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11 Jul, 2017 16:46

US & Qatar sign agreement to step up Doha’s counterterrorism efforts

US & Qatar sign agreement to step up Doha’s counterterrorism efforts

The United States and Qatar have signed an agreement to step up the emirate’s efforts to fight terrorism. It comes as Washington tries to mediate in ending other Gulf nations’ blockade of Qatar.

The memorandum of understanding was signed on Tuesday during US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Qatar, where he went to mediate in a month-long dispute between the country and its four neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Elements of the deal were in the works as far back as a year ago, Tillerson said.

The agreement is not “directly or indirectly” related to the regional powers cutting ties with Doha, claimed Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. It is a separate, bilateral deal, the minister maintained.

Qatar has been accused of funding terrorism by the four Arab countries, as well as by US President Donald Trump, who in June supported the Saudi-led blockade, calling Doha “a funder of terrorism.”

The US State Department, on the other hand, has called for an easing of the ban, leaving many confused about Washington’s stance.

Qatar has denied being involved in funding terrorism.

However, the deal signed on Tuesday outlines “future efforts Qatar can take to fortify its fight against terrorism and actively address terrorism funding issues,” said Tillerson’s senior adviser, RC Hammond.

The international community is losing patience with the Gulf’s funding of extremist groups, Hammond said earlier, adding that all countries in the region needed to do more on the issue.

“This is a two-way street,” he said. “There are no clean hands.”

Addressing terrorism-related issues may not be enough to end the rift between Qatar and its neighbors, as the countries have put out a 13-point list of demands for Doha, insisting that, among other things, their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter the Al Jazeera news channel, cut back diplomatic ties with Iran and close down a Turkish military base in Qatar. They also demanded that Qatar sever its alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIL/ISIS) terrorist groups.

Qatar has rejected the demands, calling them an "unprovoked attack on Qatar's sovereignty."

“Reading between the lines, the blockading countries [are] demanding that we have to surrender our sovereignty to end the siege, something which... Qatar will never do,” al-Thani said.

It is unrealistic of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to expect that Qatar will fulfill all their demands, but some items on their list could be included in an eventual deal, Tillerson’s senior adviser said on Monday.

On Wednesday, the US secretary of state travels to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to meet with foreign ministers of the countries boycotting Qatar.

“My role here is to support the efforts of the Emir of Kuwait” to have both sides fully understand each other’s concerns and offer solutions, said the top US diplomat.

There are more than 10,000 American service members at the US Central Command base in Qatar.