Defense

Mattis on Qatar crisis: Russia 'trying to break' world alliances

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that the crisis in Qatar could be a sign of Russia "trying to break any kind of multilateral alliance ... that is a stabilizing influence in the world."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a hearing Tuesday said she didn't want to risk Mattis revealing classified information, but asked him to assume that news reports about Russia hacking Qatar's state news agency and planting a fake news story are true and to comment on Russia's possible motivations.

"I think a disruption of the international order is something that Russia, in a shortsighted way, thinks works to their benefit," Mattis responded during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "I think it does not, but I can't speak for them. I think what you're seeing here, though, is the continued prevalence of threats, not just to our own country, not just the Western Europe democracies, but they're trying to break any kind of multilateral alliance, I think, that is a stabilizing influence in the world."

Last week, a Saudi Arabia-led group of countries cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and closed all land, sea and air borders with the country. The countries accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

Qatar has largely blamed the hack and a fake story involving controversial statements from the country's leader for the crisis. U.S. officials reportedly believe the hack was carried out by Russia.

President Trump has taken credit for the Saudi bloc's decision, saying his recent trip to the region calling for Muslim countries to be tougher on terrorism and unite against Iran led to the move.

He's also bashed Qatar for supporting terrorism, even after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for easing tensions and the blockade.

The United States' largest military base in the Middle East is in Qatar. It's the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and the staging area for much of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly said current operations at the base have been unaffected by the crisis, but Tillerson said Friday that the blockade is "hindering U.S. military actions in the region."

Asked Tuesday to square the two statements, Mattis said both are correct.

"The secretary of the Air Force was referring to the operations at that one air base," Mattis said. "There's more than that going on in the region, so she was quite correct in what she was saying about that. Secretary Tillerson was nonetheless correct. As you look more broadly at the situation, where we have to work with many of those, what we called Gulf Cooperation Council states, together."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, who was testifying alongside Mattis, likewise said the base has been unaffected by the blockade.

"We're watching that very, very closely," he said, "but we've had good cooperation from all the parties to make sure that we can continue to move freely in and out of Qatar, where we have both an important air base, as well as the headquarters for the United States Central Command."

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