WASHINGTON — Qatar may score an important victory on Tuesday if President Trump, as expected, tells the leader of the tiny Gulf nation that he now views Qatar’s rivals as stonewalling a solution to an important regional dispute.
Mr. Trump will host Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House, shifting from describing Qatar as a “funder of terror” to what a senior administration official on Monday said was sympathy with Doha’s continued struggle under a four-nation embargo led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that was imposed in June.
Qatar is host to al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to nearly 10,000 American troops and is the overseas headquarters for United States Central Command that would launch any strike against Syria.
Over the past year, the emir has spent millions of dollars hiring lobbyists and flying influential American power brokers to Qatar in a charm offensive to win over the Trump administration — and deflate his rivals’ efforts to dethrone him. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have accused Doha of financing terrorism, cozying up to Iran and harboring fugitives, and the embargo forced changes to airplane routes and severed Qatar’s only land border.
It has also troubled American forces and strategy in the region, which envisions a united Arab effort to combat terrorism and contain Iran.
Former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson spent months trying to mediate the dispute, eventually siding with Qatar. But until recently, Mr. Trump remained unconvinced — and Mr. Tillerson washed his hands of the issue because of the president’s intransigence, top officials said at the time.
Still, Qatar has signed agreements with the United States for sharing information on terrorists and terrorist financing. And on Monday, the State Department notified Congress that it had approved the potential sale of $300 million in advanced rocket systems to Qatar, which a statement called “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region.”
Confusion over the Trump administration’s regional policy goals has led a caravan of Middle Eastern leaders to come to Washington to lobby directly for their interests. Three weeks ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was hosted at the White House and then toured the United States; he headed home this past weekend, after a reunion with Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush.
The Trump administration had hoped to bring all of the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council together for a summit meeting in Washington this month. But Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia and leaders of the United Arab Emirates said they would decline such an invitation were it issued, since such a meeting would have required an end to their Qatar embargo, senior administration officials said.
Source – New York Times