SYDNEY, Australia — Hours after four Arab countries broke diplomatic relations with Qatar, a key U.S. ally, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered Monday to broker the impasse in hopes of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.
“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said, adding a reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf countries. “If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the G.C.C. remain unified.”
Mr. Tillerson’s remarks came on the heels of dramatic announcements by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that they are suspending diplomatic ties, as well as air and sea travel to and from Qatar, potentially choking off access to a crucial United States ally. In its statement, Saudi Arabia urged “all brotherly countries and companies” to do the same.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the decisions “unjustified.”
The split came two weeks after President Trump visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh to offer a tight embrace of the kingdom in hopes that Saudi Arabia could help lead fellow Sunni Arab nations in a fight against extremism and, with Israel, present a united front against Shiite-led Iran.
Indeed, Mr. Trump became so enamored of the Saudis that he cast them as the centerpiece of a possible peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. But such a deal relied in part on the Arab world uniting behind the Saudis as an interlocutor, a prospect made far less likely by Monday’s events.
There have long been fissures between Qatar and other Sunni Arab nations. Qatar, for example, provided financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which led the former government in Egypt and opposed the Egyptian military’s takeover as an illegal “coup.” Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., which consider the Muslim Brotherhood a threat to stability to the region, supported the Egyptian military’s takeover.
Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that the rupture in relations among the Arab states would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“I am confident there will be no implications,” Mr. Mattis said.
But the escalating confrontation between Qatar and other Sunni Arab states, in fact, presents a fresh and unwelcome complication for the United States military, which has made strenuous efforts to forge a broad military coalition against the Islamic State.
Adding to the difficulties, American forces have important commands distributed across the feuding nations.
The American-led air war command in the fight against the Islamic State, for example, is at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Qatar is also the host for the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command, which oversees all American military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.