At a press conference with the president of Romania on Friday, President Trump slammed the country of Qatar, which hosts 11,000 USA military personnel at its Al Udeid Air Base and is now the target of a multi-country diplomatic boycott and blockade in the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia. In a rare public statement, Tillerson appealed to the Middle Eastern and North African governments behind the blockade of Qatar.
President Donald Trump doubled down on his war of words with one of America's top Middle East allies, publicly undercutting one of his own senior aides and potentially threatening the future of a vital United States military base. So we had a decision to make.
Nor is the President wrong in his assertion that Qatar has a longstanding problem with terrorist financing.
But what they produced was more mixed signals as President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson contradicted each other in separate statements about the tiny Emirate, which happens to host the largest USA air base in the Middle East. He said he hoped it would be the beginning of the end of funding terrorism.
"We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade on Qatar", Tillerson said, going on to note that the blockade was "hindering USA military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS".
"For Qatar, we want you back among the unity of responsible nations".
Saudi Arabia and other USA allies in the region have cited Qatar's alleged support for regional rival Iran and for extremist groups as explanation for their decision. Qatar has a history of supporting groups that have spanned the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence.
Qatar hosts the largest USA military base in the entire Middle East, housing 11,000 American troops. But at the Pentagon, a spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said only long-term military planning was affected.
The White House official said that despite the fact that Trump didn't mention it, the President is, in fact, concerned about the humanitarian situation in Qatar, particularly the separation of families and food shortages.
Gulf states traded public barbs on Saturday, showing little sign of resolving the region's deepest rift in years, five days after Arab nations severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with the tiny Gulf kingdom of Qatar. Urging all sides to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Tillerson said the elements were available to resolve it. The official added, "easing those restrictions not the same as complete diplomatic relations". "Stop teaching people to kill other people".
Trump does not oppose easing the blockade - although he did not mention it - but "he does believe that (Qatar) deserves it", the official said.