President Trump jumped headlong Tuesday into a fast-worsening dispute between Qatar and a powerful bloc of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, posting Twitter messages congratulating the Saudis for cracking down on the neighboring kingdom and himself for sparking the breach over alleged Qatari funding for terrorism.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump said in a series of morning tweets. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” he tweeted. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”
Trump’s intervention came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in New Zealand, took a somewhat different tack, noting that “all” countries in the Persian Gulf “have work to do” in ending their support for extremism, and encouraging them to “resolve this through dialogue.”
The regional crisis began on Monday, when Qatar’s Persian Gulf neighbors — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — were joined by Egypt and smaller nations in severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, claiming it supports terrorists across the region. The eruption of the dispute shocked the neighborhood and threatened deeply intertwined regional trade links and air routes.
The Pentagon, whose air operations for the Middle East are headquartered at a massive air base in Qatar, where at least 10,000 U.S. service members are stationed, also opted for balance and calming words.
“We recognize that there are differing views in the region that have gotten us to this point,” it said in a statement. “United States and the Coalition are grateful to the Qataris for their longstanding support of our presence and their enduring commitment to regional security. We have no plans to change our posture in Qatar.”
The statement said that restrictions its Persian Gulf neighbors have imposed on Qatari movements in and out of the region “have not impacted our air operations,” including missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. “U.S. Central Command is conducting appropriate planning to ensure that the full range of U.S. military operations in the Middle East can continue,” it said.
A senior White House official said Trump’s tweets did not indicate any change in policy or new information. “I think this actually shows the influence [Trump’s] trip had to isolate those who fund terrorism in the region,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic issue.
At the State Department, an official said in an email that “the tweets are not incompatible. For example, we recognize that Qatar continues to make efforts to stop the financing of terrorist groups. . . . That said, while they have made progress, they (and we) recognize more work needs to be done.”
“A strong, united front…