Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, left, talks to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Commander in Chief of the Emirates Armed Forces in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
DUBAI — Four Arab nations announced Monday that they were severing diplomatic relations with the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, moving swiftly to isolate the gas-rich country after accusing Qatar’s government of supporting terrorist organizations and stoking regional conflicts.
The four countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — released separate and apparently coordinated statements saying they would cut air, sea and land links with Qatar, which hosts a base for the U.S. military’s Air Forces Central Command. There was no immediate comment from Qatar, which will also host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The escalating and unusually public diplomatic rift exposed the ongoing tensions between the monarchies of the Persian Gulf as well as their competitions for regional influence. And it came just weeks after President Trump met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and called for a unified front against extremism — a visit that analysts said had also served to bolster the regional assertiveness of Saudi Arabia and its closest allies.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, asked Monday in Australia about the possible ramifications about the Gulf states’ rift, said that “what we’re witnessing is a growing list of irritants in the region that have been there for some time.”
But Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, appearing alongside him and their Australian counterparts, said that they did not think the developments would affect the U.S.-led coalition fighting Sunni extremists in the Middle East.
“I say that based on the commitment that each of these nations that you just referred to have made in this fight,” Mattis said, referring to the four states that broke relations with Qatar.
The United States uses bases in several of the countries to launch air operations against the Islamic State, and has its headquarters for the air war at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Qatar has for years drawn the ire of Arab neighbors for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated Sunni Islamist groups as well its sponsorship of the Al Jazeera television channel, which hosts frank discussions of politics in the region while also amplifying Qatar’s pro-Islamist views.
The statements by the Arab countries Monday, however, went beyond the usual criticism of Qatar, accusing it of playing a treacherous role in a host of regional conflicts, including the war in Yemen, Egypt’s struggle against the Islamic State in Sinai and longstanding tensions in Bahrain between the Sunni monarchy and the country’s Shiite-led opposition.
Signs of the escalating feud in the gulf emerged days after Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, when the Saudi government and its allies attacked Qatar for statements allegedly made by Qatar’s emir. Qatar later said the statements, which were posted on the state news agency, were fake and that the agency’s website had been hacked.
Dan Lamothe in Australia contributed to this report.