July 12, 2017 / 11:50 AM / in 11 days

France's Le Drian to visit Gulf states, seeks to help ease Qatar tensions

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FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting on migration in Rome, Italy July 6, 2017.Alessandro Bianchi

PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from July 15-16 in an effort to ease tensions in the region, his office said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt imposed sanctions on Qatar last month, accusing it of financing extremist groups and allying itself with the Gulf Arab states' arch-foe Iran, allegations Doha denies.

"Concerned by current tensions that are affecting these countries with whom we have close and friendly ties, we call for a rapid de-escalation that would be in everyone's interest," the French foreign ministry's statement said.

France, which has close ties with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates while also being a major arms supplier to Qatar and a key ally of Saudi Arabia, has to date been relatively discreet on the crisis, largely sticking to calls for calm.

It will be the last of the major Western states, after Germany, Britain and United States, to go to the Gulf in an effort to ease tensions. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting the region this week.

Le Drian is set to insist on the importance for France to strengthen the fight against terrorism and against its financing, as well as urge Gulf countries to act together to tackle this.

He will also highlight the negative impact of the crisis on diplomatic, political, economic and security fronts, the statement said, adding that Le Drian wanted to hear the views of all countries involved and would back Kuwait's mediation efforts.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Ingrid Melander, John Irish editing by Pritha Sarkar

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