U.S. dragged deeper into Qatar’s ‘fam­ily is­sue’ with Per­sian Gulf neigh­bors

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JOSH LEDERMAN

It’s the geopo­lit­i­cal cri­sis the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion just can’t quit.

Even as the White House de­clares Qatar’s rift with its Arab neigh­bors “a fam­ily is­sue” they should re­solve them­selves, top diplo­mats from the feud­ing coun­tries are con­verg­ing on Wash­ing­ton this week, all vy­ing for time with Pres­i­dent Trump’s sec­re­tary of state. A re­luc­tant me­di­a­tor, Rex Tiller­son has been shut­tling be­tween meet­ings with the ri­val par­ties, dragged fur­ther into the con­flict as each side tries to en­list U.S. sup­port.

Now in its third week and with no signs of ebbing, the Per­sian Gulf dis­pute has emerged as a ma­jor trial of Mr. Trump’s “Amer­ica First” doc­trine, in which the U.S. is no longer sup­posed to own prob­lems far from its shores. For Saudi Ara­bia and oth­ers em­bold­ened by Mr. Trump’s tough talk about fight­ing ter­ror­ism and op­pos­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence, the cri­sis is an op­por­tu­nity to test just how far Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion will go.

“You can­not — it’s the first rule of diplo­macy — rely on your part­ners who are closer to the scene to take charge of things,” said Am­bas­sador James Jef­frey, the former U.S. en­voy to Iraq and Turkey. “This is big­ger than the chem­i­cal weapons in Syria. It’s big­ger than the Mo­sul fight in Iraq. Be­cause if the Qataris are threat­ened enough, they’re go­ing to turn to Rus­sia and Iran.”

On its face, the cri­sis ap­pears far re­moved from the United States. But Amer­ica’s role as the in­dis­pens­able global power has tra­di­tion­ally made things more com­pli­cated. In­deed, the U.S. strat­egy for de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State group and re­solv­ing Syria’s civil war re­lies heav­ily on unity among a coali­tion of part­ners in which Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia and oth­ers are key play­ers.

Amer­ica’s am­bigu­ous po­si­tion has also com­pli­cated mat­ters. Public com­ments by Mr. Trump and Mr. Tiller­son have seemed to os­cil­late be­tween sup­port for Qatar and sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates and the other Arab na­tions that have cut ties to the gas-rich monar­chy.

Mr. Jef­frey said that Mr. Trump, by em­brac­ing Saudi Ara­bia with an early visit to Riyadh, left the Saudis with the im­pres­sion that the U.S. would un­ques­tion­ingly sup­port their ac­tions in the re­gion. That em­bold­ened the Saudis to move ag­gres­sively against Qatar over long­stand­ing dis­putes, con­fi­dent Mr. Trump would take their side.

Yet as the de­mands by Qatar’s neigh­bors grew in scope — far sur­pass­ing the orig­i­nal fo­cus on ter­ror fi­nanc­ing — the White House sought to dis­tance it­self from the cri­sis. And the State Depart­ment be­gan openly spec­u­lat­ing that false pre­tenses were be­hind a re­gional tit-for-tat that was about much more than the shared goal of fight­ing ter­ror­ism.

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