Given cold shoulder by Trump, Qatar turns to a troubled Turkey

Trump called on all sides to “work to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology.”

Hitting an impasse. Turkey’s Defence Minister Fikri Isik (L) and Qatar’s counterpart Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah (R) prior to a meeting in Ankara, on June 30. (AFP)

2017/07/02 Issue: 113 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Thomas Seibert

Washington- Qatar, having made lit­tle headway in soften­ing US President Donald Trump’s position in the conflict with its neigh­bours, is increasingly turning to re­gional ally Turkey for support but the alliance with Ankara has yet to produce results.

Trump and Turkey’s President Re­cep Tayyip Erdogan, a key supporter of the Doha government, raised the Qatar crisis in a telephone call on June 30, but there was no indication that Trump is changing his mind. The White House said the leaders spoke about ways to resolve the rift between Qatar and other Gulf Co­operation Council (GCC) members “while ensuring that all countries work to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology.”

Trump has accused the govern­ment in Doha of funding terrorist groups, a charge Qatar denies, and has sided with Saudi Arabia against Doha. The US State Department ap­pears to be more inclined than the president to call for a negotiated settlement of the dispute but has also failed to get Trump to change course.

Elizabeth Landers, White House producer for the CNN news chan­nel, reported that Trump repeated his anti-Qatar stance during a fun­draising meeting in Washington on June 28 that was closed to the me­dia. Quoting a participant in the meeting, Landers wrote on Twit­ter that Trump had “compared different pronunciations of Qa­tar” but added that however the country’s name was pronounced: “You can’t help terrorists.” Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the US Congress that the president’s priority in the Qatar crisis was to stop Doha from fund­ing terrorist groups.

About 50 demonstrators gath­ered outside the Qatari Embassy in Washington on June 28, demand­ing that the country end its alleged support for terrorism and stop what they called the persecution of Christians. A representative of Bre­itbart News, a right-wing populist news website supportive of Trump, spoke during the demonstration and called Qatar the “Club Med for terrorists,” Breitbart News reported.

The protest was organised by the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a religious umbrella group. NBCI President Anthony Evans said he was “heartbroken to learn of the extent of the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Qa­tar.” Christians were being “treated as slaves,” he said.

With no sign of Washington com­ing to its aid, Qatar is looking to Tur­key for help. On the day Erdogan talked to Trump, Qatari Defence Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah held talks in Ankara on the rift among the GCC members. He told reporters that Saudi Arabia and its allies were waging a “bloodless war” against Qatar.

Turkey has deployed troops in Qatar, where it runs a military base. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emir­ates and Bahrain demand the clo­sure of the installation but Attiyah said Turkey and Qatar were prepar­ing joint exercises in defiance of the demands.

Ankara has sent food supplies to Qatar, which has seen borders with its Gulf neighbours closed. The Turkish government said the food aid for Qatar had filled more than 70 cargo planes and totalled 5,000 tonnes. Erdogan has criticised the Saudi position in the quarrel as wrong under humanitarian and Is­lamic principles.

Ankara’s stance is causing the deterioration of relations between Saudi-led Gulf countries and Tur­key, which faces mounting prob­lems of its own with the West.

Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

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