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Homeland Security

Tillerson Signs Pact with Qatar to Curb Terrorism Financing

By Cindy Saine July 12, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's effort to resolve a dispute between Qatar and four of its Persian Gulf neighbors shifted Wednesday to Saudi Arabia where he is due to meet with officials from the nations accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism.

The talks in Jeddah come a day after Tillerson announced the U.S. and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding for Doha to take steps to curb terrorism financing.

"I am here in Qatar today carrying with me the same spirit which President Trump traveled in Riyadh with in May," Tillerson said. "The United States has one goal: drive terrorism off the face of the earth."

But Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt said in a statement that while they appreciate U.S. counterterror efforts, the agreement signed Tuesday "is not enough" and they will be closely monitoring Qatar's "seriousness" in combating the funding and support of terrorism.

Brokering a crisis

On June 5, the four nations severed diplomatic ties and instituted a land, air and sea blockade of Qatar. The Saudi-led group of Arab nations has accused Qatar of supporting terrorism and has given Doha a list of 13 demands. Qatar has said it is willing to negotiate, but will not give up its sovereignty.

"I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions, and I think those have been very reasonable," Tillerson said Tuesday after meeting with Qatar's emir.

The U.S. is concerned the dispute could hurt its military and counterterrorism operations and enhance Iran's influence in the region. Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, which aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition use to launch attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Aaron David Miller, a former advisor to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, told VOA Tillerson's success on this "shuttle diplomacy" mission could unite the secretary and Trump.

Necessary skills

"If Tillerson can deliver something that allows the Saudis and Qataris to back away from this without either being humiliated, then I think the President would welcome and support it," Miller noted. "If however you end up in a situation where the Saudis walk away embittered, concerned that Tillerson has pushed them too hard, then I think it's going to be hard."

Miller, a fellow with the Wilson Center in Washington, said that he believes Tillerson, as the former head of Exxon, has the required skills to negotiate a deal.

"Tillerson is familiar with this part of the world, particularly the Gulf. So I think people respect him," Miller said. "You know he's straight out of central casting with respect to looking like a secretary of state, but it's very important, clearly was important to the president and your persona is critically important."

But some analysts are concerned many in the Persian Gulf and in the broader Middle East are unsure Tillerson speaks for his boss.

Kemal Kirisci, a Turkey analyst at Brookings Institution, says there is a great deal of confusion about U.S. goals.

"I suspect the general feeling in the region is one that is probably not different than the rest of the world - a state of confusion over what American foreign policy is and also a sense of nervousness about the uncertainty that engulfs American foreign policy at the moment and question marks on whether Tillerson actually represents that foreign policy given the way which sometimes what he says and his remarks do not always overlap with those of the president of the United States, Donald Trump," he said.

Several analysts say the president needs to make clear Tillerson has his full support for the secretary to succeed.

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