Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered Monday to help mediate in an escalating dispute between Qatar and a handful of other U.S.-allied Arab states, but he downplayed the impact of the feud on American-led efforts to fight terrorism.
His comments came hours after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced they were breaking off diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism through alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
The five countries all play key roles in U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, especially against the Islamic State terrorist group. Qatar is the site of a major U.S. airbase, but America also has military assets in other parts of the Persian Gulf.
"I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified — the unified — fight against terrorism in the region or globally," Tillerson told reporters in Sydney, where he and Defense Secretary James Mattis were meeting with Australian officials.
The secretary of state noted that the countries had pledged their ongoing support for the U.S.-led efforts during a recent summit attended by President Donald Trump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences, and we — if there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC remain unified,” Tillerson said.
Mattis agreed with Tillerson, saying he was “positive there will be no implications coming out of this dramatic situation at all.”
Qatar insists it does not support terrorism and has downplayed links to Iran. Last month, a state news agency in Qatar claimed it had been the victim of a hack after it published a story quoting the country’s emir saying positive things about Iran.
Qatar’s foreign ministry called the countries’ decision "unjustified" and "based on baseless and unfounded allegations" in a statement Monday.
"Qatar is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), committed to its Charter, respects the sovereignty of other countries, does not interfere in their internal affairs, and carries out its duties in combating terrorism and extremism," the statement said.