US, Qatar sign anti-terrorism agreement; Tillerson mediates Middle East crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday with Qatar outlining steps the Gulf nation can take to intensify its fight against terrorism.

“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,” said Tillerson.

Qatar was quick to hold up the agreement as an example of its commitment to combating terrorism, as the two nations will share information to track down funding sources for terrorist activities. The agreement is the first for the U.S. with a nation in the region and is being touted by Doha as an example for countries currently accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism to follow.

The signing started a round of shuttle diplomacy for Secretary Tillerson as he travels between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

The agreement comes as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates recently broke off relations with Qatar. The four countries imposed a trade embargo and cut air, sea, and land routes into the nation over a month ago. The countries have demanded Doha to stop its alleged support of terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and to shut down Al Jazeera Media Network and limit ties between Qatar and Iran.

Turkish troops currently stationed in Qatar are also to be expelled.

Qatar has since rejected the demands and denies supporting terrorist organizations. It does provide indirect support for organizations that other nations consider terrorist such as the Palestinian group Hamas. Qatar is the largest financial supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, at the country signed an agreement on Tuesday with a Palestinian contractor to build eight residential buildings in Gaza.

Kuwait has attempted to mediate the dispute between the four nations and Qatar, but U.S. has worked to avoid being dragged into the regional dispute. Secretary Tillerson did not take a mediating role until it was clear Kuwaiti efforts to diffuse the crisis had stalled.

Secretary Tillerson has portrayed the agreement as distinct from the crisis but flew to meet with foreign ministers from the four countries after leaving Qatar.

“The United States has one goal — to drive terrorism off the face of the earth,” Tillerson said in a news conference in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Mediation could put the U.S. in an awkward position as there are strategic military interests for both sides. Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East, the base for launching operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, while the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet has its home port in Bahrain.  American surveillance aircraft fly out of the United Arab Emirates.

Sec. Tillerson flew back to Qatar with little progress in breaking the diplomatic conflict. The anti-Qatar coalition still insists on its 13 point list of demands while Qatar refuses to concede. Shipping companies and Qatari Airways are using alternate routes to avoid violating the blockade. Qatar is covering the 10-fold increase in costs for shipping essentials into the nation.

While Qatari allies Turkey and Iran have boosted exports to aid the country, Tillerson is returning to Washington as the dispute threatens to impact U.S. military operations in the region.


[AP] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy Kuwait News Agency via Reuters]