DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Arab states that have laid virtual siege on Qatar praised U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday for enthusiastically supporting their stance when he called on the Gulf state to stop “the funding of terrorism.”
Trump has aligned himself closely with Saudi Arabia and an allied bloc of Arab countries since taking office. His comments Friday firmly positioned Washington in the camp of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which severed ties with Qatar this week and accused it of sponsoring terrorism.
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said Qatar “has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
“The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding – they have to end that funding – and its extremist ideology in terms of funding,” Trump said.
The row has sparked one of the worst political crises in decades among some of Washington’s closest Mideast allies.
Qatar denies it backs extremist groups and says the allegations are politically motivated and intended to tarnish the country’s image. Qatar has ties with Iran and has supported Islamist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, however, is locked in a regional power struggle with Iran. Gulf monarchies and Egypt’s government also view Islamist groups as a threat to their rule.
Qatar, however, is not entirely without support. Turkey has offered to provide food and medicine to help ease its isolation.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country hoped the rift between the “Muslim countries” would end “through peaceful dialogue before the religious holiday,” referring to Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan. He was speaking as his Bahraini counterpart met with Turkey’s president in Ankara.
Explaining Turkey’s stake in the conflict, Cavusoglu said, “we see threats toward the Gulf region as threats toward us.”
Cavusoglu added that a 2014 agreement with Qatar to set up a Turkish military base there is designed to support the security of the entire region.
In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country will undertake every effort to help ease the tensions. He was speaking at a meeting in Moscow Saturday with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
Trump too had offered possible mediation earlier in the week.
The four Arab states upped their pressure on Qatar on Friday by listing 12 organizations and 59 people on a terror sanctions list. They had already earlier in the week blocked direct flights between their countries and Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE also prohibited Qatari flights from using their airspace. Additionally, Saudi Arabia sealed shut Qatar’s only land border, impacting a significant source of food imports for the peninsula nation.
In separate statements Saturday, they lauded Trump for his supportive stance. A statement from Egypt’s presidency said President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Trump spoke by phone on Friday and that el-Sissi thanked him for his role in “the formation of a united front to combat terrorism.”
The UAE issued a statement welcoming Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism. Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency carried an official statement welcoming Trump’s remarks, adding that cutting off terrorism funding “required decisive and swift action… regardless of its financier.” The tiny island-nation of Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf, similarly said it “praised the statement made by President Donald Trump.”
However, earlier Friday U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a different message from Washington, urging Qatar’s neighbors to ease their blockade and called for “calm and thoughtful dialogue.” Kuwait’s ruler, meanwhile, is making an effort to help mediate.
Rights group Amnesty International says thousands of Gulf residents are now caught up in the dispute.
Among the raft of punitive measures, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain ordered Qatari nationals to leave their territories within 14 days, and announced that all of their nationals would need to leave Qatar in the same time period. They also warned that anyone who expresses support for Qatar online faces imprisonment and hefty fines.
The rights group says that, according to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, more than 11,000 nationals of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE live in Qatar. Many Qataris also live in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
“These drastic measures are already having a brutal effect, splitting children from parents and husbands from wives. People from across the region – not only from Qatar, but also from the states implementing these measures – risk losing jobs and having their education disrupted,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Global Issues Programme, who was in Doha last week.
In one example, the rights group said a Qatari man, who has lived in the UAE with his family for more than 10 years, was refused entry and sent back to Qatar as he tried to return home to Dubai. His wife is a UAE national and is forbidden from travelling to Qatar, while his children are Qatari nationals and so are required to leave the UAE. He also risks losing his job.
There are also students who risk not being able to sit for their final exams, the rights group said.
“There can be no justification for tearing families apart, suppressing peaceful expression, and leaving migrant workers abandoned and at risk,” said Lynch.
Associated Press writers Heba Afify in Cairo and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.