Trump scolds Qatar as Tillerson seeks to ease crisis
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump on Friday accused Qatar of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the US Department of State’s efforts to ease heightening tensions and a blockade of the Gulf nation by Arab states and others.
“The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“So we had a decision to make, do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action. We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided . . . the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding,” Trump said, adding that he helped plan the Qatar action with Arab leaders after a recent summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
A senior administration official told Reuters earlier this week that the United States had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis in Riyadh during Trump’s visit last month that they would sever ties with Qatar.
The crisis is a major diplomatic test for the United States, which is a close ally of countries on both sides. Trump has called key players in the region since they severed ties with Qatar on Monday.
The Trump administration has given mixed signals on whether to isolate Qatar or bring it into talks with other Gulf nations.
The confrontation in the region intensified on Friday as Arab states tightened their squeeze on Qatar by putting dozens of figures with links to the country on terrorism blacklists, while Qatar’s ally Turkey rushed to its side with plans to send troops.
The Pentagon said the blockade was hindering US ability to plan for long-term operations in the region. Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11 000 US and coalition forces and an important base for the fight against Islamic State. It is the US Air Force’s largest base in the region.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he expected all parties to find a resolution.
“We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar,” he said in Washington.
Tillerson told reporters at the State Department that the crisis, which has cut transportation links and trade, had begun hurting ordinary people in Qatar, and that it was impairing business dealings and harming the US battle against the Islamic State militant group.
A picture on Facebook showed a supermarket displaying food from Turkey including milk, eggs and chicken.
Tillerson demanded that Qatar, as well as the other countries, take steps to curtail support for terrorism. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have accused Doha of supporting extremist groups, but Tillerson suggested that all sides needed to do more.
“The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly,” Tillerson said. “Others must also continue to eliminate factions of support for violent organizations within their own borders.” (Reuters)