U.S. urges Gulf states to ease blockade against Qatar: Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at a press conference at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) at Government House in Sydney, Australia, June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to ease their blockade against Qatar, saying it was causing unintended humanitarian consequences and affecting the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with the small Gulf Arab state on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch-adversary Iran, charges Qatar calls baseless.

“We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar,” Tillerson said in a brief statement to reporters. Tillerson said the blockade was causing food shortages, the forced separation of families and children being pulled out of school.

“We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

“Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve their grievances they have with each other,” Tillerson said.

The blockade is also hindering U.S. military action in the region and its campaign against Islamic State, he said. More than 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces are at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, from which more than 100 aircraft operate.

At the same time, Tillerson said Qatar has a history of supporting groups across a wide political spectrum, including those that engage in violence, and that the emir of Qatar had made progress in halting financial support for terrorism but that he must do more.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Walsh and Cynthia Osterman