Rex Tillerson urges Saudis to make ‘reasonable’ demands of Qatar in Gulf crisis

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Saudi Arabian leaders to make “reasonable and actionable” demands of Qatar as he continues to push for an end to a diplomatic fallout between U.S. partners.

“We understand a list of demands has been prepared and coordinated by the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians, and Bahrainis,” Tillerson said. “We hope the list of demands will soon be presented to Qatar and will be reasonable and actionable.”

Saudi Arabia led a bloc of Arab states in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposing a blockade on the neighboring Gulf state, citing allegations that Qatar supports terrorism and has aligned with Iran in a regional conflict. President Trump initially celebrated the news, but Tillerson has been working to ease the tension; the split is an uncomfortable one for the United States, which has major military operations in both countries.

Qatari officials have complained Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries haven’t identified a path to resolve the diplomatic fight, despite reports they had compiled a list of demands.

“We’re just confused about what these demands could be,” Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman said Saturday. “The fact that they don’t even have clear demands ready shows that all of their accusations are baseless.”

Tillerson’s team echoed that complaint in a midweek briefing. “We are mystified that the Gulf states have not released to the public nor to the Qataris the details about the claims that they are making towards Qatar,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday.

Qatar has been suspected of funding terrorism by U.S. leaders across the political spectrum. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a 2014 email that was famously hacked and leaked during the 2016 election, accused both Qatar and Saudi Arabia of “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

President Trump hailed Saudi Arabia’s decision to isolate Qatar as a victory for his efforts to rally the Middle East against terrorism and the threat of Iran.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets. “They said they would take a hard line on funding, extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

However, Tillerson followed that statement by asking Saudi Arabia to ease the blockade on Qatar. The State Department, following weeks without improvement in the standoff, accused the Saudis of using the terror-financing issue as a false pretense for cracking down on Qatar.

“At this point we are left with one simple question: Were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism, or were they about the long-simmering grievances between and among the [Gulf Coalition Council] countries?” Nauert said. “What we see this as [is] long-simmering tensions that have been going on for quite some time.”