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White House: Qatar Gulf row is a 'family issue'

June 23, 2017 8:51 PM
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White House: Qatar Gulf row is a 'family issue'

The US government has called the growing crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours a "family issue".

White House press spokesman Sean Spicer made the comments during an off-camera briefing to journalists in Washington.

Qatar is under strict sanctions from Saudi Arabia and its allies, who have sent it a list of 13 demands it must meet before sanctions are lifted.

Among the demands are that Qatar shutter its Al Jazeera news network and cut back ties to Iran.

The Arab states involved all have close ties with the US, but the US State Department and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have yet to make a formal statement on the demands that were made public on Friday.

"The four countries that are part of that - we believe it's a family issue and that they should work [it] out," said Mr Spicer.

"If we can help facilitate those discussions then so be it. They want to, and should work out for themselves."

He had previously anticipated the release of a list of demands from the Saudis and their allies: Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The countries want Qatar to comply to the 13 orders before they will lift severe sanctions, which were first imposed on it earlier this month.

They say Qatar is funding terrorism and fostering regional instability, accusations it denies.

US President Donald Trump has taken a hard line towards Qatar, accusing it of being a "high level" sponsor of terrorism.

However, the largest US base in the Middle East is in Qatar, meaning it is caught in the middle.

For the White House Press Spokesman Sean Spicer to say "we believe this is a family issue" is to ignore the role President Trump's administration played in stoking this conflict.

Tensions between the Gulf States and Qatar have been particularly bad since the 2011 Arab Spring, when Qatar tried to play kingmaker in the region. They heavily invested in the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates.

That angered the Saudis not only because they see themselves as regional top dog, but also because they see the Brotherhood as an existential threat to their hold on power at home.

During President Trump's visit to the Middle East in May he created the impression in the Arab world that he had picked a side, the Saudi one. That emboldened the Saudis to act against Qatar while the going was good.

Now, if the US does not act to unpick a mess it helped create, no one else can or will and so things are likely to get worse.

An unnamed official from one of the four countries sanctioning Qatar told Reuters news agency that Qatar was also being asked to sever links with so-called Islamic State, al-Qaeda and Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah.

Their publication, first via The Associated Press news agency, has increased the friction between the two sides.

If 10 days pass and Qatar has failed to comply, the list becomes "void", the Reuters source said.

It would appear that at least some of the demands are unacceptable to Qatar.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed said this week his country would not accept any "foreign dictations" and "rejected discussing any matter related to the Al Jazeera channel as it considered it an internal affair".

The sanctions have forced to make alternative arrangements for importing food and other goods. Iran and Turkey are assisting with extra supplies.

Iran has also opened its airspace to flights to and from Qatar, which has been banned from using Saudi and other countries' airspace.


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