The United States secretaries of state and defence have urged for a resolution to the Gulf crisis, as the dispute nears the eight-month mark.
At the inaugural round of the US-Qatar strategic dialogue meeting in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US remains as concerned today as it was at the outset of the Gulf dispute.
“The dispute has had direct negative consequences, economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States,” Tillerson said in the presence of Qatar’s foreign and defence ministers.
“It is critical that all parties minimise rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation and work towards a resolution,” he said, adding, a “united GCC bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts”.
Qatar has been at odds with Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June 2017, when the four countries cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade after accusing it of supporting “terrorism” and “extremism”.
Qatar has strongly denied the allegations.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani thanked Tillerson and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis for “taking a just position on the illegal activities of the blockading states”.
“The state of Qatar and its people have been illegally and unjustifiably blockaded. This blockade disrupts joint efforts in providing stability for the region,” said Al Thani.
The two countries announced they would be signing a number of “major” agreements in the sectors of defence, trade, investment and energy.
Al Thani said Qatar was already investing “more than $100bn in America’s economy including $10bn earmarked for infrastructure”.
“Our countries have shared interests – interests that translate into job opportunities for the American and Qatar people,” he added.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane said the Qatari foreign minister’s statements indicated that his country’s investment “could be more if the blockade was ended”.
Trump’s initial support of Riyadh and condemnation of Qatar put him at odds with both his most senior diplomats and military commanders.
Within days of Trump tweeting out support for the blockade, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to ease the blockade on Qatar.
Tillerson’s remarks on Tuesday, said Culhane, were to indicate that “the US establishment – the secretaries of state and defence – want to see the GCC crisis end”.
They are “sending the message that America cares about this, and the crisis needs to be resolved,” she added.
The meeting comes after an announcement on Monday by Qatar’s Defence Minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah that his country intends to expand the American airbase that currently houses some 10,000 US military personnel.
The expansion at the Al-Udeid base – home of the US Air Force Central Command – will allow for 200 more housing units for officers and their families, al-Attiyah said.
Al-Udeid serves as one of the most important overseas US military bases with operations throughout the Middle East launched from Qatar.
“What’s happening in the region in the past seven months isn’t good for the secure flow of energy. Keeping the GCC in coherent status is very important for a safe and smooth flow of energy,” said al-Attiyah.
“We’re open to dialogue. We can discuss anything. The only thing we don’t accept is imposing conditions on us or tampering with our sovereignty.”