US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday wrapped up a four-day mission to the Gulf with little sign of progress in resolving the diplomatic crisis pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar.
Tillerson met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for the second time in 48 hours, together with a Kuwaiti mediator, on the final leg of his trip, before heading back to Washington.
Despite an intense round of shuttle diplomacy that also took him to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, tensions remained high between Qatar and four Arab states that accuse Doha of supporting extremism and being too close to their arch-rival Iran.
The diplomatic slack now appears likely to be picked up again by the Europeans, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian heading to the region at the weekend.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a boycott on Qatar since June 5 with which it shares the world’s biggest gas field.
They have imposed sanctions on Doha, including closing its only land border, refusing Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from Qatar.
They also presented the emirate with a list of 13 demands with which to comply to end the worst political crisis in the region for years.
Qatar denies the charges of extremism and called the demands “unrealistic”.
Crisis, yet opportunity?
Tillerson arrived back in Doha after meeting Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 24 hours earlier.
On his previous visit on Tuesday, the US and Qatar signed an agreement to combat terror funding, subsequently dismissed as “insufficient” by the Saud-led states.
On Tuesday, speaking in Doha, Tillerson described Qatar as being “reasonable” in its dispute with the four states.
“Underneath the surface however... the US – including Tillerson – likely sees significant strategic and lucrative benefits to any long-running stand-off between these states.”