Qatar's unifying World Cup vision erodes as nations cut ties

Although the U.S. has a large and strategically important military base in Qatar, President Donald Trump has made no secret of the fact that he supports larger regional powers like Saudi Arabia.

Trump had appeared to side with Saudi Arabia and other countries against Qatar in a series of tweets Tuesday that seemed to endorse the accusation that Qatar funds terrorist groups.

During the phone call, Trump underscored that a united Gulf Cooperation Council is critical to defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability, the White House said.

Although Qatar hosts the largest American military airbase in the Middle East, Trump threw his weight behind the Saudi-led effort to isolate the emirate in a surprise move on Tuesday.

The biggest diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf since the 1991 USA -led war with Iraq pits several nations against Qatar, home to some 10,000 American troops and a major US military base.

On Monday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not "aware" whether the president received any word that the Gulf state nations were going to cut ties with Qatar during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and referred further questions to the State Department.

The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and USA government officials say.

In Washington there are growing fears that tacit support could now embolden Saudi Arabia and the UAE to pursue regime change in Qatar or make other demands that are so punitive they will stoke a crisis.

Trump's tweets mark a major departure in United States foreign policy that could upend the balance of power in the Middle East, and left his administration scrambling to contain the damage. He says the US has no plans to change its military posture in Qatar.

Qatar has said it is open to talks, but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the gulf state must "change their policies" and stop supporting "extremist groups".

"At the moment there is nothing on Qatar issue, (we) will issue a statement if some development takes place", Zakaria added.

Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were among those who joined Saudi Arabia on Monday in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar.

"So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off", Trump continued.

Qatar has denied the allegations, in the biggest diplomatic crisis to have hit the region in years.

US officials who monitor terrorist funding have said that gulf governments have made significant strides in ending official support for terrorist groups, although some money still flows from individuals, primarily in Kuwait and to a lesser extent from Qatar.

When avoiding Saudi Arabia, their massive - and only - neighbour, Qatar's planes are having to take more indirect routes, leading to longer flight times. Trump met with leaders from Arab and Muslim nations there and he says Tuesday that "they said they would take a hard line on funding extremism".

Trump's "tweet fuels more conflict, increases tensions and will be used by those who are trying to demonize Qatar", said Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at Qatar University in Doha. Beyond hosting US troops, Qatar has invested billions in the USA and increased its clout in Washington along the way. "Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism!"

At the same time, The Philippines announced it would temporarily suspend the deployment of Filipino workers to Qatar.

Speaking in Paris, he called on Qatar's rulers to end their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and what he called "hostile media".

"The President illustrated his rank ignorance for all the world to see on Twitter this morning, nearly certainly before the few adults in his entourage could speak sense to him", the Arizona Democrat said.

  • Zachary Reyes