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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.
"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.
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.
Tillerson's comments on Tuesday show that he and Defense Secretary James Mattis continue to provide key support to Qatar and want to bring the nation back into the fold, said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. The question is whether their view is shared by other key players in the White House.
Croft also questioned whether the memorandum will placate the Saudis and Emiratis, who have issued a list of severe demands to Qatar. It remains uncertain whether the two nations will take their cues from Tillerson or Trump, she said.
Qatar has long chafed its Sunni Muslim allies by attempting to forge its own foreign policy, which includes maintaining ties with Iran, the region's chief Shiite power, and Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tillerson will travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday to hold talks with Saudi officials. He is in the region at the invitation of the emir of Kuwait, who has sought to mediate the dispute.