US envoy to Qatar to step down amid Gulf crisis

The US ambassador to Qatar said Tuesday she is leaving her post in Doha, in the midst of the worst diplomatic crisis involving America’s Gulf allies in years.

“This month, I end my 3 years as US Ambassador to Qatar. It has been the greatest honor of my life and I’ll miss this great country,” Dana Shell Smith wrote on Twitter.

Smith did not say why she was stepping down, if she was staying within the diplomatic service or who would replace her.

In Washington, officials said the ambassador had made a personal decision to leave the post earlier this year after serving a normal three-year tour.

“Ambassador Dana Smith’s assignment as ambassador comes to an end this month and she will depart Qatar later this month as part of the normal rotation of career diplomats throughout the world,” a senior US State Department official said.

“Her decision to leave the foreign service was made earlier this year. We wish her the best as she moves on from the Department of State.”

Smith was appointed ambassador to the Gulf emirate by Barack Obama in 2014. Last month she appeared to express dissatisfaction with political events back home in another message posted on social media.

She took to Twitter in the hours after Trump’s dramatic sacking of FBI director James Comey, tweeting: “Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.”

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, poses for a photo during an interview with the Associated Press in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, June 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Malak Harb)

Smith’s departure comes with Washington sending mixed signals over the Gulf crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia and several of its allies cut ties with Qatar claiming that Doha supported extremist groups.

Qatar strongly rejects the allegations.

US President Donald Trump has signaled his support for the Saudi-led move but other US officials have been more cautious and called for dialogue to end the crisis.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted Tuesday that his country has not imposed a “blockade” on Qatar by closing the border and banning Doha’s planes from its air space.

Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia is its only land frontier, and the closure of Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati airspace to Qatar Airways jets has disrupted its normal routes. Qatar is home to Al-Udeid, the largest US airbase in the region, which houses around 10,000 troops.

But Al-Jubeir, in Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who called last week for the embargo to be “eased” — insisted the move was reasonable.

“There is no blockade of Qatar. Qatar is free to go. The ports are open, the airports are open,” Jubeir said, appearing alongside a silent Tillerson.

“What we have done is we have denied them use of our airspace, and this is our sovereign right.”

“The limitation on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatari airways or Qatari-owned aircraft, not anybody else.”

“The seaports of Qatar are open. There is no blockade on them. Qatar can move goods in and out whenever they want. They just cannot use our territorial waters.”

Jubeir said the closure of the border had been eased to allow divided families to be reunited, and that Saudi Arabia would send food or medical aid if needed.

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