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US officials scramble to limit Donald Trump’s diplomatic damage over Qatar tweets

Government agencies sought to mitigate the impact of presidents lambasting, restating existing policy and playing down the significance of the tweets

The US state and defence departments have scrambled to limit the diplomatic damage done by Donald Trumps morning tweets lambasting Qatar, which is the hub for US military air operations across the Middle East.

Trump started the day by taking sides in a bitter row among the Gulf monarchies, in which Saudi Arabia and its allies have sought to isolate Qatar.

The US president visited the region last month and claimed to have helped bring unity to the Islamic world in the battle against extremism.

While in Riyadh, Trump met regional leaders, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He said the US and Qatar had been friends for a long time and that the two leaders discussed the Qatari purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment.

Just more than two weeks later, however, after Riyadh cut ties with Qatar, Trump tweeted support for the move, claiming that when it came to funding radical ideology, leaders point to Qatar.

US relations with Qatar have long been complicated by Dohas promotion of a conservative and austere form of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, from which many extremist groups claim to draw inspiration, and its backing of extremist groups elsewhere in the region.

However, the same issues have clouded the relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the al-Udeid base outside Doha is the centre for US air operations over Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. It will be critical for the assault on the Isis stronghold Raqqa, which was launched on Tuesday.


Its unlikely (to say the least) that Donald Trump realised we are running the entire air war out of Qatar prior to his tweet, said Andrew Exum, a deputy assistant secretary of defence for Middle East policy in the Obama administration.

In a cycle that has become a daily norm in Washington, government agencies on Tuesday sought to mitigate the impact of the presidents declarations, restating existing policy and playing down the significance of the tweets.

The defence department praised Qatar for hosting US forces and its enduring commitment to regional security. A Pentagon spokesman, Capt Jeff Davis, said he was not qualified to answer a question about whether Qatar supported terrorism.

Im not the right person to ask that. I consider them a host to our very important base at al-Udeid, Davis said.

The new spokeswoman at the state department, Heather Nauert, was bombarded with similar questions. She echoed the Pentagons expressions of gratitude and conceded that Doha had made strides in cutting the flow of funds to terror groups.

Saudi Arabia TV reports on cutting of ties with Qatar

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/06/donald-trump-qatar-tweets-us-diplomatic-damage