In the latest US attempt to mediate and resolve the Qatar crisis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to the Gulf on Monday for talks aimed at ending the standoff between a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the wealthy nat gas exporter, which has led to more than a month of economic, financial and naval blockade. The State Department said Tillerson, who forged extensive ties in the Gulf as CEO of ExxonMobil, would hold talks with leaders in Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He was flying from Istanbul where he attended an international petroleum conference. R.C. Hammond, a senior adviser to Tillerson, added that the former Exxon CEO would explore ways to end a stalemate following Qatar’s rejection of 13 demands issued as condition for ending sanctions.
Following Qatar’s refusal to comply with the ultimatum, which included the closure of Al Jazeera and a Turkish militarybase in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and its backers have threatened further sanctions against the emirate.
In Doha, a Western diplomat told Reuters that the creation of a “terror finance monitoring mechanism” would feature in the talks without elaborating. As a reminder, on June 5th Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing Doha of aiding terrorism, something it denies.
“The trips to Saudi Arabia and Qatar are about the art of the possible,” said Hammond, who added that the 13 demands “are done” and “are not worth revisiting as a package. Individually there are things in there that could work.”
The crisis has hit travel, food imports to Qatar, ratcheted up tensions in the Gulf and sown confusion among businesses, while pushing Qatar closer to Iran and Turkey which have offered support. Furthermore, the US is worried that the crisis in Qatar – which hosts Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the
Middle East – could affect its military and counter-terrorism operations and increase the regional influence of Tehran, which has been supporting Qatar by allowing it to use air and sea links through its territory.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has expressed support for Saudi Arabia in the dispute, which may emerge as a new potential scandal for the presidency.
Earlier on Monday, the Intercept reported that in what may be seen as a conflict of interest, Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner tried, and failed, to obtain a $500 million investment to refinance and fund the expansion of his 666 Fifth Avenue property, where the family is severely underwater, from one of Qatar’s richest men, the former prime minister and former head of the local sovereign wealth fund, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated directly with a major investor in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ for short, in an effort to refinance the property on Fifth Avenue, the sources said.
HBJ ultimately agreed to invest at least $500 million through Al Mirqab, on the condition that Kushner Companies could raise the rest of a multibillion refinancing elsewhere. The negotiations continued long after the election, carried out as recently as this spring by Charles Kushner. “HBJ basically told them, we’re good for 500, subject to a lot of things, but mainly subject to you being able to raise the rest,” said one source in the region with knowledge of the deal. The talks were confirmed by two additional sources with knowledge of the talks. One of those sources claimed that the potential deal was not contingent on the rest of the money being raised and that the HBJ investment was on hold as the overall structure of the financing was reconsidered.
The deal ultimately died when Anbang, which was supposed to be the major partner, and co-investor, as well as provide a $4 billion loan, pulled out, after the deal was critized as a conflict of interest, although there is now the implicit speculation that Trump’s greenlighting of the blockade of Qatar was in retaliation for the collapse of the 666 Fifth investment.
Of course, it is worth recalling that in addition to seeking to cooperate with Trump, Sheih Hamad Bin Jassim Jabr Al-Thani was also one of the most prominent Clinton Foundation donors.
Taking a more diplomatic stance, Hammond said it was critical that not only Qatar, but Riyadh and its allies take steps to halt any financial support flowing to extremists groups, especially following the defeat of Islamic State in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. “It’s a two-way street,” he said. “There are no clean hands here.”
“We want progress on terrorism financing. The president strongly believes that if you cut off financing, you cut off the ability of terror to take hold in new areas,” Hammond said.
Moreover, he said, “the longer that this struggle is in place, the more opportunity there is for Iran.” Yet, ultimately, behind the facade of a united front behind “the war on terrorism”, it now appears that the motive behind the Qatar crisis may have once again been nothing more than settling of old financial scores.