Rex Tillerson. Picture: REUTERS
Rex Tillerson. Picture: REUTERS

Washington/Istanbul — While President Donald Trump offered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to mediate the standoff between Qatar and the Saudi-led coalition, Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan has approved legislation to deploy troops in Qatar as it faces isolation imposed by fellow Arab states over its alleged support for terrorism.

Turkey’s parliament pushed through the bill on Wednesday and Erdogan’s rapid approval of it, announced by his office late on Thursday, was followed by its publication in the Official Gazette on Friday, completing the legislative process.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said Tillerson, who dealt with Qatari leaders for years as CEO of Exxon Mobil, was skilled at bringing people together and was ready to help if needed.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Trump would rather that all sides worked out the dispute among themselves.

The announcement came after Trump met Tillerson and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at the White House earlier on Thursday to discuss the crisis. Any role Tillerson might play would be complicated by conflicting messages from the administration, including Trump’s tweets on Tuesday in which he appeared to back Saudi Arabia over Qatar. Tillerson and other officials had refrained from taking sides after the crisis began.

A group of Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties as well as land, sea and air travel with Qatar on Monday, accusing the country of supporting Sunni extremist groups and Iranian-backed Shiite militants to destabilise the region.

The crisis has thrust the US into a delicate position because of its alliances with all sides — and because Qatar hosts the nerve centre for US air operation in the Middle East, including the fight against Islamic State (IS).

The outlines of any US-led mediation are unclear so far, and Nauert said she did not have details to announce. A Qatari diplomat told the Associated Press on Thursday that his country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, would not travel abroad while the blockade remained in place. Kuwait is also working on a separate mediation effort.

On Tuesday, Trump offered what seemed an offhand endorsement of the Saudi-led move, writing on Twitter: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

The White House may have further fanned the flames of the crisis with a statement on Wednesday condemning an attack in Qatar’s ally Iran that killed 12 people. While it said the US grieved and prayed for the victims, it said countries that sponsored terrorism “risk falling victim to the evil they promote”. Iran’s foreign minister called the statement “repugnant”.

Tillerson has extensive experience in Qatar and the rest of the Gulf region. During a trip to New Zealand this week, Tillerson was asked how his past as an oilman might help resolve the crisis. Saying he had dealt with Qatar’s leaders for 15 years, Tillerson replied, “We know each other quite well.”

Bloomberg and Reuters

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