Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges Gulf states to heal rift

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Dursun Aydemir | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a press conference as he attends the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Belgium on December 04, 2018.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that a rift between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors had gone on for too long and was threatening regional unity needed to counter Iran.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Egypt cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their regional foe Shi’ite Muslim Iran — something Doha denies.

The United States, an ally of the six-nation Sunni Muslim GCC, sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united Gulf front.

“When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful,” Pompeo, who is on an eight-day tour of the Middle East, told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

“They never permit you to have as robust a response to common adversaries or common challenges as you might,” he added.

Gas-rich Qatar says the boycott is aimed at undermining its sovereignty and has started charting a course away from its Gulf neighbors, including forging new trade partnerships, strengthening its ties with Turkey and quitting OPEC. Those moves have deepened expectations that the row will not be resolved quickly.

“We’re hoping that the unity of GCC will increase in the days and weeks and months ahead,” Pompeo said, adding that Gulf unity was essential for a planned Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) that would also include Jordan and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have repeatedly said the dispute is not a top priority and assured Washington it will not affect defense cooperation.

Pompeo later told reporters that he had brought up the rift with officials in Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE. “It’s … not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday and I regret that,” he said.



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