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Tillerson's shuttle diplomacy fails to end Gulf standoff, U.S. leadership in doubt
Last Updated: 2017-07-14 08:27 | Xinhua
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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday ended his four-day Gulf tour failing to end the month-long standoff between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, which raises new doubts about the U.S. leadership in the Trump era.

No breakthrough was announced before Tillerson headed home from Doha.

In a surprise move, the top U.S. diplomat returned to Kuwait on Wednesday and to Qatar on Thursday, after meeting with the foreign ministers of the anti-Qatar Arab quartet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Analysts said that the only major result of Tillerson' s Gulf tour is the signing of a deal with Qatar on combating terrorism financing.

But as the Gulf crisis showed no signs of easing after Tillerson's visit, doubts were raised about the U.S. global leadership under the administration of President Donald Trump.


Tillerson started his Gulf tour on Monday in Kuwait, which has been playing as a mediator in the Qatari crisis, before heading to Qatar on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt on June 5 severed their diplomatic ties with Doha and imposed a blockade on the tiny rich Gulf nation, accusing it of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs.

Doha has denied all the charges, while rejecting an ultimatum issued by the four Arab countries to accept their list of 13 demands as preconditions for ending the dispute.

To tackle one of the core accusations against Doha, Tillerson signed in Doha Tuesday a memorandum of understanding on combating terrorism financing.

Tillerson said the deal "reinvigorates the spirit of the Riyadh summit," referring to the meeting held by Trump and Arab leaders in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in May. The summit aimed at unifying the Muslim world to fight terrorism via measures including cutting off terrorism funding.

But Tillerson's statement that Qatar's position in the standoff was "reasonable" raised eyebrows in the anti-Qatari camp.

In response, the Saudi-led bloc issued a joint statement, saying that the U.S.-Qatar deal is insufficient and they will keep close watch on Qatar's future behavior.

As expected, no tangible results came out of the Wednesday meeting between Tillerson and the foreign ministers of the Saudi-led alliance in Jeddah.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, blamed Tillerson's pro-Qatar position for damaging the chance of ending the stalemate.

"What increased suspicion is how he (Tillerson) rushed to concluding that Qatar's demands are reasonable before he even listened to the other involved parties," al-Rashed wrote in an opinion piece published on the Al Arabiya website.

He said Tillerson must realize that his pro-Qatar stance "complicates the problem, which is already complicated, and prolongs the crisis."


Tillerson, as the top U.S. diplomat, is widely believed to be undercut by his big boss, President Trump, and the White House, which have taken over many of diplomatic powers from the State Department.

Trump has been using his tweet account to conduct most of the U.S. diplomacy, by tweeting almost daily on foreign policy decisions and initiatives, without prior consultation with Tillerson.

Moreover, senior White House adviser and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner overshadows Tillerson as the top diplomat in the U.S. government. Indeed, Kushner has been deeply involved in most of the crucial U.S. diplomatic duties.

When it comes to the Qatari crisis, there is also confusion over the Trump administration's real position, as the White House and State Department seem to have different responses.

From the onset of the standoff, Tillerson, a former oil executive that has close ties with many political and business leaders in the Gulf, sounded a more soft tone toward Qatar. He even pushed the Saudi-led bloc to ease the blockade on Qatar, citing humanitarian reasons.

But then Trump publicly expressed support to the Arab bloc's move to hold Doha accountable for financing terrorism and having close ties with Iran, an arch enemy for the U.S. and Gulf states. He even slammed Qatar for financing terrorism "at a very high level."

Due to limited authority and the possibility of a failure to end the feud among Gulf allies, Tillerson's spokesman R.C. Hammond had already downplayed expectation about a breakthrough, insisting that Tillerson was not playing a role of a mediator in the crisis.

"Our job is to make sure everybody continues to talk to each other," he said.

In an editorial published Tuesday, the British daily Financial Times decried the lack of a serious U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration and the Tillerson-led State Department.

"By contrast, under Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's secretary of state, US diplomacy is missing in action," it wrote, making a comparison with previous U.S. governments.

It added that the fact that Trump is a president besieged by scandal and the State Department has failed to have a team in place "is taking a mounting toll on America's global position."


However, for some Arab experts, the Trump administration is not really motivated to resolve the standoff in the Gulf sooner, as long as it benefits from it.

Some experts suspect that Trump was behind the Saudi-led quartet's move to cut diplomatic ties with Doha, which happened right after Trump's meeting with their leaders in Riyadh in May.

Medhat Hammad, professor of Iranian and Gulf studies at Egypt's Tanta University, told Xinhua that the U.S. goal is to undermine the stability of Western Asia region and contain Russia's influence via sowing confrontation and feuds, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"The main strategic purpose of these U.S. intentions is to ruin the Russian presence in Western Asia," Hammad said.

Mokhtar Ghobashy, deputy chief of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, echoed Hammad's views.

"All these actions give the impression that the United States acts like a guardian of the Gulf region," he told Xinhua. "The U.S. does not want other parties to have the upper hand in settling the Qatari crisis, particularly Iran and Russia."

They pointed out that the U.S. is benefiting from the situation in the Gulf, by recently securing lucrative business, investment and military deals worth billions of U.S. dollars from rich Gulf nations, which reply on U.S. political and military support.

"In principle, the U.S. is carrying out the strategy announced by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, when he described Saudi Arabia as a dairy cow that should be milked," Hammad said.

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