Trump’s Qatar mo­ment

The pres­i­dent should bro­ker an end to the rift be­tween Doha and its neigh­bors

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By S. Rob Sob­hani S. Rob Sob­hani is CEO of Caspian Group Hold­ings.

As the United States looks for ways to de-es­ca­late the grow­ing and dan­ger­ous dis­pute be­tween Qatar and its neigh­bors Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), two fun­da­men­tal points have to in­form the Trump for­eign pol­icy team. First is the im­por­tance of un­in­ter­rupted flow of oil and gas from the Per­sian Gulf to world mar­kets. Sec­ond is to en­sure that Tehran’s bad be­hav­ior is con­tained, be­cause the Ira­nian regime re­mains the most se­ri­ous threat to re­gional se­cu­rity in the broader Mid­dle East and is the ma­jor spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.

The dan­ger of al­low­ing this cri­sis to fur­ther es­ca­late has se­ri­ous global and re­gional con­se­quences. Dis­rup­tion of car­gos car­ry­ing Qatari liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas to Asia can lit­er­ally turn the lights out in Bei­jing, Tokyo and Seoul. The global econ­omy can­not af­ford any dis­rup­tion to the flow of hy­dro­car­bons from the Per­sian Gulf. And fur­ther­more, the last thing Wash­ing­ton needs is for Qatar, in an act of des­per­a­tion, to ac­cept the Ira­nian regime’s of­fer to sta­tion 10,000 Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards on its soil. Qatar is home to 8,500 Amer­i­can troops and hosts the largest prepo­si­tion­ing Amer­i­can base in the world.

In or­der to de-es­ca­late this cri­sis im­me­di­ately, the United States must work with Qatar to ad­dress some of the le­git­i­mate con­cerns raised by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE.

First, Wash­ing­ton must ask Qatar to re­struc­ture Al Jazeera. When I first met with the for­mer emir of Qatar, Sheikh Ha­mad Al Thani, he de­scribed Al Jazeera as a “free press zone” within the Arab world. Sadly, that “free press zone” has gone off track. Doha must im­me­di­ately fire its pro-Mus­lim Brother­hood jour­nal­ists and put an end to the non­sense spewed by so-called cler­ics like Yusuf Qaradawi. In­stead, Qatar must take ad­van­tage of the fact that it hosts North­west­ern Univer­sity’s School of Jour­nal­ism and train Qataris to fill in those po­si­tions.

Sec­ond, Qatar’s as­sis­tance to Ha­mas must be­come trans­par­ent. In 1999 when King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan ex­iled the lead­ers of Ha­mas to Qatar, Doha took them in. For rea­sons that are not clear, Qatar’s as­sis­tance mor­phed into a full-fledged cam­paign of fund­ing Ha­mas and, in some cases, money flowed to the ex­trem­ist el­e­ments within Ha­mas. Mov­ing for­ward, Wash­ing­ton must in­sist that any fu­ture as­sis­tance to the peo­ple of the Gaza Strip be done through Amer­i­can non­prof­its or pri­vate sec­tor. In short, if Qatar wants to fund a hospi­tal, re­pair a dam­aged water pipe or build a de­sali­na­tion fa­cil­ity in the Gaza Strip, it has the right to do so, but the flow of funds has to be through an Amer­i­can com­pany whose books can be au­dited by the State De­part­ment. The same struc­ture should be put in place for Qatar’s fund­ing that flows to Syria and Libya.

Fi­nally, Wash­ing­ton must ob­tain a writ­ten pledge from Qatar that it will end its as­sis­tance to the Mus­lim Brother­hood. In ex­change, Qatar should get as­sur­ances from the United States that it will no longer be sub­ject of ad hoc pres­sures from Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain and the UAE.

Be­yond these three im­me­di­ate steps, the United States must en­cour­age Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE to take the fol­low­ing ini­tia­tives. Wash­ing­ton must en­cour­age a re­gional gas swap agree­ment be­tween Caspian gas pro­duc­ers like Azerbaijan, Turk­menistan and Qatar. In essence, Azerbaijan (and at a later stage Turk­menistan) agrees to sell nat­u­ral gas to Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and Kuwait. The phys­i­cal vol­umes would be pro­vided by Qatar. In ex­change, Azerbaijan pro­vides nat­u­ral gas to Europe on be­half of Qatar. The higher vol­umes of gas de­liv­ered into Europe will en­hance the Con­ti­nent’s en­ergy se­cu­rity, mak­ing it less re­liant on Rus­sia and its un­pre­dictable leader.

In his meet­ing with Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim, in Riyadh last month, Pres­i­dent Trump spoke of sell­ing “beau­ti­ful weapons” to Qatar. What Qatar has and Amer­i­can needs is money to build the “beau­ti­ful roads and bridges” that Amer­ica so des­per­ately needs. The pres­i­dent may want to ask that Qatar com­mit to in­vest­ing in Amer­i­can in­fra­struc­ture in­stead of sell­ing Doha more arms. Qatar can be­come a re­li­able part­ner for Mr. Trump and his quest to “Make Amer­i­can Great Again.”

Fi­nally, the United States should in­sist that a por­tion of the $300 bil­lion spend­ing un­der­taken by Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022 be spent in Bahrain so as it al­low its smaller neigh­bor to host at least one of the World Cup group events. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet but is fac­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat from the Ira­nian regime (Tehran con­sid­ers Bahrain a prov­ince of Iran). Fur­ther­more, Bahrain’s econ­omy is fac­ing head­winds due to low oil prices. Amer­i­can en­cour­age­ment of a Qatari in­vest­ment in Bahrain will cre­ate jobs within the king­dom and help smooth the dif­fer­ences that cur­rently plague re­la­tions be­tween Doha and Manama.

Pres­i­dent Trump has the at­ten­tion of pow­er­ful and wealthy play­ers in the Per­sian Gulf. He must use his new­found power to bro­ker an end to this re­gional cri­sis in such a way that unites our al­lies in the re­gion against the twin dan­gers of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism and the Ira­nian regime.

What Qatar has and Amer­i­can needs is money to build the “beau­ti­ful roads and bridges” that Amer­ica so des­per­ately needs.

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