Tillerson with the Emir of Qatar (Image: Al-Watan, Qatar, July 12, 2017)
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain, the four countries that have been blockading and making demands of Qatar for the past month because, they say, of its support for terrorism and for Iran, are also waging a diplomatic campaign aimed at persuading the world, primarily its purported allies in the West and first and foremost the U.S., that they are in the right in the current Gulf crisis. These diplomatic efforts, however, do not seem to be succeeding.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the Western countries have sparked resentment among the four blockading countries, and defied their expectations, by expressing reservations regarding the demands that these countries presented to Qatar and have continued to support the ongoing Kuwaiti mediation efforts to resolve the crisis. U.S., German, British and French officials have been maintaining intensive contacts with both sides, including with numerous visits, in an attempt to iron things out between them.
The U.S. position in this matter has stood out for its inconsistency, alongside a clear pro-Qatar approach on the part of the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. U.S. President Donald Trump is, at least in principle, siding with the blockading countries, calling on Qatar to stop funding terrorism and praising the four countries’ anti-Qatar measures. On the other hand, he phoned the Qatari emir to offer his help in resolving the crisis, even proposing that a summit of leaders of the blockading countries and Qatar be held at the White House. Likewise, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the crisis “a family issue and [one] that they should work out [themselves].”
The position of the U.S. State and Defense Departments in the crisis has from the beginning been clearly pro-Qatar, and this has been evident in both words and deeds. On July 11, 2017, the U.S. and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the fight against terrorism. According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the work on the drafting of the memorandum took about a year, but the signing of it at this particular time of the Gulf crisis expresses the State Department’s support for Qatar. At a press conference with his Qatari counterpart, Tillerson said: “I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions, and, I think, very reasonable… Together, the U.S. and Qatar will do more to track down [terror] funding sources, collaborate and share information, and do more to keep the region and our homeland safe.” He praised the Qatari emir, who, he said, was “the first to respond to President Trump’s challenge” to stop funding for terrorism and to take steps against sources of funding for terrorism at the May 2017 summit in Riyadh. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert also welcomed the memorandum, saying that it “set a good example for the other nations that we hope will come to the table with us as well.” However, when asked explicitly whether the memorandum would be extended to other countries, she expressed uncertainty. It should also be mentioned that, despite signing the memorandum with Qatar and despite his positive statements about Qatar, Tillerson continues his efforts to mediate between this country and the blockading states and to shuttle between them. Today (July 13, 2017) Tillerson is due to return to Qatar after his meeting yesterday with officials from the blockading countries.
The Defense Department also showed that it considered relations with Qatar important. About three weeks into the crisis, on June 14, 2017, the two countries signed a $12 billion deal for F-15 aircraft.Also, on July 7, Defense Secretary James Mattis met with his Qatari counterpart Khaled Al-Attiyah to affirm the two countries’ “strategic security partnership” and discuss mutual security interests.
Likewise, over the past month State Department officials have made statements that have been interpreted as taking Qatar’s side in the crisis. For example, Tillerson called on the blockading countries to ease the blockade on Qatar and noted that the Qatari emir was making progress in his efforts to stop funding terrorism and to expel terrorist elements from his country. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert expressed doubts that the measures taken by the blockading countries against Qatar were “really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were… about the long simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries”
Overall, the position taken by the U.S. has not been well received by the blockading countries. Thus, in response to the signing of the U.S.-Qatar memorandum, the four announced in a joint statement that “this step is not sufficient” and that “and the four countries [i.e. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE] will closely monitor the seriousness of the Qatari authorities’ struggle against all kinds of funding and support for terrorism and of the fostering of it.” The statement added: “The four countries value the U.S. efforts in the fight against terrorism and its funding, and the full and strong partnership… that was manifested at the Arab Islamic-American summit [i.e. the May 2017 Riyadh summit] that expressed a firm international position against extremism and terrorism… The signing of the memorandum between the U.S. and the Qatari authorities regarding the struggle against the funding of terrorism is the result of the various and repeated pressures and demands made over many long years by the four countries and their partners, that the Qatari authorities stop [that country’s] support for terrorism.”
The resentment in the four blockading countries is also evident in numerous articles in their respective government presses criticizing the U.S. and European countries for their positions in the crisis. The articles called for rejection of these Western countries’ mediation efforts; some hinted that the U.S. and U.K. were partners in Qatar’s terrorism and even that elements in them had received funds in exchange for supporting Qatar. Another article was understanding of the U.S. security interests in the region, but argued that Tillerson’s methods will not lead to a breakthrough in resolving the crisis.
The following are translations of the main points of these articles criticizing the positions of the West, and the U.S., in the Gulf crisis:
‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: By Supporting Qatar, Tillerson Complicates, Prolongs The Crisis
Responding to the memorandum on combatting terror signed by the U.S. and Qatar on July 11, 2017, prominent Saudi journalist ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and former director of Alarabiya TV, wrote an article titled “Is the American [State] Secretary Siding with Qatar?,” in which he harshly criticized Tillerson: “What was said and implied by State Secretary [Tillerson] in the press conference in Doha was no cause for optimism. Rather, it reflected a shallow attitude to the problem on his part, for he confined the solution to a memorandum in which the Qatari government has promised to fight terror. What an achievement!…
“From the beginning of the crisis Tillerson has sided with Qatar. The doubts increased even further when he rushed to determine and declare, before even hearing the other side, that Qatar’s demands were reasonable, [a position] which aroused puzzlement. State Secretary [Tillerson] is entitled to side with Qatar if he wants to, but he must know that this complicates an already complicated problem and will prolong the crisis…
“State Secretary Tillerson cannot force a reconciliation, but he can bring the sides, which are [all] his allies, closer together instead of siding with one side against the other… How can State Secretary Tillerson persuade four countries that are fighting for their survival to reconcile with the side responsible [for their problems], and how much longer will [the U.S.] continue testing Qatar’s good intentions, [a test] it has failed many times?”
Senior Egyptian Journalist: We Must Reject Any Western Mediation Efforts That Do Not Require Qatar To Sever Relations With Terror Organizations; U.S. Is Rewarding Qatar For Supporting Its “Creative Chaos” Policy
In an article published on the day the memorandum was signed, Makram Muhammad Ahmad, president of Egypt’s Supreme Media Regulatory Council, called to reject any U.S.-brokered agreement that does not obligate Qatar to sever its ties with terror organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In an article in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, he wrote that the U.S. was siding with Qatar in the Gulf crisis, and that this was a reward for Qatar’s contribution to the “creative chaos” policy of the Obama administration. He wrote: “We know very well that there is a Western-American desire to reward Qatar for the role it played in blowing up and destroying the Arab world during the Obama presidency. [This was done] under the caption of ‘creative chaos’ and as part of a foolish policy which assumes that bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the Middle East is the quickest way to eliminate the Palestinian cause at Egypt’s expense. But we [also] know very well that, unless Qatar is clearly punished for its destructive role in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Palestine and pays the full price for it, it will revert to its old ways and try to bring destruction upon Egypt, divide Saudi Arabia, ignite Sunni-Shi’ite conflict in Bahrain, and conspire against the UAE while encouraging the establishment of a clandestine Muslim Brotherhood organization there…”