Saturday, 24 June, 2017

Qatar blockade: USA urges Gulf states to ease restrictions

Melody Ballard | 11 June, 2017, 10:35

In a speech aimed at cleaning up Trump's remarks, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson called on the Saudi-led coalition to ease its blockade.

In recent weeks a complex dispute over terrorism, diplomacy, trade, media, and foreign policy has pushed Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to cut ties with Qatar, and expel all Qataris within their respective borders.

Among the individuals named is Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric considered a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group.

Delivering a short statement at the State Department in Washington on Friday, he said: "US expectation is that Gulf countries would immediately take steps to de-escalate situation in region".

Since Saudi Arabia and other nations cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar on Monday, triggering the worst diplomatic crisis in the Gulf in years, the USA military has insisted that it would not affect US military operations in the region.

The two leaders also agreed on the importance of all countries implementing agreements recently reached at a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to fight terrorism, counter extremism, and stop the funding of terrorist groups, the statement said.

He says Qatar's ruling emir will not leave the country while it is "in blockade", effectively meaning he can not take up Trump's offer of mediation at the White House.

The blockade is also impairing US and other worldwide business activities in the region and has created a hardship on the people of Qatar and the people whose livelihoods depend on commerce with Qatar.

US President Donald Trump, who had initially backed the measures against Qatar in a tweet, called Sheik Tamim on Wednesday with an offer "to help the parties resolve their differences". TIME TO WITHDRAW? Qatar has for years punched well above its weight in world affairs by parleying its vast gas wealth into influence across the region, irking the UAE and dominant Gulf Arab power Saudi Arabia with its maverick stances and support for Islamists. (Qatar notably plays host to CENTCOM, the U.S. Central Command.) But that friendliness quickly evaporated following Saudi Arabia's move to isolate Qatar.

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Less than two hours later, however, Trump struck a decidedly different tone, seeming to walk back Tillerson's efforts while reigniting the issue.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al- Khalifa, is expected in Turkey Saturday to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss the "latest developments in the region", Turkish officials said.

Before the crisis, the International Monetary Fund predicted firm oil and gas prices would help Qatar run a surplus of $1.2bn this year, rising gradually to $4.7bn in 2020, against a deficit of $3.5bn last year. The president went on to say the small, oil-rich country needed to be pressured by outside forces.

On Thursday, Qatar's Sheikh Mohammed said his country had been isolated "because we are successful and progressive" and called his country "a platform for peace not terrorism".

The sanctions list further tightens the screws on Qatar, home to a major USA military base and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and shows the crisis only escalating despite Kuwaiti efforts to mediate an end to the rift.

"I bought lots of vegetables, frozen chicken and milk for my children, things I knew would be the first to disappear from the shelves", said Mohanadi, a former army lieutenant from Qatar's city of Al Khor.

Egypt and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar on Monday over long-standing allegations that Doha was courting Iran and fomenting instability in the region.

The four Arab states upped their pressure on Qatar on Friday by listing 12 organizations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list.

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