Tillerson says US still 'concerned' about Gulf dispute

Break with Qatar needs resolution, he says

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the United States "remains as concerned today as at the outset" of the ongoing eight-month dispute between Qatar and other Gulf state nations.

"It is critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation and work toward a resolution," Tillerson said in Washington during a session of the inaugural US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue.

He spoke alongside Defense Secretary James Mattis, as well as the Qatari Foreign and Defense Ministers.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have broken diplomatic relations with Qatar over what they say is the country's support of terrorism. Tillerson called for all sides to work toward a solution to the impasse in order to deal with the threats posed by ISIS as well as Iran.

Gulf allies have repeatedly criticized Qatar for alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood, a nearly 100-year-old Islamist group considered a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Qatar has denied that it funds or supports extremist groups.

The proxy wars in the region being waged by Saudi Arabia and Iran are also playing a role in the ongoing dispute, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others accusing Qatar of voicing support for Iran.

During Tuesday's event, the United States and Qatar signed multiple memorandums of understanding between the two countries on issues including human trafficking and agreed to a creation of a bilateral group on labor practices. On Monday, the two sides signed an agreement on civil aviation.

Qatar hosts the largest concentrated military presence in the Middle East at the Al Udeid Air Base, which has been critical to supporting US military operations in the Middle East.

Mattis said the base was "critical" in the battle to defeat ISIS as well as playing a role with the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

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