Lawmakers urge Tillerson to declassify Qatar counterterrorism agreement
Four Republican congressmen are pushing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to declassify a counterterrorism agreement with Qatar.
“Senior administration officials have stated in both public settings that the [memorandum of understanding] is evidence that progress is being made in the joint effort to fight terrorism and discourage terror financing,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Tillerson, which was publicly released Wednesday. “While we sincerely support the joint initiative, by not having direct, consistent access to the [memorandum] because of classification, the legislative branch is unable to effectively and objectively measure this reported progress.”
The letter was organized by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.).
In July, the United States and Qatar signed a counterterrorism agreement amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.
A month prior to the agreement, a group of countries led by Saudi Arabia imposed a de facto blockade of Qatar over allegations of funding terrorism, as well as because of its relations with Iran. The dispute has yet to be settled.
Qatar hosts Udeid Air Base, which is the United States’ largest base in the Middle East, 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.
The counterterrorism agreement has been held up by Tillerson as a sign of Qatar’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
“Significant progress has been made in a number of important efforts to — in our counterterrorism joint efforts, including sharing of terrorist lists, terrorist financing,” Tillerson said during an October visit to Doha, Qatar.
In their letter, the lawmakers said they were not able to review the agreement until November and that no explanation was given for the delay.
“While our national security must never be compromised, public policy should be discussed and reviewed in public,” they wrote.
The memorandum does not appear to have classified or sensitive information, they added.
“The decision to classify the document while publicly praising Qatar’s progress toward upholding its contents makes it impossible for the public to judge Qatar’s compliance,” they wrote. “While we would not object to classified annexes to an [memorandum of understanding] if such annexes contained highly detailed, sensitive information regarding specific steps Qatar must take to curb all support for terrorism, including Hamas, we believe that at a minimum the framework of the agreement could be made public.”
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