Pressure mounts on Qatar as Trump summons it to end funding of terrorism
Reeling from the effects of sanctions imposed by its neighbours and Egypt, Qatar is faced with the realisation that it cannot rely on US intervention for a reprieve.
In a potential game changer, US President Donald Trump delivered a dramatic warning to Qatar over its suspected financing of terrorism.
“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level,” Trump said at a news conference June 9.
“They have to end that funding and its extremist ideology in terms of funding,” said Trump, adding that Qatar and other countries must “stop teaching people to kill other people.”
Trump’s remarks seemed to end a great part of the confusion created by conflicting signals out of Washington over the Qatar crisis. Trump initially expressed support for the Saudi-led campaign to isolate Doha while official statements from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the easing of the sanctions on Doha.
The US president’s most recent remarks dispelled most of the lingering ambiguities, as they seemed to reflect an interdepartmental decision to confront Qatar over its policies.
“I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding,” Trump said.
Washington’s tough stance on Doha’s alleged funding of terrorism is unprecedented and raises questions about future US military cooperation with Qatar, which hosts a key US airbase with 10,000 US troops.
Trump’s position offered strong support to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which called on Qatar to stop its support of extremism and terror.
After severing ties with Qatar on June 5, Saudi Arabia said it was committed to “decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism,” according to an official source quoted in the state SPA news agency.
The United Arab Emirates, in a statement, praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism.”
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt on June 9 released a “terror list” that named 12 organisations and 59 individuals. The list included high-ranking members of the Qatari ruling family, such as former Qatari Interior Minister Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, as well as Qatar-connected Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist leaders with a history of involvement in conflict and upheaval in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
Trump’s warning coupled with the Gulf countries’ determination to sanction Qatar could mean more worries for the Doha rulers, who may find themselves directly affected by the fallout of any aggressive investigation on the funding of terrorism.
Although Qatar is trying to display resilience in the face of sanctions, the continuation of the boycott measures could prove devastating for its economy, which is heavily reliant on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for imports.
With no outside lifeline and minimal support from the Arab world, Doha has sought backing from two non-Arab allies: Turkey and Iran. While Turkey has said it will increase its military presence in Qatar and Iran has offered the use of its ports during the crisis, such measures are unlikely to prove sufficient in easing the pressure mounted on Qatar.
Seemingly taken aback by Trump’s initial remarks, Qatar turned down an offer to participate in mediation talks in Washington, saying its emir would not travel abroad while his country was blockaded. The US president’s June 9 remarks will be even less reassuring to Doha.
Few options seem available to Qatar. Without a change in its policies, it is more likely than not to face escalating pressure.
Gulf countries are showing Doha the way out by defining the endgame. “This is not about regime change. This is about change of policy, change of approach,” UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Agence France-Presse.
He noted, however, that no one could ultimately control the “dynamic of a crisis.”
The “change of approach” that Gulf countries are seeking involves Qatar ending its support for Islamist extremism and clarifying its ambiguous relationship with Iran.
During the Riyadh summit in May, Trump made clear that he shared those concerns and found common cause with Saudi Arabia and its allies on the need to thwart what is seen as Iran’s aggressive policies.