Trump backs Saudis, other na­tions on Qatar freeze out.

Tweet in­serts U.S. in bit­ter Arab feud over ter­ror links

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOSH LEDERMAN

Pres­i­dent Trump in­jected the United States into a volatile cri­sis among Amer­ica’s Mid­dle East al­lies, sid­ing strongly Tues­day with Saudi Ara­bia and other coun­tries against Qatar in a dis­pute that threat­ens to dis­rupt ef­forts to de­feat the Is­lamic State group and counter Iran.

In a se­ries of early-morn­ing tweets, Mr. Trump ap­peared to en­dorse the ac­cu­sa­tion that the small, gas-rich king­dom funds ter­ror­ist groups, a se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tion against a strate­gic U.S. part­ner that hosts a base with some 10,000 Amer­i­can troops. He also sought to cast the an­tiQatar ac­tion led by the Saudis and the United Arab Emi­rates as the re­sult of his trip last month to Riyadh, where he pressed lead­ers from dozens of Arab and Mus­lim gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing Qatar’s emir, to com­bat ex­trem­ism.

Mr. Trump said he’d told the kings, pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters that fund­ing “Rad­i­cal Ide­ol­ogy” can’t be tol­er­ated, and “Lead­ers pointed to Qatar — look!”

“They said they would take a hard line on fund­ing … ex­trem­ism, and all ref­er­ence was point­ing to Qatar. Per­haps this will be the begin­ning of the end to the hor­ror of ter­ror­ism!” Mr. Trump tweeted, claim­ing his visit to Saudi Ara­bia was “al­ready pay­ing off.”

Later in the day, the White House re­vealed that Mr. Trump had spo­ken by phone with Saudi King Sal­man di­rectly about Mon­day’s rup­ture.

“The two lead­ers dis­cussed the crit­i­cal goals of pre­vent­ing the fi­nanc­ing of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions and elim­i­nat­ing the pro­mo­tion of ex­trem­ism by any na­tion in the re­gion,” the White House said in its state­ment. “The pres­i­dent un­der­scored that a united Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil is crit­i­cal to de­feat­ing ter­ror­ism and pro­mot­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity.”

Some Arab states were al­ready try­ing to con­tain the fall­out from the cri­sis Tues­day. Kuwaiti and Turk­ish diplo­mats launched a drive to re­pair diplo­matic and com­mer­cial ties be­tween Qatar and its crit­ics, which in­clude Egypt and Bahrain. Qatar long has de­nied fund­ing ex­trem­ists, and its for­eign min­is­ter struck a de­fi­ant tone in in­ter­views, even af­ter wor­ried res­i­dents emp­tied gro­cery stores in its cap­i­tal, Doha.

Qatar re­lies heav­ily on food im­ports, espe­cially those com­ing over its only land bor­der with Saudi Ara­bia, which joined with other key Arab pow­ers Mon­day in cut­ting off land, sea and air routes into the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s sharp cri­tique of Doha pulled the ad­min­is­tra­tion di­rectly into a con­flict that Amer­i­can diplo­mats had hoped the bick­er­ing par­ties could re­solve among them­selves. The U.S. wasn’t plan­ning a ma­jor me­di­a­tion role, a State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said, and a Pen­tagon spokesman said only that U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions at the huge Qatari base were pro­ceed­ing without in­ter­rup­tion de­spite the bit­ter feud.

Some an­a­lysts fear the Saudi-led shun­ning could back­fire, push­ing Qatar closer to Iran and Turkey.

Qatar — a coun­try smaller than Con­necti­cut and the world’s big­gest pro­ducer of liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas — now is fac­ing sev­ered diplo­matic ties with its much­larger neigh­bors, lead­ing to sus­pended flights and re­gional ports closed to Qatari ships.

Qatar’s in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy has long stoked ten­sions with its Arab neigh­bors. The re­gion’s Sunni Mus­lim states bris­tle at Qatar’s less-hos­tile po­si­tion to­ward Shi­ite Iran and ob­ject to its back­ing groups such as the Mus­lim Brother­hood, whose ide­ol­ogy chal­lenges the sys­tem of hered­i­tary rule in Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and else­where.

For Mr. Trump, the rift has emerged as a key test of his goal to unite the re­gion around de­stroy­ing Is­lamic State and other ex­trem­ist groups and con­tain­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence. While he has even held out hopes that a com­mu­nal ef­fort could pave the way for Is­raeli-Arab rap­proche­ment, the Qatar cri­sis serves as a re­minder of the re­gion’s many fault lines that chal­lenge U.S. diplomacy.

While Mr. Trump also shares the Saudi and UAE goals of weak­en­ing hard­line Is­lamic move­ments and stem­ming Iran’s in­flu­ence, Amer­i­can of­fi­cials hadn’t pub­licly sin­gled out Qatar as a prob­lem. Like ear­lier ad­min­is­tra­tions, Mr. Trump’s had kept its con­cerns pri­vate while pub­licly prais­ing Qatari ef­forts to stamp out ter­ror fi­nanc­ing.

“They have made progress,” State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said Tues­day, while adding that “they and we rec­og­nize more work re­mains to be done.”

On Mon­day Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son en­cour­aged the sides to “sit down to­gether” to re­solve ir­ri­tants he said had “bub­bled up” for some time. Un­like Mr. Trump, Mr. Tiller­son took a stu­diously neu­tral ap­proach to the quar­rel.

It was un­clear how Mr. Trump’s broad­side against Qatar might af­fect the U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing Is­lamic State. The Pen­tagon re­lies heav­ily on Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar to or­ches­trate air at­tacks in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. And it is try­ing to gal­va­nize the Arab world to as­sume greater re­spon­si­bil­ity in fight­ing Is­lamic State, some­thing gov­ern­ments won’t be able to do if they’re con­sumed with in­ter­nal spats.

“It’s a mixed bag with Qatar,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Re­pub­li­can, sum­ming up Amer­ica’s strate­gic co­nun­drum. “They have been def­i­nitely play­ing foot­sie with a lot of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, but we have a big air base there.”

But a pro­longed cri­sis will put sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure on Qatar. Mil­lions of mi­grant work­ers and ex­pa­tri­ates live there, and much of Qatar’s food comes from Saudi Ara­bia across the penin­su­lar na­tion’s only land bor­der, which the Saudis have now closed.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Trump sided with Saudi Ara­bia and other Mid­dle East coun­tries in a dis­pute against Qatar, which threat­ens to dis­rupt ef­forts to con­tain the Is­lamic State ter­ror army. Mr. Trump in­di­cated in tweets that oil-rich Qatar is fun­nel­ing cash to ter­ror­ists.

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