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Trump's stunning response to the Middle East diplomatic crisis

12 Juin 2017

Saudia Arabia and other autocratic Sunni states have been at odds for years with the energy-rich emirate of Qatar, which hosts the largest US air base in the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump on Friday accused Qatar's leadership of bankrolling extremists and demanded a halt to that funding, as a diplomatic standoff between the Persian Gulf emirate and its neighbors escalated.

"The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level", Trump told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

Tillerson told reporters at the State Department shortly before Trump spoke that this blockade is hindering the US -led military campaign against ISIS, creating hardships for the people of Qatar and "impairing USA and other global business activities in the region".

A previous mediation effort by Kuwait in which the Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah shuttled between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha, failed to achieve an immediate breakthrough. The U.S. has roughly 10,000 troops in Qatar, and relies on a major base there as the staging ground for operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to immediately ease their blockade on Qatar.

"We are closely monitoring and assessing all developments, and are prepared to take the necessary decisions and measures, should the need arise, to ensure that we always honor our commitments and obligations to all our customers and partners locally, regionally, and internationally", the statement said.

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The announcement increases pressure on Qatar in a diplomatic and economic campaign to isolate the small Gulf Arab state, which is a critical global supplier of gas and hosts the biggest USA military base in the Middle East. But at the Pentagon, a spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said only long-term military planning was affected.

Once again pulling the rug out from under his national security team, Trump on Tuesday tweeted that the diplomatic and economic boycott imposed on Qatar Monday by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt was the result of his "visit with the (Saudi) King. already paying off".

Qatar denies having any ties to extremists.

The row has sparked one of the worst political crises in decades among some of Washington's closest Mideast allies.

Tillerson's efforts to mediate came as Qatar's neighbors put 12 organizations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list and described them as being associated with Qatar, in a fresh attempt to increase pressure. The kingdom called the allegations "baseless". Urging all sides to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Tillerson said the elements were available to resolve it.

"The blockage is hindering US military action in the region, and the campaign against ISIS", Tillerson said, using an acronym for the extremist group.

Trump's stunning response to the Middle East diplomatic crisis