As the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf nears its first full month, Qatari officials are urging the White House to exert its considerable influence on the nations that have imposed a blockade on the tiny peninsular state.
Qatar is asking the U.S. to pressure Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain to end the isolation that started June 5, when the countries abruptly cut diplomatic ties and closed all land, air and sea borders with the Gulf state.
Several ideas floated by Qatar include placing a hold on weapons deals and halting other contracts signed between the U.S. and those countries.
“The U.S. has great influence with the Saudis. The Saudi Arabian government has signed many deals with the U.S. government. I think that acting in a civil and human way should be a condition of those contracts and deals to go through,” a Qatari defense spokesman told The Hill.
“I don’t think the government should reward such draconian measures by giving Saudi Arabia and the UAE weapons,” he added.
The State Department earlier this month approved the sale of $1.4 billion in military training and equipment to Saudi Arabia as part of a 10-year, $110 billion arms deal signed by President Trump in May.
The United States has vested interests in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar is home to the Al Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. military base in the region, which serves as the staging area for much of the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
And Qatar on June 14 signed an agreement to buy up to 36 F-15 fighter jets from the United States for $12 billion.
The Saudi-led bloc cited links to terrorist groups and relations with Iran when cutting ties with Qatar earlier this month. The State Department spoke out against the move, saying it hindered U.S. military operations against ISIS in the region.
The United States has since played mediator, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for tensions to cool and the blockade to end. But the administration has done little else to press the Gulf nations.
“Our role has been to encourage the parties to get their issues on the table clearly articulated so that those issues can be addressed and some resolution process can get underway to bring this to conclusion,” Tillerson said Wednesday.
“Our desire is for unity within the Gulf and unity within the [Gulf Cooperation Council].”
A spokesman from the State Department told The Hill the department encourages “all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive, diplomatic discussions.”
The Qatari spokesman said that he hopes Trump specifically will use his “considerable influence in the region” to press for a resolution.
“I know President Trump is a good man. No good American man would ever view the humanitarian issue that this blockade is posing on the people of Qatar, and would stand still,” he said.
“My hope is that that will be reflected in his statements to the Saudis and the UAE that whatever the grievances will be, that this blockade must end now.”
He joked, “I don’t know if Trump if going to say, ‘Mr. Highness, Mr. President, tear down this blockade,’ but that would be a statement.”
Trump has both slammed Qatar publicly and attempted to play mediator in the crisis. When the blockade first took effect, he charged that country funds terrorism and appeared to take credit for the break in a string of tweets.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump wrote. “They said they would take a hard line on funding … extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism!”
Days later, Trump spoke on the phone with the emir of Qatar and “offered to help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary,” according to a White House statement.
Qatar has held strong on its position and said it would not step up to the negotiation table until the blockade is lifted, citing an unfair tilt to the game.
“We will not be strong-armed, we will not be bullied by a bigger government like Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” the Qatari spokesman said.
The spokesman did insist that Trump’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia likely did not have an influence on the Saudi’s decision to impose the blockade. Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia last month and has since boasted that his rhetoric on uniting against terrorism and Iran was the reason for the split.
“Was there any signals made or encouragement by the administration? I really don’t think so, I think Saudi Arabia had their minds made up,” the spokesman said.
The situation is likely to become more complicated with a new 13-point list of demands on Qatar from the Gulf nations, revealed Thursday. The countries insist that Qatar shutter the broadcasting network Al Jazeera, cut all diplomatic ties with Iran and end all military cooperation with Turkey, including closing Turkey's air base in the country.
The list also demands that Qatar stop funding entities designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. government, and that the country align itself militarily, politically, economically and socially with other Gulf nations. All requests are to be met in 10 days.
Kuwait delivered the list to Qatar, as the country is acting as a mediator in the dispute, according to the State Department.
The department would not discuss the list of demands, and referred questions to the Gulf governments involved for specifics.
“We are not going to get ahead of current diplomatic discussions,” the spokesperson said.
A spokeswoman from the Qatar Embassy said officials are still studying the list and have not released an official statement in response.
Should the U.S. not intervene and a resolution is not found soon, the situation will only get worse, the Qatari spokesman warned.
“If that persists, it will affect U.S. operation in the region, not only in Qatar, but as a whole,” he said.
“Al Udeid Air Base is not in a vacuum, it’s in the middle of a country that’s under a blockade, so it’s only reasonable to think that it will have a wash over effect on the base.”