WASHINGTON — After “going through some turbulence as a result of a Tweet here and a Tweet there” by President Donald Trump, the relationship between the United States and Qatar is looking better after a one-day meeting between diplomats for the two countries earlier this week, Arab Center Washington head Khalil E Jahshan said Thursday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and their Qatari counterparts discussed more cooperation on defense, counterterrorism and trade during the Tuesday meeting in Washington, according to joint statement
In June Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Coast Countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed trade and travel bans; other Arab nations joined the boycott.
Trump quickly claimed credit for the isolation on Twitter while Tillerson and Mattis remained neutral and called for dialogue, making some Qataris worry about the strength of America’s commitment to their country.
During a discussion Thursday sponsored by the Arab Center Washington, political sociology professor Majed Al-Ansari of Qatar University said the crisis was the result of Qatar’s longstanding push for an independent foreign policy as a way to “protect itself from a political push from Saudi Arabia.”
“We have one big hegemon – that is Saudi Arabia – and then we have the coastal states,” Al-Ansari said. “The hegemon always tries to gain political prominence.”
William Lawrence, a political science and international affairs professor at The George Washington University, said the 13 demands issued to Qatar by the countries – which range from closing Al-Jazeera to paying reparations – were more of a negotiating tactic than an ultimatum. The “two huge interests” for Saudi Arabia has are Qatar’s close relationship with Iran and support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Ansari also said Tuesday’s high-level meeting eased Qataris’ fears about U.S. intentions.
“It is a win for Qatar, but I tend to be very skeptical of how this administration deals in its policy towards the Middle East,” he said. “It is skeptical optimism at best.”
At the talks, plans were unveiled for a Qatari-funded expansion of the Al Udeid Air Base, the primary base for American air operations against ISIS.
Lawrence said Qatar’s commitment makes the U.S. more likely to continue its investment and presence in the country.
“I see no appetite to move anything out of Qatar – quite the opposite. They’d like to keep things there and keep them growing,” he said. “My overall prediction is that the US will continue to invest.”