When President Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia, he discussed the Saudi’s responsibility in fighting terrorism. Last week, the Saudi’s took action against Qatar, claiming Qatar backed terrorist actions in the region. The riff between the two nations puts the United States in a difficult position, a position that President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson don’t seem to view in the same light.
The US and Qatar have had a long and prosperous military relationship. In all of the Middle East, the US’s largest military base is in Qatar. The Al Udeid Air Base is home to some 11,000 US military personnel. The US Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides US command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations. Last week, the Saudis established a blockade of Qatar, thus affecting supplies to US military operations in the region. The Saudi’s were able to recruit Egypt, Bahrain and the U.A.E. to join them enforcing the embargo of Qatar.
During a press conference in the Rose Garden, Trump supported the actions of Saudi Arabia’s blockade, and stated “The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.” However, just an hour before, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a different press conference and said “We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.” Tillerson continued “the blockade is hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS.” So the President praised actions against Qatar, home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, while the Secretary of State called against the actions.
Further confusing the situation was the Pentagon’s decision a week later to sell Qatar $12 billion dollars worth of F-15 fighter jets. If Trump believes Qatar is a high level sponsor of terrorism, why would he sell arms to them?
What is the reason that Saudi Arabia believes Qatar backs terrorism? Perhaps part of it is due to Qatar’s relatively close relationship with Iran. Qatar and Iran share joint ownership of a massive gas field in the area, and Qatar has other business interests with Iran. Saudi Arabia is an adversary of Iran, and this may be an indirect way of making life a bit more difficult for Iran. Furthermore, compared to Saudi Arabia, Qatar is considered highly progressive, and they have been successful in promoting their country internationally. Qatar hosted the 2006 Asian Games, launched the Al Jazeera television network and will host the 2022 World Cup. The Al Jazeera news station often offers opposing view points to issues facing the Middle East, view points that often contrast to the ultra-conservative ideologies of the Saudi kingdom.
UPDATE **** June 23, 2017
Saudia Arabia has listed 13 conditions to lifting the Qatar embargo
- Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
- Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
- Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
- Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
- Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
- Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
- Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
- End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
- Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
- Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
- Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
- Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
- Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.