Trump escalates row by accusing Qatar of sponsoring terror

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from The Guardian,

Donald Trump has accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism at the highest levels, in an extraordinary escalation of the diplomatic row with one America’s most important military partners in the Middle East.

Speaking in the White House rose garden on Friday, Trump said he had decided “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding … and its extremist ideology.”

His comments marked his most forthright intervention in a crisis triggered on Monday when Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a co-ordinated diplomatic and economic campaign to isolate Qatar.

Earlier this week, the US president appeared to take credit for the blockade in a string of tweets.

On Friday, Trump said that Arab leaders he met in Saudi Arabia last month had urged him to challenge Qatar, which they accuse of backing extremist groups and cosying up to Iran.

“So we had a decision to make: do we take the easy road, or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism,” he said. “The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

Trump’s intervention came after Saudi Arabia and its allies on Friday sanctioned a dozen organisations and 59 people it accused of links to Islamist militancy – a number of them Qataris or with links to Qatar.

The Qatari government said in a statement on Friday: “We do not, have not and will not support terrorist groups.”

US relations with Qatar have long been complicated by Doha’s promotion of a conservative form of Sunni Islam, but the tiny Gulf state is also a close military partner.

But Trump’s tone struck a marked contrast with comments by the US secretary of state, who just an hour earlier urged Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to ease their blockade of Qatar.

In a brief statement to reporters, Rex Tillerson said that the blockade was hampering US military efforts against Islamic State and causing unintended humanitarian consequences.

Tillerson said the US would support efforts to mediate the row, but also said Qatar must do more to crack down on support for terror.

“The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorists from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly.”

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