As Tillerson calls for calm, Trump calls out Qatar on terror

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Saudi Arabia and other states in the region to ease their blockade of the peninsula, saying it was affecting the US-led fight against Islamic State.

On Monday, a group of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE severed diplomatic ties with major USA partner Qatar, accusing the oil-rich country of sponsoring violent extremism and causing regional instability.

Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region have cited Qatar's alleged support for regional rival Iran and for extremist groups as explanation for their decision.

Delivering a short statement at the State Department in Washington on Friday, he said: "US expectation is that Gulf countries would immediately take steps to de-escalate situation in region".

Qatar, reeling from a blockade imposed by its Arab neighbors as well as President Trump's accusation that the Persian Gulf nation funds terror, has hired former Attorney General John Ashcroft as a lobbyist and crisis management consultant. During his first foreign trip as president last month, Trump attended a meeting of regional leaders in Riyadh, where he secured a commitment to crack down on support for extremist groups.

"The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level", Trump said during an appearance alongside Romania's president at the White House.

But Tillerson on Friday said the blockade was causing food shortages, the forced separation of families and children being pulled out of school.

"The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS", Tillerson warned.

The crisis has thrust the US into a delicate position because of its alliances with all sides - and because Qatar hosts the nerve center for USA air operations in the Middle East, including the fight against Islamic State.

He said there had been no change to Qatar's military deployment and no troops had been moved. No clear evidence has surfaced yet of who was involved, but Qatar's relationship with the USA and its funding of the Al-Jazeera news service have been sources of concern for other governments in the region.

Dialogue is the best way to tackle the political rift in the Arab world over Qatar, two top diplomats said Saturday in Moscow. The recent joint statement issued by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a "terror finance watchlist" once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact.

He also pointedly asked Saudi Arabia and others to ease their blockade on Qatar.

But he also encouraged Qatar, adding, "We want you back among the unity of responsible nations".

While the United States is publicly offering to help mediate, Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf have made clear that the dispute should be resolved among them, reported FT.

Related news: