The Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar said a counter-terrorism pact struck with the US in Doha to strengthen Qatari action against terrorist funding “isn’t enough” to end the Gulf diplomatic crisis.
The alliance, which includes the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, said Tuesday’s agreement between the US and Qatar came about due to years of pressure from the bloc, according to a joint statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. They also pledged to maintain the recent measures against Qatar until their demands are met in full.
The US’s memorandum of understanding with Qatar came as part of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s sweep through the region in pursuit of a negotiated settlement of the feud, now in its second month. It was the most concrete step the US has taken to end the standoff, which started after the four nations severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5. The bloc accuses the Gulf nation of destabilising the region by supporting proxies of Shiite-dominant Iran and Sunni extremists, charges it denies.
The US’s top diplomat is meeting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the kingdom’s crown prince in Jeddah on Wednesday, and is also due to hold talks with the foreign ministers of the four nations boycotting Qatar.
The pact with Qatar will change the nature of those talks, according to Allison Wood, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Control Risks in Dubai. “It forces the Saudis to be more explicit about their other grievances against Qatar and how they can constructively address them,” Wood said.
The agreement lays out a series of steps the two countries will take over the coming months and years to interrupt and disable terrorist financing flows, Tillerson said on Tuesday in Doha.
Qatar “has been quite clear in its positions, and I think very reasonable, and we want to talk now how do we take things forward -- that’s my purpose in coming”, Tillerson told reporters.
The Gulf crisis has put the US in a difficult spot. It’s allied with nations on both sides of the dispute. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for the US Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the Pentagon depends on to target Islamic State. Saudi Arabia has strong counter-terrorism ties with the US and is the top buyer of American weapons.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Tuesday that his nation was the first to sign the pact with the US, and invited other countries to join. He also said the agreement wasn’t linked to the Gulf impasse and had been planned for weeks.
“The idea of a U.S.-Qatari agreement on terror financing has been floating around for a few weeks now,” said Peter Salisbury, senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program. “It’s part of a package the US has been proposing to end the crisis, and I think people at State Department will see it as a smart way of neutralising the Gang-of-Four argument that Qatar is the weakest link in the region when it comes to funding for terror groups.”
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