Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
October 22, 2017
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you very much, Excellency, and it’s again a pleasure to be in Doha, a place I’ve visited and known for many, many years. I want to thank His Highness the Emir for the very generous time he gave me so we could have an important discussion about a number of topics, and we just concluded also a very useful bilateral with His Excellency Foreign Minister al-Thani. But we did touch on, obviously, our joint counterterrorism efforts in the region, a topic of great importance to all of us, the ongoing Gulf dispute, and then many other topics which His Excellency just listed for you. All of those were discussed as well.
We also discussed the progress towards implementing the counterterrorism memorandum of understanding, which His Excellency al-Thani and myself signed this past July. And significant progress has been made in a number of important efforts to – in our counterterrorism joint efforts, including sharing of terrorist lists, terrorist financing. We participated in a number of counterterrorism technical sessions and training, and significant steps have been taken to enhance the aviation security. We have additional work to do, but we are quite pleased with the progress and the relationship that has been strengthened between the two countries, Qatar and the United States, to counter terrorism.
The United States will continue to work closely with Qatar as we crack down on terrorists and those who are paying their bills. As you know, President Trump made the financing of terrorism a key outcome of the important Riyadh summit that was held earlier this year. All of our Gulf partners are doing an extraordinary effort to counter terrorism. All have more that we can do together.
And finally, as the Gulf dispute does near its five-month mark, the United States remains concerned, as concerned today as we were at the outset, that the dispute has had negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, and certainly the United States has felt the effects of that as well. We think it’s very important for the GCC to continue to pursue unity. It is most effective when it is unified, and none of us can afford to let this dispute linger.
So we again call on all the parties involved to continue to work towards discussion and dialogue and finding a way to deal with the differences. We ask that everyone minimize the rhetoric and de-escalate the tensions and take steps to do so. It’s not a healthy environment that we find for the current situation.
The U.S. is going to continue to do our part. We’re going to continue to support the emir of Kuwait in his efforts towards finding a diplomatic solution, and we will continue to engage all parties as how we can better help them understand concerns and possibly find a solution.
Also though in closing, I want to thank the state of Qatar for their very generous $30 million contribution that they made toward hurricane relief in the United States. They were very quick to come with those contributions, and we appreciate it. I also want to acknowledge the very strong economic relationship that exists between the United States and Qatar – obviously important U.S. business interests here in Qatar, but Qatar is making important investments in the United States as well, and we welcome those and look forward to expanding the economic relationship between our two countries, important to the longer-term relationship as well.
Thank you, Your Excellency.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first, let me make clear that the U.S. does not have any intention to impose a solution on anyone in the current dispute. We are staying in very close contact with all of the parties. President Trump himself speaks to the leaders of the countries that are involved, and he has stressed to all of those that he believes that it is time to find a solution to this dispute. The U.S. is prepared to facilitate in any way we can, whether it be facilitating the discussions themselves or offering possible roadmaps for solutions.
But fundamentally, the parties have to come to a point that they’re ready to solve this. I think, again, we have expressed our view that we think it’s time, that it’s time that solutions be sought, and we’re going to continue to make those points. We’re going to continue to offer whatever assistance we can, whether it be hosting a dialogue or facilitating dialogue, and support the ongoing efforts of – as I said, of the emir of Kuwait. But it is not for the U.S. to impose an answer on anyone.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to – excuse me, with respect to Iranian presence in Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi is in full control of his country, he’s in full control of the movement of certain military operations.
Now, for our part, we have encouraged restraint and we have encouraged the minimization of any type of conflict between forces involving either the Kurdistan forces, the Peshmerga, or forces that might be part of the Iraqi Government coalition.
The – leading up to the referendum itself the U.S. was quite clear that we did not support the Kurdish independence referendum. We did not believe it was time given that the battle to defeat ISIS is still underway. And while there have been significant victories and significant progress in Iraq, that task is not yet complete. And clearly, what we were concerned about is the referendum would lead to a distraction from the fight to defeat ISIS or Daesh, and that unfortunately is, I’m afraid, what we’re now experiencing with these efforts to move forces back to prior positions.
So we hope that the parties will find themselves in a position of restraint. Our view is that there was a lot of movement of forces, whether they be Peshmerga forces or movement of Iraqi coalition forces, during the war to defeat ISIS, and this was all very well coordinated under the prime minister – Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership, also working with coalition forces as well to defeat Daesh. I think there was always a general understanding though that once the war to defeat Daesh was completed and areas were liberated and they were secure, that everyone would return to their positions where they were located prior to the emergence of Daesh in 2014.
So a lot of this movement that you’re watching and reporting on is really the Peshmerga forces repositioning to locations that they were prior to that fighting and Iraqi forces needing to relocate to locations prior to the fighting as well, and respect what have been the agreed-upon boundaries between the autonomous Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq. So we have encouraged that the parties do that, that they re-establish themselves in accordance with those previously agreed boundaries. And then we have encouraged the parties strongly to engage in Baghdad to fully implement the Iraqi constitution. The Kurdish people have a number of unfulfilled expectations, rights that were promised them under the constitution that were never delivered upon, and so there are a number of actions that need to be taken by the parties to fulfill the Iraqi constitution itself.
Prime Minister Abadi has, I think, made it clear his commitment to follow through on those constitutional obligations, and we hope the Kurds will engage with Baghdad in a very productive way to see that the constitution is fully implemented. I think many of the Kurds’ concerns will be addressed through that process. So we encourage the parties to not escalate the situation, not lead to conflict, and stay coordinated, and not forget that the war to defeat Daesh is not yet over and that remains the greatest threat to Iraq.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to talks getting underway, yes, I did in my meetings with the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ask him to please engage, please engage in dialogue. There’s not a strong indication that parties are ready to talk yet. And so we cannot force talks upon people who are not ready to talk, so there has been no invitation to the White House because it’s not clear the parties are ready to engage. But we are going to continue to work towards that dialogue and toward that engagement. But as I said in response to an earlier question, we cannot and will not impose a solution on anyone.
With respect to Iran gaining, I think the most immediate and obvious gain that Iran has is that it is Qatar’s only airspace available for Qatar to operate, and so it puts Qatar in a position of having to engage with Iran in a positive way to meet Qatar’s needs. But this really removes a lot of other alternatives for Qatar to seek what’s best for its own people as well.
So that’s just a simple example of what we are concerned about. But beyond that, anytime there is conflict and destabilization among countries that are typically allies, someone will always come in to exploit those differences.