by Rosie Alfatlawi
The future of the Gulf crisis seems uncertain after U.S. President Donald Trump praised Qatar for its counterterrorism efforts in an apparent contradiction of previous statements.
Qataris and those from the boycotting states seemed equally confused after Trump thanked Qatar’s leader for "action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms."
Trump had previously accused Qatar of funding extremist groups “at a very high level.”
7 month ago, Trump "emphasised" to the Emir of Qatar "the importance of combating terrorism". Today he thanked him for "Qatari counter terrorism action". Still not clear what is going on pic.twitter.com/AVR5fhUOQl— Mohamed Yehia (@yeh1a) January 15, 2018
Indeed, soon after Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha last June over its alleged support for terror, Trump had tweeted to offer his support.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” he wrote.
“They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar,” Trump continued. “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
Former Trump chief strategist Steven Bannon even claimed that Trump had prompted the “blockade [...] on Qatar” during his May visit to Saudi Arabia.
A White House statement on Monday, however, revealed a very different attitude towards the tiny Gulf state in a phone call between the U.S. president and the Qatari Emir. It indicated that Trump had applauded Qatar for “being one of the few countries to move forward on a bilateral memorandum of understanding” on terror funding.
Many in the region and on both sides of the rift have suggested that the change of tone could be significant for what happens next in the Gulf.
“This is pressure on the operational button of the Gulf crisis after a period of stagnation” tweeted Qatari academic Majed Alansari.
Jeddah-based political analyst Ali al-Tawati, meanwhile, proposed that this meant “we are on the verge of an imminent breakthrough.”
In fact, the comments seemed to come amid a flurry of activity surrounding the crisis. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar visited Turkey on Monday, meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Emirates simultaneously accused Qatar’s air force of intercepting commercial aircraft flying between Bahrain and the U.A.E.
Saudi journalist Salih al-Fahid argued that these were “all developments linked to each other and all indicating serious developments in the Gulf Crisis.”
Still, what it will all mean in practise remained up for speculation. While some suggested that Trump was hoping to avoid war, others accused him of stirring things up to draw out the crisis.
There were more lighthearted claims that exceedingly wealthy Qatar had paid off Trump to shift his policy. “A few months ago it was the state of terrorism,” tweeted 8immigrant. “So did it pay a tribute or what is the story?"
Others theorized that Trump and Erdogan, who has staunchly backed Qatar in the crisis, might be negotiating to solve the dispute.
“I think this [...] has to do with Tamim's visit to Turkey,” tweeted @abusaud9551. “I know that America is bargaining with Turkey to solve the Gulf crisis.”
This seems unlikely, though, given recent tensions between the Washington and Ankara. On Monday, Erdogan vowed to strangle what he called a U.S. “terror army” in Syria.
In fact, amid the uncertainty, there was not even agreement over the importance of Trump’s words.
Saudi @suhailj42 disputed suggestions this meant the Gulf was close to a step forward, saying: ““Why ‘on the verge’ - is Trump our mother or our father so that the matter would be ended so simply?”
“The matter isn’t between him and Qatar” added @siraj19115.
A Qatari, @Reem_AlHarmi, agreed that Trump’s view was irrelevant. “It is regrettable to wait for Trump’s confirmation of something that is so clear,” she tweeted.
If the recent phone call does indeed reflect a warming from Trump towards Qatar, it would actually bring him in line with other elements of his administration. Even as the U.S. president was enthusiastically backing actions by Saudi and its allies in the summer, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was urging de-escalation.
In fact, as one tweeter jokingly suggested, it could simply be that he has remembered the presence of a massive U.S. military base in Qatar, making the state a valuable ally.
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