By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Secretaries of Defense and State urged an end to the ongoing row between Qatar and four of its neighbors Tuesday, saying the Gulf crisis has not only hurt the countries directly involved but Washington as well.
"This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the inaugural round of the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in Washington.
"It is critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation, and work toward a resolution. A united GCC bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on counter terror – countering terrorism, defeating [Daesh], and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence," he added, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Tillerson was speaking alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and their Qatari counterparts.
Qatar has been at odds with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since June, with the bloc accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and severing ties with the country. Qatar has adamantly denied the allegations.
The crisis is unprecedented in inter-Arab relations and has resulted in the four countries imposing a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani thanked the U.S. for "taking a just position on the illegal activities of the blockading states throughout this Gulf crisis".
"The state of Qatar and its people have been illegally and unjustifiably blockaded. This blockade disrupts the joint efforts in providing stability for the region," al-Thani said. "Qatar and the U.S. are committed to delivering justice to our citizens."
The defense and foreign affairs meeting occurred one day after Qatar agreed to expand al-Udeid Air Base, which houses the U.S.'s Combined Air Operations Center, the United States Air Force Central Command Forward Headquarters and Central Command’s Forward Headquarters.
Roughly 10,000 U.S. service members are stationed at the air base.
"A united Gulf Cooperation Council bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on countering terrorism, defeating ISIS/Daesh, and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence," Mattis said.
"It is thus critical that the GCC recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution that provides for enhanced regional stability and prosperity."