Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to end their blockade of Qatar on Friday. He then went over to the Rose Garden at the White House, where President Donald Trump completely contradicted his messaging, choosing to lambast Qatar for funding terrorists.
Qatar has “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump told reporters. “They have to end that funding and its extremist ideology in terms of funding. I want to call in all other nations to stop immediately. I won’t name other countries.”
Tillerson was sitting in the front row.
Just 90 minutes earlier, the secretary of state did briefly admonish the country for supporting terrorist groups.
“Qatar has a history of supporting groups that span the spectrum of political expression, from activism to violence,” he said during a news conference. “The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly.”
But Tillerson focused on asking the four nations to ease the blockade, citing humanitarian consequences like food shortages. The blockade also impairs business activity in the region and has hindered U.S. military operations to fight the so-called Islamic State. The U.S. base in Qatar happens to be the hub for anti-ISIS activity.
Tillerson said the Gulf states should “immediately take steps to deescalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve their grievances with each other.” He also pledged his support for Kuwait’s willingness to step in and moderate.
“We know you are stronger together,” Tillerson said of the nations.
The four powerful countries severed ties with Qatar on Monday because they believe it supports radical organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. They shut off all transport in and out of Qatar, and gave Qatari residents two weeks to leave their nations. Qatar has denied the charges.
Tillerson seemed to be doing damage control Friday, which was all upended when his boss approached the podium later in the day. Trump said that after his recent trip to the Middle East, “nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior. So we had a decision to make. Do we take the easy road or do we finally take hard but necessary action? The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding.”
Trump appeared to offer support for the blockade on Twitter beginning Tuesday, saying “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off.” He reportedly “may not have known” Qatar is home to the United States’ largest military base in the Middle East.