Trump takes credit for Qatar split

Greg Nash

President Trump on Tuesday took credit for four Arab countries’ decision to cut ties with Qatar, suggesting his recent trip to the region was the impetus for their decision.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” he tweeted Tuesday.

“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. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” he continued.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on Monday recalled their ambassadors from Qatar and closed all land, sea and air borders.

Yemen, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government followed suit later Monday.

The countries cited Qatar’s relations with Iran and what they say is Qatar’s support for extremist groups such as Hamas and al Qaeda, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. 

{mosads}Qatar maintained that the crisis is being fueled by  “absolute fabrications” and is a “violation of its sovereignty.”

The U.S. has a massive air base in Qatar’s capital of Doha, which hosts as many as 10,000 U.S. military personnel.

The decision to cut ties with Qatar came just two weeks after Trump visited Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, leading to speculation of what role, if any, Trump’s visit played in the split.

During his visit, Trump gave a major address to leaders from more than 50 Muslim-majority countries, calling on them root out extremists and unite against Iran.

“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve,” he said during his speech.

Trump also met one-on-one with the emir of Qatar and promised to sell the country “beautiful” weapons.

“One of the things that we will discuss is the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States,” Trump said in a meeting with the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. “And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.”

On Monday, administration officials swatted down questions on Trump’s visit and the split.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters she was not aware of whether Trump was given any word the diplomatic split would happen.

“The president’s committed to continuing to have conversations with all of the people involved in the process with all of those countries,” she said. “We want to continue to de-escalate that and at this point we’re continuing to work with each of those partners.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were also careful not to inject the U.S. into the dispute, telling reporters Monday that the countries must work it among themselves.

It’s a sentiment Tillerson reiterated Tuesday morning. 

“As I said yesterday, we are hopeful that the parties can resolve this through dialogue, and we encourage that, that they do sit together and find a way to resolve whatever the differences are that have led to this decision,” he said during a press conference in New Zealand.

Trump throwing his support behind Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt could further inflame regional tensions and appears to favor those allies over ally Qatar.

It’s unclear what Trump’s goal in taking credit for the split is.

The United States has about 8,000 to 10,000 troops at Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar’s capital. The base is the Unites States’ largest in the Middle East, the forward headquarters of Central Command and the staging area for much of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Experts said Monday the split could hinder efforts to fight terrorism since it will be harder to corral a regional coalition, but that they didn’t expect operations at Udeid to be affected much.

Qatar is also home to the Al Jazeera news network. The countries that split with Qatar have taken issue in the past with Al Jazeera’s coverage, leading to some speculation that they may demand the network be shut down in turn for restoring relations.

– Updated at 10:27 a.m.

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