Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson strike very different tones on Qatar

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to ease their blockade against Qatar, saying it was causing unintended humanitarian consequences and affecting the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

Just under two hours later, President Donald Trump called on Qatar to stop funding of groups that commit terrorism, saying the Gulf nation had historically done so “at a very high level.”

“No civilized nation can tolerate this violence or allow this wicked ideology to spread on its shores,” Trump told reporters at the Rose Garden in the White House, where he was holding a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with the small Gulf Arab state on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch-adversary Iran, charges Qatar calls baseless.

Trump did not call for an easing of the blockade, despite the large U.S. military presence in Qatar.


U.S. President Donald Trump, while appearing with Romanian President Klaus Werner Iohannis, focused on accusing Qatar of funding terrorism and not the recently enacted blockade. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

It was unclear if he was aware of the comments Tillerson had made.

Earlier this week, Trump appeared to tie the blockade to the success of his trip in May to Saudi Arabia and welcomed it as positive news in a series of tweets.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar,” said Trump. “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

But Tillerson on Friday said the blockade was causing food shortages, the forced separation of families and children being pulled out of school.

“We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar,” Tillerson said in a brief statement to reporters at the State Department.

“We believe these are unintended consequences, especially during the holy month of Ramadan,” he added.

Pentagon concerned

The U.S. is carrying out military action in the region in its campaign against ISIS from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. More than 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces are at the base, from which more than 100 aircraft operate.

“While current operations from Al Udeid Air Base have not been interrupted or curtailed, the evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement.

Tillerson said Qatar has a history of supporting groups across a wide political spectrum, including those that engage in violence, and that the emir of Qatar had made progress in halting financial support for terrorism but that he must do more.

Qatar, which has developed an assertive foreign policy over the past decade, denies that it supports militants and says it is helping to reduce the threat of terrorism by backing groups that fight poverty and seek political reform.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the country’s foreign minister, called the moves by Arab neighbours and others “clear violations of international law and international humanitarian law.

“They will not have a positive impact on the region but a negative one,” the minister said while on a visit to Germany.

Tillerson said the U.S. would help support efforts to mediate the crisis, along with Kuwait — another Gulf country that has stepped up to try to broker a resolution.

“Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve their grievances they have with each other,” Tillerson said.

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