• US looks to defuse Qatar-Gulf row with counter-terror deal

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    DOHA: Qatar and the United States signed a deal Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) to combat “terrorism” as visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pursued efforts to resolve the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

    In Qatar as part of a series of Gulf meetings, Tillerson also said Doha had been “reasonable” in the dispute, which has seen Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with the emirate over accusations it supports extremism.

    Tillerson is spending much of this week in the Gulf seeking to mediate in the rift among crucial US allies, and will meet foreign ministers of the four countries isolating Qatar in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Wednesday.

    After talks with senior officials in Doha on Tuesday, Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani announced the deal targeting extremist financing.

    “The memorandum lays out a series of steps the two countries will take over the coming months and years to interrupt and disable terror financing flows and intensify counter-terrorism activities globally,” Tillerson said at a joint press conference.

    It also meant Qatar was “the first to respond” to US President Donald Trump’s call at a summit in Riyadh earlier this year “to stop the funding of terrorism”—suggesting such deals could be signed with the other Arab states as a step toward ending the crisis.

    Sheikh Mohammed urged “the siege countries to join us in the future” by signing on to such deals.

    But Tuesday’s initiative met a dismissive reaction from the Arab countries that imposed sanctions on Qatar last month.

    “This step is insufficient,” said a joint statement published by Saudi state news agency SPA, adding that the four states would “carefully monitor the seriousness of Qatari authorities in combating all forms of financing, supporting and harboring terrorism.”

    Commitments made by Qatari authorities “cannot be trusted,” the statement added, citing previous agreements that have allegedly not been honored.

    ‘Hopeful of progress’
    While the State Department has warned the crisis could last months, Tillerson on Tuesday struck a moderately optimistic note.

    “I’m hopeful we can make some progress to bring this to a point of resolution,” he said after meeting Qatar’s emir.

    “Qatar has been quite clear in its positions and I think very reasonable and we want to talk now… (about) how do we take things forward.”

    Tillerson flew back to Kuwait—the main mediator in the crisis and where he is based this week—after the talks in Qatar.

    Egypt announced the meeting with Tillerson in Jeddah on Wednesday, saying it “reflects the four countries’ desire to enhance coordination and underscore their unity on ways to deal with Qatar in the future.”

    The diplomatic crisis is the worst to hit the region since the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981.

    The four countries on June 5 announced sanctions, effective immediately, against Qatar over accusations Doha supported Islamist extremism and was too close to Iran.

    They severed all diplomatic ties, suspended transport links with Doha and ordered all Qataris to return home within 14 days.

    AFP

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