US secretary of state praises agreement on tracking terrorist financing, putting pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states isolating Qatar
Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has lavished praise on the isolated Gulf state of Qatar after it became the first regional power to sign a new memorandum of understanding with Washington on tracking the flow of terrorist financing.
Qatar has been locked in a bitter month-long dispute with its fellow Gulf states for allegedly allowing the funding of terrorism and extremism. But speaking in Doha on Tuesday, Tillerson praised Qatar for signing the memorandum, and said the oil-rich country had behaved reasonably throughout the dispute.
But the attempt to mollify US concerns appeared not to have been enough to satisfy Doha’s rivals in the Gulf: late on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt announced they would maintain economic sanctions on Qatar.
The UAE foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter: “A temporary solution is not a wise one”.
Egypt also upped the stakes, arguing that Qatar should be expelled from the alliance of states combatting Islamic State.
“It is unacceptable for the coalition to have amongst its members states that support terrorism or advocate for it in their media,” said a foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, at a meeting of the coalition in Washington.
“The decision by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to boycott Qatar – a coalition member – is in accordance with that principle,” he said in a statement.
Earlier, the Qatari foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, signed the memorandum at a joint press conference with Tillerson in Doha.
He claimed the memorandum agreement was unrelated to the pressure being applied by the fellow Gulf states, and had been in preparation ever since Trump called for more action to track down terrorist funding at a summit in Riyadh two months ago.
He added: “Today, Qatar is the first country to sign a memorandum of agreement with the US, and we call on the countries imposing the siege against Qatar to join us as signatories to this MOU [memorandum of understanding].”
Tillerson said he applauded Qatar for being the first to sign the deal, saying the work was the product of weeks of detailed discussion between experts and adding that Qatar had been the “first state to respond to President Trump’s challenge at the Riyadh summit to stop the funding of terrorism”.
The memorandum commits Qatar to the effort “to track down and disable terror financing”, with specific milestones set out for the weeks and years ahead.
“The US has one goal: to drive terrorism off the face of the Earth,” Tillerson said, adding: “The president said every country has an absolute duty to make sure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.
“Together the United States and Qatar will do more to track down funding sources, will do more to collaborate and share information, and will do more to keep the region and our homeland safe.”
Full details of the memorandum have not been released.
Saudi Arabia is likely to argue that Qatar would not have signed the agreement without the pressure exerted by the other Gulf states. But the Saudi leaders will be angry that Qatar appears to have stolen a march on them, and will now have to sign similar deals. The US has a 10,000-strong military base in Qatar, as well as strong economic ties to the country.
Last month, the Gulf states unveiled a string of demands of Qatar, including the expulsion of named terrorists, changes to the output of al-Jazeera – the Doha-backed broadcaster – and an end to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Iran.
The four states are expected to meet tomorrow in the Saudi city of Jeddah and will have to decide whether to use the memorandum to declare victory, or instead irritate the US by maintaining the embargo and insisting on the outstanding demands.
Tillerson is expected to be present at part of the meeting, but in a sign that he wants Saudi Arabia to rethink its position, the secretary of state said: “I think Qatar has been quite clear in its positions and I think very reasonable.”