U.S. urges Gulf states to ease blockade against Qatar

Cheryl Sanders
June 10, 2017

"We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar", Secretary Tillerson said in a brief statement to reporters on Friday.

Riyadh and its allies accuse Qatar of supporting extremist groups and of serving the interests of regional arch-rival Iran, claims Doha has strongly rejected.

Less than an hour later, Trump singled out Qatar as a supporter of terrorism, an accusation the Gulf country has repeatedly denied.

"The previous emir is a big supporter of this whole extremist agenda, so we do have an issue", the official said.

Qatar hosts 8,000 USA military personnel at al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East and a key site for airstrikes targeting IS militants. "Service to and from the USA will continue to operate as normal", the source said.

Qatar's isolation is reportedly in reaction to a false news report planted by hackers on May 23, CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues reports.

Al-Udeid, located in the Qatari desert, is home to some 10,000 U.S. troops and is a crucial hub in the fight against Islamic State group extremists in Syria and Iraq. Other U.S. officials have said Qatar has already taken some steps to reduce terror funding but that the steps are insufficient.

Gargash said the four Arab states seek a "political commitment to change course" by Qatar, including ending its support for the Brotherhood and Hamas.

Trump's tweets seem to have been issued in haste without consideration for USA ties to Qatar which is home to an important United States air base.

The announcement by Tillerson reflected the return of a more even-handed approach after President Donald Trump offered what seemed an offhand endorsement of the Saudi-led move, writing on Twitter on Tuesday: "During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology". Tillerson sat a few feet away from Trump in the Rose Garden as the president put the blame squarely on Qatar.

"The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorists from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly", the secretary said.

S&P Global Ratings further said that Doha should have to tap its central bank reserves and sovereign wealth funds to balance a major funds outflow, and considers worldwide financing of the country to be at elevated risk.

Kuwait - which unlike most of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members has not cut off ties with Qatar - has been leading efforts to mediate.

Closing all transport links with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from landing and forbade them from crossing their air space.

Shortly after Tillerson's remarks, the Pentagon said that while the Qatar blockade was not affecting current operations against Islamic State, it was "hindering" the ability to plan for long-term operations.

Other reports by iNewsToday