The US administration has sent mixed signals to Arab Gulf countries amid one of the biggest diplomatic crises gripping the region.
Speaking at the White House Rose Garden on Friday, President Donald Trump called on Qatar and other countries to increase their efforts against terrorism.
Just minutes earlier, Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, urged Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to ease their blockade of Qatar.
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Both Trump and Tillerson spoke five days after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, closing, air land and sea borders over, sending the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries into their biggest crisis in years.
“Qatar, we want you back among the unity of responsible nations,” Trump said, standing next to Romani’s President Klaus Iohannis.
“We ask Qatar and other nations in the region to do more [to combat terrorism] and do it faster.”
Qatar has vigorously denied charges of the kind levelled by Trump and the Saudi bloc.
In a statement on Friday, the Qatari government said it has been leading the region in attacking what it called the roots of “terrorism”, including giving young people hope through jobs, educating hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and funding community programmes to challenge agendas of armed groups.
“Our position on countering terrorism is stronger than many of the signatories of the joint statement – a fact that has been conveniently ignored by the authors,” the statement said.
However, in his remarks on Friday, Trump said “the nation of Qatar has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level”, but he failed to provide any evidence.
He said that while visiting Saudi Arabia, “nations came to me and spoke about confronting Qatar over its behaviour. So we had a decision to make: Do we take the easy road or do we take hard but necessary action?”
Trump further called on “all nations to stop immediately supporting terrorism. Stop teaching people to kill other people. Stop filling their minds with hate and intolerance”.
He said he decided together with Tillerson and military officials “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding – they have to end that funding – and its extremist ideology in terms of funding”.
Tillerson, for his part, said the blockade has caused “unintended” consequences, and is “hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS”, referring to ISIL.
“We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade on Qatar,” Tillerson said.
“We’re seeing shortages of food [in Qatar], families are being forcibly separated, and children pulled out of school – we believe these are unintended consequences, especially during this holy month of Ramadan, but they can be addressed immediately.”
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The Pentagon said on Friday that the blockade was not affecting current operations against ISIL, but was “hindering” the ability to plan for long-term operations.
Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11,000 US and coalition forces.
Tillerson said the US supported efforts by the emir of Kuwait to mediate the crisis, and said “the elements of a solution are available”.
“Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve their grievances they have with each other,” he said.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies