Rex Tillerson: Resolving Qatar Crisis ‘May Take Quite a While’

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani leave the stage following a press conference in Doha, on July 11, 2017. The US and Qatar announced they have signed an agreement on fighting terrorism, at a time when the emirate is facing sanctions …

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned home from an extended trip to the Middle East on Friday, expressing a mixture of optimism that Qatar and the other Gulf states are finally willing to talk to each other and pessimism that they have anything meaningful to talk about.

“In my view, there’s a changed sense of willingness to at least be open to talking to one another and that was not the case before I came,” he said aboard his plane to reporters.

However, Tillerson predicted that “ultimate resolution may take quite a while.”

“I think it was helpful for me to be here and actually talk to them about a way forward, first to listen and get a sense of how serious the situation is, how emotional some of these issues are,” Tillerson said before departing from Doha. “But we tabled some documents with both sides while we were here which lays out some ways that we might move this forward.”

Reuters notes that Tillerson portrayed his activities as support for Kuwait’s effort to mediate the dispute, rather than direct U.S. mediation.

Tillerson made a somewhat provocative reference to one of the major subjects of dispute between Qatar and its critics in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE: the status of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said the United States has encountered its own “sticking points” in terms of “how we view the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities,” and has an internal “difference of view” about the Brotherhood that mirrors the Qatar dispute. 

The other Gulf states regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a banned terrorist organization and have demanded Qatar terminate all support for it.

The Al-Jazeera news network, whose shutdown has also been demanded by Saudi Arabia and its allies, reports that Qatar’s Foreign Minister was “upbeat” about Tillerson’s visit and believes mediation from the United States and Kuwait will “bear fruit in time.”

On the other hand, Reuters caught an Abu Dhabi paper proclaiming there was “no wavering on the 13 demands” from Qatar’s adversaries after Tillerson’s mission.

The New York Times found Tillerson proclaiming himself exhausted after his shuttle diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He also expressed what will be widely interpreted as frustration with the political situation back home, remarking that problem-solving as CEO of Exxon was much easier because he was the “ultimate decision maker” and the company was much more disciplined than Washington.

“It’s largely not a highly disciplined organization, decision making is fragmented, and sometimes people don’t want to make decisions, coordination is difficult through the interagency – has been for every administration,” he said of the situation in D.C.

Tillerson also seems to have concluded that mediation from both the United States and Kuwait has done about as much as it can. The State Department on Thursday said, “getting the parties to talk directly to one another would be an important next step.”

Radio Free Europe notes that European ministers have been working on the Qatar crisis as well, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian due in the region over the weekend. None of these mediators have been able to resolve the rather straightforward problem at the heart of the crisis. The other states are very serious about their demands and feel Qatar has betrayed less draconian agreements in the past, but they are not desperate enough to take actions that would truly damage the tiny oil-rich emirate or provoke a wider crisis with its allies, Turkey and Iran.

Judging from social media posts by United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash on Friday, the other states in the Gulf Cooperation Council are thinking about expelling Qatar, but one of those states is Kuwait, and Kuwait probably does not want to abandon its role as mediator in the crisis. Gargash, like Tillerson, expects that the final resolution of the Qatar crisis remains distant.