US officials downplay Arab nations splitting with Qatar

US officials downplay Arab nations splitting with Qatar
© Getty

U.S. officials are downplaying the growing dissension between Qatar and four other Arab nations, saying the dispute will not affect the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified — the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Australia on Monday.

Early Monday, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing what they say is Qatar’s support for extremist groups and its relations with Iran.

ADVERTISEMENT
The four countries also said they would cut off sea and air traffic, while Saudi Arabia added it would also shut down its land border with Qatar.

Qatar denies any support for militant groups and says the crisis is being fueled by “absolute fabrications” and is a “violation of its sovereignty.”

The United States has about 10,000 troops at Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar’s capital. The base is the Unites States’ largest in the Middle East, the forward headquarters of Central Command and the staging area for much of the war against ISIS.

Speaking at a news conference after meetings in Australia, Tillerson encouraged the countries to work out their differences.

“I think what we’re witnessing is a growing list of disbelief in the countries for some time, and they’ve bubbled up to take action in order to have those differences addressed,” Tillerson said. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis, speaking alongside Tillerson in Australia, also said he doesn’t believe the rift will affect the ISIS fight.

“I am positive there will be no implications coming out of this dramatic situation at all, and I say that based on the commitment that each of these nations that you just referred to have made to this fight,” Mattis said.

Mattis added that he believes the issue will “resolve itself” but that the timing depends on Iran’s behavior.

“I believe Iran’s actions speak louder than anyone’s words, and they are going to incite the international community in that region to try to block them in the various destabilizing efforts that they are undertaking right now, from Syria, where [President Bashar] Assad remains in power today because of Iran’s actions, to Yemen, where they have been contributing in an unhelpful way to a war that is marooning millions of people and leaving them vulnerable to starvation and health problems and violence,” he said.

“So I think it’s Iran’s actions that will speak most loudly, and the diplomatic situation, it will probably take some time — I don’t know how long — but it will be resolved.”