Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday lauded Qatar as the first nation to heed President Donald Trump's call to cut off terror financing, a remarkable comment that undercut efforts by Saudi Arabia and its allies to isolate the tiny Gulf monarchy.
A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain has enforced a weekslong blockade against Qatar. The group has justified its actions by alleging Qatar supports terrorist groups and political opponents in nations across the Middle East and North Africa.
On Tuesday, the United States and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines their future efforts to disrupt financing for terrorists.
@StateDept: Secretary Tillerson: Together the US and #Qatar will do more to collaborate, share information, and keep the region and our homeland safe.
"Together the United States and Qatar will do more to track down funding sources, will do more to collaborate and share information, and will do more to keep the region and our homeland safe," Tillerson told reporters in the Qatari capital of Doha on Tuesday.
"I applaud the leadership of his highness the emir of Qatar for being the first to respond to President Trump's challenge at the Riyadh Summit to stop the funding of terrorism," he said.
Trump called on Middle Eastern nations to take a greater role in the fight against terror during a meeting with regional leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May. About two weeks later, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain broke diplomatic ties with Qatar.
In a series of tweets, Trump appeared to take partial credit for the anti-Qatar's coalition's actions. That has led some analysts to believe the Gulf powers took their cue from Trump.
@realDonaldTrump: So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding...
@realDonaldTrump: ...extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!
At the same time that Trump was voicing support for the actions, the State Department and other administration officials were seeking to reduce tensions. Qatar is home to the largest American military base in the region and remains the launching pad for U.S. Central Command operations from Egypt through Afghanistan.
Tillerson said the memorandum signed Tuesday was the product of weeks of intensive discussions and lays out a series of steps to be taken over the coming weeks and years. It includes milestones to assure both countries are held accountable to their commitments, he added.