KUWAIT CITY — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s quest to mend a squabble among Persian Gulf countries will continue Thursday in Qatar after a day of talks with Arab diplomats in Saudi Arabia ended with no signs of an imminent breakthrough.
Tillerson’s trip to Qatar to meet with its leader suggested, however, that the four Arab countries leading a month-long embargo against Qatar may be willing to relent, at least in part, on the 13 maximalist demands they made two weeks ago before Qatar flatly rejected them. Tillerson will report to the Qatari leader on the various points of view expressed Wednesday at talks in the Saudi coastal city of Jiddah, aides said.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are leading a bloc of countries that severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar last month, ostensibly over its alleged support for groups they consider terrorists, notably Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Tuesday, Tillerson signed an agreement with Qatar for the two countries to work together trying to plug the pipeline of funds flowing to terrorist groups, a separate deal that nevertheless addressed one of the main demands of the boycotting nations.
Immediately after the deal, however, the four Arab countries declared in a joint statement that the agreement fell far short of their demands. They also claimed credit for the agreement that Qatar signed with the United States, saying it was their stance that pressured Qatar to take steps against networks that finance terrorism.
Before meeting with Tillerson, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir deflected a question about his thoughts on the Qatari agreement.
“We have many thoughts, and I will discuss them with the secretary,” he replied.
Tillerson has expressed frustration with the ongoing feud, fearing that it is a distraction from counterterrorism efforts and boosts support for Iran. Tehran has sided with Qatar by letting it use its airspace after other countries closed their airspace to flights in and out of Qatar.
State Department officials have said that none of the countries in the region have “clean hands” on the issue of allowing money from their territories to flow to terrorists and that the United States wants them to focus on ways to stop it instead of becoming entangled in a regional spat.
On the surface, the dispute is about Qatar’s alleged support for terrorists, which it denies, and its relationship with Iran, which is geographically so close to Qatar that it can be reached by ferryboat.
But Qatar has said it thinks the embargo is an attack on its independent foreign policy, which differs in important ways from that of Saudi Arabia. For example, Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter rivals for influence in the region, while Qatar maintains friendly relations with Tehran. And among the demands made on Qatar is that it close the news network Al Jazeera, which reports critically on many Arab governments.
Tillerson was joined in the talks in Saudi Arabia by the foreign minister of Kuwait, which has been unsuccessful so far in its efforts to mediate the diplomatic row. In a rather unusual choice of venue, the meetings with the four foreign ministers were held in the opulent VIP departure lounge at Jiddah’s international airport. Tillerson also traveled to private villas to meet with King Salman and the newly designated crown prince, the king’s son Mohammed bin Salman.