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Tillerson skips OAS meeting to focus on Gulf crisis

© AFP | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip a trip to Mexico in order to focus on the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf over Qatar, a US ally

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday cancelled his attendance at next week's Organization of American States meeting in Mexico, opting to stay in Washington to focus on the diplomatic crisis in the Middle East.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will represent the United States at the regional meeting scheduled for Monday to Wednesday in the resort city of Cancun.

"The secretary of state will continue his efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East region through in-person meetings and phone conversations with Gulf and regional leaders," the State Department said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and others severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar almost two weeks ago, accusing Doha of supporting extremist groups.

Qatar -- a longtime US ally -- denies the accusations.

But last week, US President Donald Trump expressed support for the Saudi-led allegations, charging that Qatar had "historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level."

Pentagon and State Department officials have since scrambled to reassure the emirate, which hosts the largest US airbase in the Middle East and the command headquarters for operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the United States agreed to a $12 billion warplane sale to Qatar, reaffirming its support.

Tillerson "has made more than a dozen phone calls and participated in several in-person meetings" in efforts to tamp down the crisis, the State Department said.

"The secretary will continue these efforts."

© 2017 AFP