Tillerson's trip to Mideast roiled by Israel-Iran conflict

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WASHINGTON
— An intense military clash between Israel and Iran over the weekend presented Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with an unexpected crisis as he headed to the Middle East on a five-nation tour that was already shaping up to be the most challenging trip of his tenure.

Israel's cross-border strikes in Syria on Saturday — which the Israelis said were in response to an Iranian drone's penetration of its airspace from that territory — give even greater urgency to one of Tillerson's top priorities for the trip: managing the aftermath of the expected final defeat of the Islamic State in Syria.

Tillerson is also facing unforeseen difficulties as he tries to rally support for the reconstruction of Iraq, an effort seen as vital to preventing the Islamic State's rebirth and curtailing Iran's expanding influence there.

While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had been expected to open their vast checkbooks at a conference in Kuwait on Tuesday to contribute much of the roughly $100 billion that is needed, those two nations are now expected to pledge little for the effort, according to organizers of the meetings and regional diplomats.

Tensions over an embargo of Qatar, with the United States at odds with Saudi Arabia and the emirates, have contributed to the shortfall in pledges, as has the Saudi war in Yemen, which is bleeding its military and creating a humanitarian crisis.

The lack of big-ticket pledges will break what Western governments had long seen as agreement that the United States and Europe would prosecute and pay for the war, while the Saudis and Emiratis would underwrite the peace.

On his stops in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, Tillerson will either be delivering difficult messages — urging partners to follow through on promises — or trying to assuage furious allies. And while previous administrations had papered over differences with generous promises of financial aid, Tillerson's goody bag will be all but empty.

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