WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump accused Qatar on Friday of the financing of terrorism “at a very high level,” and said that solving the problem in the small Persian Gulf nation could be “the beginning of the end of terrorism.”
“Not more funding,” Trump said.
Trump’s condemnation of Qatar strongly deviated from the message delivered by his minister of foreign affairs, Rex Tillerson, who only an hour earlier had called on Arab countries to ease their blockade of Qatar, and had credited the kingdom with the progress in the reduction of the financing of terror. Tillerson sat a few meters away from the Trumpet in the Rose Garden as the president the blame entirely at Qatar.
The launch of an extraordinary claim against a major U.S. military partner, Trump ridiculed what he called Qatar the “extremist ideology in terms of financing” terrorist groups, a charge Qatar has repeatedly and vehemently denied. His remarks were a powerful endorsement of this week’s move by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to cut off the ties to Qatar.
The increase of the pressure and the Friday, of those countries, 12 organisations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list, and he described them as connected with Qatar, called the accusations “unfounded.”
In derogation of Qatar denials, Western diplomats accuse Qatar’s government of allowing or even encouraging the funding of some of the Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
Trump said the Arab leaders he met in Saudi Arabia last month had urged him to confront Qatar about his behavior.
“The time had come to call in Qatar at the end of her financial resources,” Trump said. “They have to end that funding.”
Addressing a White House press conference, the president said Qatar had “the past is a funder of terrorism on a very high level.” Other AMERICAN officials have said Qatar has already a number of steps to make the financing of terror, but that the steps are not enough.
It was not immediately clear how Trump’s sharp condemnation may have an impact on the U.S. cooperation with Qatar, which hosts about 10,000 U.S. troops and a large AMERICAN air base, which serves as a staging ground for operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Qatari Embassy in Washington not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In emphasizing the need to take action against Qatar, Trump seemed to undercut Tillerson, who had summoned Qatar’s neighbors immediately to ease their blockade. Tillerson is tapped by a Trump to help mediate in the worst diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf, in the years.
“The blockade is impeding the US military action in the region, and the campaign against ISIS,” Tillerson said, using an acronym for the extremist group. The U.S. army has previously insisted that it would not affect U.S. military operations in the region.
Tillerson, also criticized Qatar for allowing resources to flow to extremist groups, but in terms that are much less serious than Trump’s. Tillerson said that the US was the question of Qatar “respond to the concerns of his neighbors.”
“Qatar has a history of supporting groups that span the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence,” Tillerson said. He credited emir of Qatar, and is making progress in curbing the financial support and the elimination of terrorists, but added: “He needs to do more, and he must do it faster.”
Tillerson, speaking at the Ministry of foreign affairs, said that the US would help support efforts to mediate in the crisis, together with Kuwait, another Gulf country that has stepped up to try to broker a resolution. At the urging of all sides to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Tillerson said the elements are available to solve the problem.
Yet Tillerson plea to Qatar from the neighbors to pull back in their efforts to isolate themselves from the small gas-rich country has meant a shift from the previous statements of the Trump administration. Earlier in the week, Trump took to Twitter to take credit for the Saudi leadership to punish Qatar, saying: it would be the beginning of the end of terrorism in the Middle East. He noted that during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, the Arab leaders he had met with had joined in warning about Qatari support for terrorism.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP