Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touched down in Kuwait City on Monday, opening a series of talks aimed at ending a diplomatic impasse between Qatar and four of its Arab neighbors.
The trip this week will take Tillerson from Kuwait to Qatar, then on to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, together with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, moved last month to isolate Qatar for its alleged ties to terrorist organizations. They also hit the peninsula nation with a 13-point list of steep demands.
Qatar, for its part, has rejected the allegations and has refused to comply with the ultimatum.
“The purpose of the trip is to explore the art of the possible of where a resolution can be found — looking for areas of common ground where a resolution can stand,” R.C. Hammond, a senior adviser to Tillerson, told reporters.
“Our job here is to keep people communicating and talking to each other,” Hammond added. He stressed that Tillerson was not acting as a “mediator” but rather “listening and finding common ground.”
“The emir of Kuwait is leading these efforts,” Hammond said.
Until now, U.S. diplomats have been largely hesitant to intervene in the dispute, which has come to a head after decades of friction between Qatar and its larger Gulf neighbors. The four countries closed most major trade routes into Qatar last month, casting the move as a punishment for allegedly financing terrorism abroad and promoting the Doha-based news outlet Al Jazeera as a voice of extremist views, among other perceived offenses.
Qatar’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia. It is surrounded on all other sides by water.
The Gulf countries said they would lift the sanctions if Qatar complied with their demands. Those include shutting down Al Jazeera and closing Turkey’s military base near Doha. The four partners also want Qatar to align its foreign policy aims more closely with theirs — and farther from those of Turkey and Iran, both of which have supported Qatar during the diplomatic showdown.
But the deadline to comply with the demands has come and gone without concessions from Qatar, and Hammond says they “are done” and “are not worth revisiting as a package,” according to Reuters. “Individually there are things in there that could work.”
Tillerson flew to Kuwait from Istanbul, where he had attended the World Petroleum Congress over the weekend. His three-country round of shuttle diplomacy is expected to last through Thursday.