National Security

Trump national security adviser calls lifting blockade on Qatar ‘priority’ in next 70 days

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The Trump administration is working to lift the Gulf blockade on Qatar in a last push for a diplomatic win before the president leaves office, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview released Monday.

O’Brien said there is a “possibility” for resolving the Gulf crisis, where Qatar has been under a land, sea and air blockade from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since June 2017.

“I’d like to see that get done before  if we end up leaving office  I’d like to see that get done in the next 70 days. And I think there’s a possibility for it,” O’Brien said in an interview with The Hill’s editor-at-large Steve Clemons as part of the 2020 Global Security Forum that took place last week.

O’Brien’s remarks echo optimism from other Trump administration officials that the dispute between the Gulf nations is likely to be resolved shortly as part of efforts to strengthen a Middle East alliance countering Iran and paving the way for more Arab countries to open diplomatic relations with Israel.

“It’s in America’s interest to have harmonious relationships within the [Gulf Cooperation Council] because that provides an important counterbalance to Iran,” O’Brien said.

“It would open up the opportunity for more peace deals with Israel and creating a real economic opportunity zone across the Middle East and even being able to take that out to other parts of the Muslim and the Arab world.”

President Trump has said he expects between five and 10 countries to open diplomatic relations with Israel following the brokering of the Abraham Accords, the name of the agreement between the UAE., Bahrain and Sudan to establish ties with Jerusalem.

The GCC is a union of Gulf countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., but in 2017 a coalition led by Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Qatar over allegations of support for Islamist groups and Iran.

The U.S. maintains strong ties with Qatar, which hosts U.S. Central Command at the Al Udeid Air Force Base and is a key staging ground for American counterterrorism operations in the region.

O’Brien said resolving the crisis among the Gulf countries is a “priority” for the president and likened it to a family dispute.

“This is really kind of a family dispute. And like family disputes, sometimes those are the hardest to solve. But we’d like to get all these cousins back together at the Thanksgiving table, so to speak. And it’s something we’re working on, and we’re going to keep working on it. As long as the president’s in office, it’s something that’ll be a priority,” O’Brien said.

UAE officials have said they don’t see a resolution “anytime soon,” with the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba, telling Israel’s Channel 12 that Qatar is “playing the victim,” the Doha News reported.

“I don’t think it gets resolved anytime soon simply because I don’t think there has been any introspection,” Otaiba reportedly said, referring to Qatar.

“The introspection process did not occur, and they continue to play the victim and continue to pretend to be bullied, but did not address the root causes of the problem, and until you address the root causes of this problem, I do not think this is going to get solved,” he continued.

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