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The quarrel of Qatar: A Saudi-driven feud is not getting solved by US

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Op Eds

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday, Sept. 12:

The quarrel between Qatar and some of the other Sunni states continues; the American effort to resolve it, led by President Donald Trump, hit a roadblock on Saturday.

Some of the other Sunni Muslim states of the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia and including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have been pursuing a dispute with the gas-rich emirate of Qatar, also Sunni-led, since the visit of Trump to the region in May.

The United States should favor Qatar in the dispute, for several reasons. First of all, Qatar has sought to pursue a policy that bridged some of the gaps in the region, enabling it potentially to serve as an intermediary. It, for example, maintains good relations with Iran, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Second of all, a media organization that Qatar hosts and supports, Al Jazeera, produces as close to honest reporting on developments as one can get in that region.

Those two aspects of its policy attract criticism from Saudi Arabia, its cohorts and Israel. They do not like some of Al-Jazeera's reporting and believe that Qatar should not pursue reasonable relations with Hamas and, especially, Iran, Saudi Arabia's principal rival in the region. Israel is seeking to court the Saudis and other Sunnis to counter Iran and to seek their approval of its expanded role in the Palestinian territories in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thus, with Trump having given the Saudis a green light, they went after Qatar, imposing a trade boycott and sharpening their criticism of Qatar. Oman, and then Kuwait, tried to make peace between the two sides, unsuccessfully. Trump believed that a telephone call between the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamin Hamad al-Thani, would do the trick. The two talked on Friday night but came away from the conversation hissing publicly at each other. (Qatar said it "welcomed a proposal" from the Saudi prince to appoint peace envoys to mediate the situation. The Saudis, perceiving that the statement suggested they had blinked first, retorted that mediators were not their idea. Sensitivities are running high.)

The United States, unfortunately, has two dogs in the fight, one on each side. Apart from the question of principles as a reason for support, Qatar hosts the largest American air base in the region. It includes the U.S. command center of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia hosts important U.S. bases. The headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet is in Bahrain, and all of the countries involved in the spat buy large quantities of expensive U.S. arms.

 

Trump, in not telling the Saudis to leave Qatar alone, either forgot the U.S. assets in Qatar, was unaware of them, or thought wrongly that the Qataris would knuckle under easily to Saudi pressure.

Whatever it was, the problem continues and apparently will need more than a phone call to fix, given its deepening roots.

(c)2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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