DOHA/DUBAI: US President Donald Trump, wading into the worst split between powerful Arab states in decades, said on Tuesday his trip to the Middle East was “already paying off” with leaders there taking a hard new line in accusing Qatar of funding of militant groups.
His blunt remarks cast the speech he gave at a Riyadh summit in May as the inspiration for a decision by leading Arab powers to sever ties and transport links to Qatar in protest at what they say is its support for terrorism.
In fact, US officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, current and former officials in Washington told media.
“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!” Trump on Twitter.
The comments — Trump’s first about the rift between Qatar and major Arab nations over its alleged support of Iran and militant groups — emerged at a delicate moment in the crisis as the leader of Kuwait was to meet in Saudi Arabia to try to mediate the dispute.
Qatar vehemently denies the accusations against it, calling them baseless.
Ordinary Qataris, however, were to be found crowding into supermarkets to stock up on goods against the crisis.
Trump said, in apparent reference to top Gulf Arab powers Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that leaders he met on his trip had warned him Qatar was funding “radical ideology” after he had demanded they take action to stop financing militants.
It was not immediately clear what effect Trump’s high profile intervention in the crisis would have.
US officials had said on Monday that the United States would quietly try to calm the waters between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, arguing that the small Gulf state was too important to US military and diplomatic interests to be isolated.
Qatar hosts 8,000 US military personnel at al Udeid, the largest US air base in the Middle East and a staging ground for US-led strikes on Daesh that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq.
There are also deep financial and business links between the two based on Qatar’s leading world role in gas.
MEDIATION AND CONSEQUENCES
Gulf Arab officials said Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah will meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hoping to heal the damaging rift which has affected global oil prices, hit travel plans and sown confusion among bankers and businesses in the region.
In a sign of the potential consequences for the Qatari economy, a number of banks in the region began stepping back from business dealings with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia’s central bank advised banks in the kingdom not to trade with Qatari banks in Qatari riyals, sources said.
Oil prices also fell on concern that the rift would undermine efforts by OPEC to tighten production.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV that Qatar will not retaliate, hoping Kuwait will help resolve the dispute.
It wants to give Kuwait’s ruler the ability to “proceed and communicate with the parties to the crisis and to try to contain the issue”.
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