Trump Doubles Down on Qatar, Even as Tillerson Urges Calm in Gulf Crisis
President Donald Trump on Friday doubled down on his criticism of Qatar, the tiny Gulf country involved in a spiraling diplomatic crisis with its Arab neighbors.
“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump said at a Rose Garden news conference.
Trump’s comments came minutes after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for calm and an ease to the blockade imposed against Qatar by its neighbors.
WATCH: Tillerson: ‘Ease Blockade on Qatar’
Tillerson said the blockade was causing “unintended” humanitarian and business consequences and was “hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS,” or the Islamic State terrorist group.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt this week imposed the economic and diplomatic blockade on Qatar, in a severe escalation of a long-running regional dispute.
Those nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, disagree with Qatar over the role of Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Iran.
The U.S. has taken a careful diplomatic approach to the dispute, allying itself with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, which is involved in anti-IS operations.
Nonetheless, Trump has been unafraid to deliver unusually sharp rebukes of Qatar. Earlier in the week, Trump sent a series of tweets seemingly celebrating, and even taking credit for, its regional isolation.
WATCH: Trump to Qatar: ‘End the Funding’ of Terrorism
Trump has moved the U.S. even closer to Saudi Arabia. During his first foreign trip as president last month, Trump attended a meeting of regional leaders in Riyadh, where he secured a commitment to crack down on support for extremist groups.
“And in the wake of that conference, nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior,” Trump said Friday.
Therefore, Trump said, he took the “hard but necessary action” of calling out Qatar.
“The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding — they have to end that funding,” Trump said. “For Qatar, we want you back among the community of responsible nations.”
Those comments stood in contrast to the more nuanced, de-escalatory comments of Tillerson, who was also in the Rose Garden during Trump’s remarks.
Many Gulf political experts saw a lack of coherent strategy.
“It is just another example of failed coordination between the various departments responsible for U.S. foreign and security policy,” said Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College London, who has provided military education to the Qatari armed forces. “The Qataris will go by the official statements of the State and Defense departments, as they are actually representing official U.S. policy.”
A senior White House official said it was a “misperception” that there was a policy difference between Tillerson and Trump, noting that they were stressing different parts of the same strategy.
“What [Trump] said was consistent with what the secretary of state said. He just said what he was concerned about,” the official said.
“The United States wants to see a resolution to the situation,” the official added, “but [Trump] wants to see a resolution consistent with the principles laid out in Riyadh.”
Qatar isn’t the only Gulf nation accused of not sufficiently cracking down on support for extremist groups. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have also been accused of this, as Trump himself seemed to hint Friday.
“I won’t name other countries, but we are not done solving the problem,” Trump said.
On Friday, Iran’s leaders accused the United States and Saudi Arabia of supporting IS, which claimed responsibility for dual attacks that killed 17 people in Tehran this week.
The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the attacks would add to the hatred that Iranians harbor toward the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.