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Tillerson meets Arab ministers over Qatar boycott

While US President Donald Trump welcomed the Arab states decision to sever air and land links to their gas-rich neighbour, the state department has taken a more neutral position.

world Updated: Jul 17, 2017 18:52 IST
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is welcomed by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir upon his arrival in Jeddah on July 12, 2017.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is welcomed by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir upon his arrival in Jeddah on July 12, 2017.(AP)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson held talks on Wednesday with four Arab states boycotting Qatar as part of a round of intense shuttle diplomacy aimed at resolving the regional crisis.

Tillerson flew into Saudi Arabia where he met King Salman, whose country is leading a four-state alliance that has cut ties with Qatar over accusations that it supports extremism.

He then began talks with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in an attempt to mend fences between the crucial US allies.

In a setback to his efforts, the four Arab states on Tuesday quickly dismissed a counter-terrorism deal signed between Qatar and the United States as “insufficient”. The crisis has presented Tillerson, well known in the Gulf from his former role as chief of energy giant ExxonMobil, with his first big challenge as Washington’s top diplomat.

While US President Donald Trump welcomed the Arab states decision to sever air and land links to their gas-rich neighbour, the state department has taken a more neutral position and Tillerson is seeking to broker a diplomatic solution.

Tillerson, who is spending much of this week in the Gulf seeking to end the dispute, passed on “greetings from President Trump” at his audience with King Salman at the royal court in Jeddah.

“He wanted to ensure that I extend to you his warmest regards,” Tillerson told the Saudi ruler.

The United States and its Western allies have vast economic and political interests in the Gulf, which pumps one fifth of the world’s oil supplies.

While Saudi Arabia is a key US ally, Qatar is home to the US military’s largest air base in the region, Al-Udeid. Rival Bahrain houses the US Navy Fifth Fleet.