Posted on June 29, 2017

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with his Qatari counterpart Tuesday, three weeks after the start of a Saudi, Emirati, Bahrani and Egyptian-backed boycott on the small, gas-rich US ally. The meeting comes days before the deadline on a stern list of demands sent to Qatar by the four Arab states last Thursday. Tillerson has already said that parts of the demands "will be very difficult for Qatar to meet."

The list includes 13 preconditions to ending Qatar's isolation, including shutting down the country's state-funded Al Jazeera news network and reducing ties with Iran. Tillerson and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani are expected to meet in Washington on Tuesday afternoon. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region. Qatar, which shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia, has rejected the accusations, calling them "unjustified" and "baseless."

Tillerson has repeatedly called for dialogue between countries on both sides of the diplomatic rift, advocating an evenhanded approach to the standoff. "Qatar has begun its careful review and consideration of a series of requests presented by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE," Tillerson said on Sunday. "While some of the elements will be very difficult for Qatar to meet, there are significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution." Meanwhile, Qatar appears to have all but dismissed the demands.

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The director of Qatar's Government Communication Office, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani, said the demands confirm what Qatar has said from the beginning: "The illegal siege has nothing to do with combating terrorism, (but) it is about limiting Qatar's sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy." On Sunday, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani apparently flouted the list of demands by speaking to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the phone. The two leaders discussed moves to "deepen relations," according to Rouhani's office. Iran is a bitter rival of the other Gulf states.

Tillerson is calling for direct dialogue. "A productive next step would be for each of the countries to sit together and continue this conversation. We believe our allies and partners are stronger when they are working together towards one goal, which we all agree is stopping terrorism and countering extremism," he said Sunday. Tillerson will have to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Saudi Arabia, with which President Donald Trump's administration is pursuing more than $350 billion in business deals and investments, and Qatar, where the US has its largest military base in the Middle East. The Al Udeid Air Base, just 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital of Doha, is host to some 11,000 US military personnel. The meeting may also help clarify seemingly contradictory positions between Tillerson and Trump on Qatar's crisis.

Trump seemed to endorse moves to isolate Qatar, just hours after Tillerson said the embargo was hampering US military efforts against ISIS. "The nation of Qatar has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level," said Trump, speaking from the Rose Garden two weeks ago. "I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding, they have to end the funding and its extremist ideology," Trump said. But Tillerson later said he was involved in writing the President's statement on Qatar "to reflect the strong message he wanted to send," and insisted "there is no daylight between he and I."