Donald Trump has accused Qatar of funding terrorism at a “very high level”, and says that the world wants the small country to rejoin “the unity of responsible nations” in bringing about “the beginning of the end” of the global threat.
However, his remarks appeared at odds with his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who just hours before urged Gulf nations to go easier on Qatar. Several countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have imposed a diplomatic blockade on Qatar, and have said that the nation needs to meet several demands – including ending alleged support for terrorism – before it can restart diplomatic ties.
“The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level”, Mr Trump said during an appearance alongside the President of Romania – Klaus Iohannis – at the White House. Mr Tillerson was sitting just few away watching as he was seemingly contradicted by the President.
Launching an extraordinary allegation against a key US military partner, Mr Trump derided what he called Qatar’s “extremist ideology in terms of funding” terrorist groups, an accusation Qatar has repeatedly and vehemently denied. His comments were a forceful endorsement of this week’s move by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to cut off ties to Qatar.
Just a couple of hours earlier, Mr Tillerson delivered his own remarks on Qatar’s crisis. He urged the Gulf nations to work together and ease up on the blockade. At that time, he also criticised Qatar for its extremist ties.
“There are humanitarian consequences to this blockade”, Mr Tillerson said. “The blockade is also impairing US and other international business activities in the region and has created a hardship on the people of Qatar and the peoples whose livelihoods depend on commerce with Qatar. The blockade is hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against Isis”.
Mr Trump’s position on the blockade has seesawed, and he initially celebrated its announcement. Soon after doing so this week, he changed his tone to bring him closer to statements made by Mr Tillerson. Qatar is where the US has its largest military base in the Middle East stationed. Most US air attacks on Isis originate from Qatar.
Saudi Arabia and several other countries imposed a diplomatic blockade after the government’s state-owned media published an interview with the Qatari emir – which the government has since disputed – in which he reportedly criticised hostility to Iran, sympathised with three Islamist groups, accused Saudi Arabia of adopting extremist ideologies, and said that Mr Trump might not last long in the Oval Office.
The Gulf States have demanded several actions to be made by Qatar before they will reestablish those diplomatic ties. That wish list includes cutting off ties with Iran, expelling resident members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood group, and an end to funding terrorism.
Increasing the pressure on Friday, those nations put 12 organisations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list and described them as being associated with Qatar, which called the allegations “baseless”.
Notwithstanding Qatar’s denials, Western diplomats accuse Qatar’s government of allowing or even encouraging the funding of some Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
Mr Trump said Arab leaders he met with in Saudi Arabia last month had urged him to confront Qatar over its behaviour.
“The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding,” Mr Trump said. “They have to end that funding.”
Mr Tillerson, speaking at the State Department, said the US would help support efforts to mediate the crisis, along with Kuwait – another Gulf country that has stepped up to try to broker a resolution. Urging all sides to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Mr Tillerson said the elements were available to resolve it.