Trump says his Middle East visit prompted Qatar crisis
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Trump says his Middle East visit prompted Qatar crisis

US president claims that in response to his call to cut off funding for extremism, Arab rulers pinned blame on Doha

US President Donald Trump, right, holds a bilateral meeting with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump, right, holds a bilateral meeting with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Middle Eastern leaders complained about the Gulf state of Qatar when he demanded an end to support for radical ideology that encourages terrorism.

In a tweet, Trump did not take a position on the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar but appeared to suggest it was understandable.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” he tweeted.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support for extremists. All of the countries are friendly with the US, putting Trump in a potentially awkward position.

Trump met with Qatar’s emir during the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month.

“We are friends, we’ve been friends now for a long time, haven’t we?” Trump asked at the meeting. “Our relationship is extremely good.”

On Tuesday, Qatar’s foreign minister said Kuwait is trying to mediate the Gulf crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbors.

The biggest diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf since the 1991 US-led war against Iraq pits several nations against Qatar, which is home to some 10,000 American troops and a major US military base. Airlines suspended flights and residents nervous about the peninsula’s lone land border closing cleaned out grocery store shelves.

In an interview with Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Kuwait’s ruler had asked Qatar’s emir to hold off on giving a speech about the crisis late Monday night.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani “received a call from the emir of Kuwait asking him to postpone it in order to give time to solve the crisis,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Still, the minister struck a defiant tone, rejecting those “trying to impose their will on Qatar or intervene in its internal affairs.”

The state-run Kuwait News Agency reported Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah spoke with Qatar’s emir Monday evening and urged him to give a chance to efforts that could ease tensions. The call came after a senior Saudi royal arrived in Kuwait with a message from the Saudi king. An Omani diplomat traveled to Qatar on Monday.

This file photo taken on December 7, 2016 shows Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (L), Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) and Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi attending a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP Photo/Stringer)
This file photo taken on December 7, 2016, shows Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (L), Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) and Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi attending a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

Meanwhile, the Philippines announced it will temporarily suspend the deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the ban took effect Tuesday, but there is no plan yet to repatriate the more than 200,000 Filipino workers in Qatar. More than 1 million Filipinos reside and work in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

In addition to Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Yemen’s internationally backed government, which has lost the capital and large portions of the war-torn country, also cut relations with Qatar on Monday, as did the Maldives and one of conflict-ridden Libya’s competing governments.

The move came just two weeks after Trump visited Saudi Arabia and vowed to improve ties with both Riyadh and Cairo to combat terrorism and contain Iran. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the move was rooted in longstanding differences and urged the parties to resolve them.

US President Donald Trump (C) and Saudi's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R) pose for a picture with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump (C) and Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R) pose for a picture with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Saudi Arabia said it was cutting ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State group and militants supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive Eastern Province. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” toward Cairo and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed.”

Qatar long has denied funding extremists, though Western officials have accused it of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.

The Gulf countries ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris abroad 14 days to return home to their peninsular nation, whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia. The countries also said they would eject Qatar’s diplomats.

The nations said they planned to cut air and sea traffic to Qatar. Trucks carrying food have begun lining up on the Saudi side of the border, apparently stranded.

Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers, has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain until further notice. On its website, the carrier said the suspension of its flights would take effect Tuesday and customers are being offered a refund.

A picture taken on June 5, 2017, shows a man standing outside the Qatar Airways branch in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)
A picture taken on June 5, 2017, shows a man standing outside the Qatar Airways branch in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)

Saudi Arabia meanwhile said Tuesday it revoked Qatar Airways’ operating licenses and closed the airline’s offices in the kingdom. The Saudi ports authority said Qatari-flagged shipping vessels are barred from docking. It said it ordered shipping agents not to receive any vessels owned by Qatari companies or Qatari nationals and not to unload any goods from Qatar.

The air route between Doha and Dubai is popular among business travelers and both are major transit hubs for travelers between Asia and Europe. FlightRadar24, a popular airplane tracking website, said Qatar Airways flights already had started to be affected.

“Many of Qatar Airways’ flights to southern Europe and Africa pass through Saudi Arabia,” the site said. “Flights to Europe will most likely be rerouted through Iran and Turkey.”

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