As the Gulf crisis over Qatar festers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is embarking on his first shuttle diplomacy mission, heading to the region in a bid to end a deadlock that has badly damaged ties between several key American partners and threatens to hinder counter terrorism efforts, reports the Associated Press.
Tillerson will hop between Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia from Monday until Thursday, the State Department said, meeting Arab leaders to test new ways of resolving the impasse that has persisted despite Kuwaiti efforts to mediate a resolution. US officials said Monday that Tillerson did not expect to produce a breakthrough, which they warned could be more than a month away. Rather, they said, he wants to explore possibilities for bringing all sides to the negotiating table.
A resolution could have ripple effects as well, he said, including reducing Iran’s influence and ability to support extremists. Iran has been building closer ties with Qatar and is sending food and other supplies there to make up for products that the Arab embargo has kept out.
In addition, there are US military interests at stake. Two of the five countries in the dispute are home to major American military bases: Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols Gulf waters with a close eye on Iran’s presence there, and Qatar hosts al-Udeid Air Base, which is the largest US military installation in the Middle East and serves as the hub for the US-led anti-IS coalition operations in Iraq and Syria.
His decision to embark on the mission nevertheless signalled at least a reluctant acceptance of the critical role the US could play in taking a more active mediation role, particularly as some believe that Trump may have precipitated the crisis by siding publicly with Saudi Arabia during a visit to Riyadh in May and then pointing out that numerous Arab leaders had complained to him about Qatar.