No light seen at the end of Qatar tunnel

Tillerson returns home after four-day shuttle diplomacy

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, meets with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Jeddah, Wednesday. — Reuters

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 involving Qatar.

Tillerson met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad for the second time in 48 hours, together with a Kuwaiti mediator, on the final leg of his trip, before heading back to Washington.

Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart appeared before cameras in the capital, Doha, but ignored reporters’ questions before he left.

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.

A French diplomatic source in Paris said that Le Drian would try “to recreate confidence, create an interest of all parties to engage in de-escalation”.

“We must find a way out.”

Le Drian’s visit will follow similar trips made by his counterparts from Germany and Britain in recent weeks.

Since June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed sanctions on Doha, including closing its only land border, refusing Qatar access to their airspace and ordering their citizens back from Qatar. The anti-terror quartet wants Qatar to stop its support for terror groups.

The quartet also presented Doha with a list of 13 demands with which to comply to end the crisis.

Tillerson arrived back in Doha after meeting Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, 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 Saudi-led states.

Qatar hosts Al-Udeid Air Base, the largest US military installation in the Middle East and hub for US-led operations against Daesh (the so-called IS) group in Iraq and Syria. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, while American surveillance planes and other aircraft fly from the UAE.

The United States has given mixed signals about its policy on the Gulf crisis.

While President Donald Trump welcomed the Arab states’ decision to sever air and land links to their gas-rich neighbor, the State Department has taken a more neutral position and Tillerson has sought to broker a diplomatic solution.

The crisis has presented Tillerson, well known in the Gulf from his former role as chief of energy giant ExxonMobil, with his first big challenge as Washington’s top diplomat.

Speaking after meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad, Tillerson stressed the two countries shared a “strong partnership”. — Agencies