtful dialogue with clear expectations and accountability among the parties in order to strengthen relationships,” Tillerson said, adding that he had spoken to many leaders in the region.

“It is clear to me based on these conversations that the elements of a solution are available,” he said.