Posts Tagged ‘Qatar’

Syria: US in talks over Arab force to replace American troops — “In reality, the politics of putting a force like that together are almost impossible.”

April 18, 2018

Problematic proposal is backed by national security adviser John Bolton but could worsen conflict

A US military base in al-Asaliyah, Syria
 A US military base in al-Asaliyah, Syria. Donald Trump is keen to withdraw American troops. Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration is renewing an effort to replace US troops in Syria with an Arab force, but the proposal faces substantial obstacles and could potentially exacerbate the conflict.

The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said his government was talking to Washington about raising such a force, confirming a report in the Wall Street Journal that said the new US national security adviser, John Bolton, had called the Egyptian intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, to ask Cairo to play a part in building one.

There are about 2,000 US troops in Syria fighting Islamic State, but Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to withdraw them.

The idea of an Arab coalition force playing a role in Syria to combat extremist groups and contain Iranian influence has surfaced several times since 2015, but faces severe problems. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are bogged down in a brutal war in Yemen, and have little manpower and few military resources to spare.

They are also locked in a dispute with Qatar, another potential contributor to a force, while Egypt is much closer to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria than its would-be Gulf partners.

Middle East experts said it was feasible Arab states could fund an army run by private contractors and possibly help recruit soldiers from developing countries such as Sudan. Erik Prince, a Trump ally who founded the military contractor Blackwater USA and now advises the UAE, is lobbying to play a role, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A similar offer he made last year to replace US troops with private contractors in Afghanistan was turned down by the Pentagon.

But Prince may have more traction in the White House over Syria. Bolton has argued that the US has borne too much of the military burden in Syria and Arab states should supply troops and material assistance in the fight against Isis.

Meanwhile, the Saudi monarchy and its regional allies are uneasy that events on the ground in Syria are being dictated by external powers, none of which are Arab.

Emile Hokayem, the senior fellow for Middle East security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “The idea of an Arab expeditionary force emerges every couple of years, and it’s always seen as a politically brilliant idea to create a sense of ownership in the region.

“In reality, the politics of putting a force like that together are almost impossible.

“The question is, have the Saudis consulted the other countries before speaking on their behalf? The Saudis thought Egypt and Pakistan would come to help Yemen and they didn’t.”

The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has launched an Islamic military counter-terrorism coalition, which held its first high-level meeting last year, but it has not appeared to be intended for combat.

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Mohammed bin Salman

Charles Lister, the director of the extremism and counter-terrorism programme at the Middle East Institute (MEI), attended the inaugural conference and said the force is intended for training and assistance programmes, rather than combat operations.

Lister said there was “no precedent” for an Arab expeditionary force in Syria.

“It sounds like the Saudis are continuing to align themselves with President Trump and not speaking the 100% truth about their intent,” he said.

Any Saudi troops deployed to Syria would find themselves directly confronting Iranian fighters and their allies, which could prompt a dangerous escalation in the conflict.

Randa Slim, who directs the back-channel Track II diplomacy programme at MEI said: “It is one thing for the Saudis to pay for other ‘Islamic forces’ to do the job, and a totally different thing to send their men to a conflict theatre where they are bound to enter into direct confrontation with an entrenched Iranian-Hezbollah force.

“The other factor to consider is what is Turkey’s response to this proposal. I do not see Ankara welcoming the positions of Egyptian and/or Emirati forces on its border,” Slim said.

The Obama administration also looked at the possibility of Arab allies deploying counter-terrorist forces against Isis in Syria, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE were drawn into the battle for Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said: “They preferred to send intelligence officers and money, rather than put troops on the ground.

“But for the Saudis, the trouble is their territory is being breached by Houthis every day. It doesn’t make sense for them to shift their ground forces when they have trouble securing their own border.”

Heras said it was more likely Saudi Arabia would seek to outsource recruitment to countries such as Pakistan and Sudan. “I’m sure the Saudis are up for fighting in Syria to the very last Sudanese soldier,” he said.




U.S. Proposes Arab Military Force in Syria: Replace American military contingent

April 17, 2018

Under plan, troops would replace American military contingent after ISIS defeat and help secure country’s north; proposal faces challenges

American troops looked out toward the border with Turkey from a small outpost near the town of Manbij, northern Syria, in February.
American troops looked out toward the border with Turkey from a small outpost near the town of Manbij, northern Syria, in February. PHOTO:SUSANNAH GEORGE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, recently called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort, officials said.

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The initiative comes as the administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute billions of dollars to help restore northern Syria. It wants Arab nations to send troops as well, officials said.

Details about the initiative, which haven’t been previously disclosed, have emerged in the days since the U.S.-led strikes on sites associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical-weapons capabilities.

Mr. Trump, who has expressed growing impatience with the cost and duration of the effort to stabilize Syria, alluded to the push on Friday night, when he announced the missile strikes.

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Abbas Kamel

“We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing larger amounts of money,” Mr. Trump said.

In early April, Mr. Trump spoke about the need to speed the withdrawal of the 2,000 troops the U.S. has in Syria, a position at odds with many top advisers who worry that leaving the country too soon would cede ground to Iran, Russia, their proxies or other extremist groups. The new administration initiative is aimed at avoiding a security vacuum in Syria that would allow Islamic State to return or ceding hard-won gains to Iranian-backed forces in the country.

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A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment about Mr. Bolton’s call to Mr. Kamel, who is widely regarded as one of the most powerful figures in the Egyptian regime.

Syria Airstrikes: Video Footage

U.S., British and French forces struck sites associated with Syria’s chemical-weapons capabilities on Friday. Video footage shows the missile launches and resulting damage. Above, a Syrian soldier films the damage. Photo: AFP/Getty

Other officials, however, acknowledged the conversation and noted the administration had reached out to the Gulf states as well.

“Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.A.E. have all been approached with respect to financial support and more broadly to contribute,” an administration official said.

Egyptian military officials and a spokesman for the Egyptian president’s office couldn’t be reached immediately to comment.

Some military officials said that completing the defeat of Islamic State in Syria remains a challenge. Moreover, any move to assemble an Arab troop contingent that would be deployed after U.S. troops left would face obstacles.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said that assembling a new force would be a challenge because Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are involved militarily in Yemen, and Egypt would be reluctant to defend territory that wasn’t controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Nor, he said, would Arab states be eager to send forces to Syria if the U.S. military didn’t agree to keep some troops there.

“There is just no precedent or established basis for this shaping into a successful strategy,” he said.

And many questions remain about whether the U.S. military would maintain some involvement in executing such a plan. U.S. troops in Syria, and the Kurdish and Arab fighters they work with, have been protected by American air power. It remains unclear what role, if any, U.S. warplanes might play and who would call in airstrikes if they were needed by a future Arab force.

“It has to be strong enough to face down Assad or Iran if either seeks to reclaim territory, perhaps with Russia’s help,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, referring to the new force.

In early January, U.S. military officials were hoping to wind up their campaign in Syria in a matter of months and keep troops to support a continuing State Department effort to stabilize Raqqa and other areas formerly under Islamic State control.

But that plan was upended by developments in the field. Many U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters have abandoned the fight against Islamic State and rushed toward the city of Afrinand other areas in northern Syria that have been attacked by Turkish troops.

Mr. Trump’s insistence that American troops come home as quickly as possible left administration officials scrambling to develop an exit strategy that would shift the U.S. burden to regional partners after Islamic State is defeated.

While estimates vary, 5,000 to 12,000 Islamic State fighters are believed to remain in eastern Syria, a U.S. official said. The militants are operating in two locations in a pocket south of the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah and in a 25-mile stretch along the Euphrates near the town of Abu Kamal, the official said. They have been trying to regroup and even forage for oil to sell.

The mission of the regional force would be to work with the local Kurdish and Arab fighters the U.S. has been supporting to ensure Islamic State cannot make a comeback and preclude Iranian-backed forces from moving into former Islamic State territory, U.S. officials say.

The idea also has caught the attention of Erik Prince, the private businessman who founded Blackwater USA and who has helped the U.A.E. and Somalia set up private security forces.

Trump Announces U.S. Strike on Syria

President Donald Trump said the recent suspected chemical attack in Syria was the crime of a “monster” and the strikes aim to deter the production and use of chemical weapons. Photo: AP

Mr. Prince said Monday that he has been informally contacted by Arab officials about the prospect of building a force in Syria but that he was waiting to see what Mr. Trump would do.

Egypt’s willingness to support a new effort in Syria is far from clear. With one of the largest armies in the Middle East, Egypt is preoccupied with a fight against the local branch of Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula and with securing the country’s vast desert border with Libya, which is ruled by a patchwork of militias.

Egypt rarely has deployed troops abroad since the country sent more than 30,000 soldiers to join the American-led coalition fighting Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, and its government sometimes has made statements supporting the authorities in Damascus, though it says it hasn’t taken sides in the conflict.

If Egypt didn’t want to send troops, it could help in other ways, such as by training Syrian fighters outside of their country and with logistics, some experts suggest.

The Trump administration effort isn’t the first aimed at generating greater regional involvement in Syria. During the Obama administration, then Defense Secretary Ash Carter repeatedly voiced hopes that Saudi and U.A.E. commandos would participate in the American-led offensive against Islamic State in northern Syria—to no avail.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have helped pay the stipends for the Syrian fighters the U.S. is supporting, American officials say.

Administration officials are calculating Arab nations will respond more favorably to a request from Mr. Trump, who already has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion to restore former Islamic State-held areas of Syria.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at

Appeared in the April 17, 2018, print edition as ‘U.S. Seeks An Arab Force and Funding For Syria.’

Qatari emir not attending Arab summit in Saudi Arabia

April 15, 2018


DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Qatar will not be represented by a senior official at an Arab summit taking place in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, in a sign that a nearly year-old dispute between Gulf Arab neighbours is still a long way from being resolved.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty.

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 Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani

The Qatari delegation will be headed by Doha’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Saif bin Muqaddam al-Buainain, the state news agency said without elaborating.

Most of the 22 other countries are represented by heads of state or government. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani headed Qatar’s delegation at last year’s Arab summit in Jordan.

Sheikh Tamim returned to Doha on Saturday from a U.S. trip where he met President Donald Trump, who had publicly sided with the Saudis and Emiratis early in the crisis, but is now pushing for a resolution to restore Gulf Arab unity and maintain a united front against Iran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday that Qatar’s crisis would not be on the table at the Arab League summit, Al Arabiya reported.

Ahead of the summit, the four boycotting nations reaffirmed that their demands on Qatar — including closing Al Jazeera television station and reducing ties with Iran — were “a necessary basis” for a resolution to the crisis.

Reporting By Sarah Dadouch and Stephen Kalin; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Jane Merriman

Arab Leaders Meet in Saudi Arabia, Vow to find Solutions in Syria and Increase Pressue on Iran

April 15, 2018

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Arab foreign ministers meet ahead of the national leaders of Arab nations, in Saudi Arabia


RIYADH: Leaders of the 22-nation Arab League, who will meet in the Saudi city of Dhahran on Sunday, are expected to stress continuity in their efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict. It follows airstrikes by the US, UK and France against the Assad regime on Saturday. The leaders are likely to seek Arab and international support to increase pressure on the regime to find a solution to the conflict.

Their push for a tough stand against Iran is expected to dominate the Arab League Summit as regional tensions grow over the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The fate of Jerusalem will also be on the agenda as the US prepares to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv after declaring it Israel’s capital.

“All key regional issues are on the agenda, with Syria, Yemen and Palestine at the top,” Ali Al-Kayed, Jordanian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Qayid, founding member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), said Saturday’s airstrikes are “largely welcomed by Western and Arab nations, which condemn (the regime’s) crimes against humanity by repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians.”

He added: “There is an urgent need to defuse the crisis in Syria, where more than half of the population has either fled the country or become homeless.”

He asked: “Should the world sit and watch as an arrogant ruler (Syrian President Bashar Assad) commits genocide in his own country?”

Al-Qayid urged Arab leaders to take “stern and decisive action” to resolve the conflict once and for all.

He commended the US, UK and France for Saturday’s attack, saying when a ruthless regime commits war crimes, the international community has the right to take action and save innocent civilians.

Arab leaders and heads of delegations started arriving in Dhahran on Saturday to take part in the summit, SPA reported.

They were received by Prince Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, governor of Eastern Region; Prince Ahmed bin Fahad bin Salman, deputy governor, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League, and a number of officials.
Iran’s interference

Thursday’s preparatory meeting of Arab foreign ministers said there could be “no peace and security in the region as long as Iran continues to interfere in the domestic affairs of Arab states.”

The meeting was led by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, who received the Arab League’s rotating chairmanship from his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in the presence of the secretary-general.

Addressing the meeting, Aboul-Gheit said the decline of Arab influence on the situation in Syria had led to the “domination of foreign powers” there, paving the way for the country’s eventual disintegration. “The crisis in Syria can only be resolved through a political solution,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is likely to seek Arab support to pile the pressure on Iran, an analyst told AFP.

“Saudi Arabia is going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

Arab Quartet stresses Qatar must meet 13 demands to mend ties

April 13, 2018

Arab News

April 13, 2018

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Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

The Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain held a meeting on the sidelines of the 29th Arab League summit on Thursday in Riyadh, where senior Arab officials were discussing various political, security, and military developments facing the region.

They discussed the developments regarding the Qatari crisis and stressed the Quartet’s firm position on the necessity of Doha fulfilling the 13 demands that have been put forward, as well as its adherence to the Six Principles of Cairo Meeting and Manama Declaration as a necessary foundation for normalizing relations with them.

The four countries severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June last year, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism and meddling in their internal affairs, and sparking the region’s worst diplomatic dispute in years. Doha has denied the accusations.

During the meeting, the ministers reiterated their solidarity and continued coordination of their positions to maintain security and stability in the Arab region as a whole and reject any attempt of external interference in the affairs of the Arab states, Saudi state press agency reported.

Saudi aims to pressure rival Iran at Arab League summit

April 13, 2018

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Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir speaks during an interview with Reuters in Munich



Saudi Arabia’s push for a tough stand against its arch-rival Iran is expected to dominate an Arab League summit on Sunday as regional tensions grow over the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The fate of Jerusalem will also be on the summit’s agenda, as the United States prepares to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city after declaring it the capital of Israel.

Saudi Arabia, which is hosting the yearly summit in the Eastern Province city of Dhahran, is likely to seek Arab support to pile the pressure on Iran, analysts say.

“The Saudis are going to push for a much harsher stance on Iran — not necessarily on the nuclear dossier per se, but on Iranian influence in the Arab countries, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen,” said Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

Iran’s influence is wielded through a land route of armed parties in the Middle East — the so-called “Shiite crescent” that cuts across the mainly Sunni Arab world.

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Iran has long been a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backs Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, whose fighters are deployed in Syria alongside regime forces.

Iran also openly supports the Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen in their war against the Saudi-backed government but denies accusations of smuggling arms to the insurgents.

And in Shiite-dominated Iraq, the Islamic republic backs armed groups and supports the government.

“The securitisation of Iran is being pushed predominantly by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with other Arab countries including Egypt,” said Andreas Krieg, assistant professor of defence studies at King’s College London.

“Saudi Arabia has also reached out to Iraq to try and build ties and tackle militias there,” Krieg told AFP.

“It’s definitely safe to say that Iran is the centrepiece of this summit.”

– Syria chemical attack –

The summit will be attended by delegations from 21 of the Arab League’s 22-member states. Syria has been suspended from the organisation for seven years over Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

The gathering comes as the US administration of President Donald Trump, a key Saudi ally, faces crucial decisions on how to react to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Trump has put off a final decision on US-led strikes against Syria after an alleged chemical attack against the rebel-held town of Douma that killed dozens.

The summit is expected to release a statement on the suspected toxic gas attack, but it remains to be seen whether the Arab League will take any action as well.

Syria serves today as a major pivot between Saudi Arabia and its allies on the one hand, and Iran and Hezbollah on the other.

Each party in the conflict backs opposing sides but all agree that the country’s future cannot be decided solely by the Assad regime, whose troops have regained territory with Russia’s support.

After years of demanding that Assad step down, Saudi Arabia this month conceded, in the words of its powerful crown prince, that the embattled president was staying.

“Certain regional powers previously determined to bring down the Syrian regime — particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have now accepted the status quo, that Assad is staying,” Bitar said.

“Bashar’s Iranian patrons are also very well aware that their protege cannot run the show on his own and they are starting to accept the premise that they will have to negotiate spheres of influence in Syria territories”.

– Fate of Jerusalem –

Not on the table at the summit, according to Krieg, is Qatar, cut off from its Gulf allies over accusations of ties to Iran and support for Islamist extremists — claims denied by Doha.

On the eve of the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir confirmed as much, saying a solution for Qatar would be found within the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council.

The summit also comes after 33 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded at the hands of Israeli forces in mass protests along the Gaza border in recent weeks.

The protests are to continue until mid-May, around the time Washington is to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis claim as their capital.

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi has said she hopes the summit will lead to a resolution, and concrete action, supporting the Palestinian position on Jerusalem.

by Natacha YAZBECK

Saudi Arabia planning to turn Qatar into an island?

April 10, 2018

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia could consider a proposal to dig a maritime canal along the kingdom’s border with Qatar, turning the peninsula-nation into an island and transforming its only land border into a military zone and nuclear waste site, state-linked Saudi newspapers reported on Monday.

The project has not been given official approval and faces many obstacles. Still, the proposal signals a new low in the 10-month-old feud between Qatar and a quartet of nations that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.

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The four accuse Qatar of sponsoring terrorism because of its support for Islamist opposition groups in the region and its warm relations with Iran. Qatar denies the allegations and says the moves attempt to undermine its sovereignty.

Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, met in Washington on Monday with US defence secretary Jim Mattis. He is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia’s Sabq and al-Riyadh newspapers carried nearly identical reports on Monday saying that under the proposal, Saudi Arabia would transform part of its side of the border with Qatar into a military base and another area would become a dump site for waste from nuclear reactors the kingdom wants to build. The UAE, meanwhile, would also build a nuclear waste site at the closest point near its border with Qatar.

An earlier report by Sabq newspaper ran with a headline saying the canal project would “turn Qatar into an island” and would take just 12 months to complete. The so-called Salwa Marine Canal project would be funded by Saudi and Emirati investors and dug by Egyptian companies with experience in the Suez Canal.

Sabq reports the canal would span the entirety of the border with Qatar, creating waterfront coastline for resorts, private beaches and Gulf cruise liners. The canal, estimated to cost 2.8 billion riyals ($750 million), would stretch 200 meters wide (656 feet) wide and up to 20 meters deep (66 feet).

Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, became the first high-ranking official to comment on the proposal. In a string of tweets, he said the project is “proof of Qatar’s failure to manage and solve its crisis”. Qatari government spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Associated Press

Trump hosts emir of Qatar despite saying it funds terror — “Can we get the Gulf together again? They’re all our allies, American allies.”

April 10, 2018

Ahead of meeting, White House announces planned deal to sell Gulf kingdom $300 million worth of laser-guided rockets

This file photo taken on May 21, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump (R) speaking with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

This file photo taken on May 21, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump (R) speaking with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, during a bilateral meeting at a hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump is hosting the ruling emir of Qatar for a White House meeting, welcoming a leader whose tiny gas-rich nation he once accused of funding terrorism at a “high level.”

With America’s allies in the Persian Gulf feuding with Qatar, there has been almost zero progress toward resolving their dispute since it erupted 10 months ago. Trump was more than a bit player in the inception of that crisis: He sided firmly with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other neighbors who accused Qatar of spreading extremism, fomenting regional unrest and allowing funds to flow to terror groups. Qatar denies all those charges.

Trump hasn’t repeated that charge in recent months, and Qatar has since taken steps to address US concerns, even allowing Treasury Department officials into its central bank to improve accountability for controls to prevent terror funding. So far, those steps haven’t been enough to persuade Qatar’s neighbors to stop squeezing the country diplomatically and financially. A brief attempt last year by then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson to resolve the crisis sputtered, and Tillerson was recently fired.

Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will join Trump for a midday meeting and working lunch Tuesday that the White House said would focus on strengthening ties, including security and economic issues. In a phone call last week, Trump credited the emir with working to counter terror financing and extremism. The White House said they also discussed concerns about Iran’s “increasingly reckless behavior in the region” and the need to resolve the Gulf crisis.

Despite the past tensions, there were signs that Trump was warming to the Qataris. The day before the emir’s visit, the administration told Congress it plans to approve a deal to sell $300 million in “Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems” to Qatar, including 5,000 high-explosive warheads and the same number of rocket motors. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said that the laser-guided rockets would help Qatar modernize its military and “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, stands with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during an Honor Cordon at the Pentagon, April 9, 2018. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The emir’s meeting comes shortly after Trump greeted Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with pomp and pageantry at the White House last month at the start of the crown prince’s marathon tour of the US The de facto leader of another Qatari opponent, the UAE, will also soon visit the White House.

Simon Henderson, a Gulf expert at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Trump administration would likely try to use the visit to persuade the Qataris that they and their opponents should put aside their disagreements to focus on what Trump considers the bigger threat in the region: Iran.

“Can we get the Gulf together again? They’re all our allies, American allies,” Henderson said.

Qatar has sought to stress its role as a reliable and agreeable US partner in a strategically vital region. The country hosts some 10,000 US troops at al-Udeid Air Base, and has been building new facilities for US troops there at Qatari expense in a bid to make it more comfortable for the Americans.


Trump to host UAE Crown Prince, calls for Gulf unity

April 7, 2018


© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File | Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahayan (L) chats with US President Donald Trump on May 21, 2017

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House said Friday that President Donald Trump would host the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahayan, but did not specify a date.

The news comes after Washington said Trump would host Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on April 10 in an effort to end a diplomatic spat that has riven America’s Gulf allies.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar last year, accusing Doha of bankrolling Islamist extremists and fostering ties with Saudi arch-rival Iran.

The White House said Trump spoke on the phone with bin Zayed, his country’s de facto ruler, “to discuss regional developments and opportunities for increasing cooperation on a range of security and economic issues.”

A statement added: “The leaders agreed that all GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states can and should do more to increase coordination with each other and with the United States to ensure the peace and prosperity of the people in the region.”

It said the pair “agreed on the importance of a united GCC,” in what appeared to be a reference to the regional dispute, since the GCC member countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Trump had taken a hard line against Qatar, saying the country needed to scale back ties with Iran and stop funding extremism.

Aides — mindful of the pivotal role that the Al Udeid Air Base outside Doha plays in US Middle East operations — have since convinced him to take a more moderate approach.

Mueller Probe Into U.A.E. Influence Broadens

April 3, 2018

Special counsel’s latest inquiry into the activities of a U.S. ally suggests he is looking more closely at foreign influence in Washington

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, seen in the Capitol last year, is probing any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, seen in the Capitol last year, is probing any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked questions about the work of a private consulting firm that has undertaken projects for the United Arab Emirates, according to people familiar with the investigation, suggesting his probe is looking more deeply at foreign influence in Washington.

The questions by Mr. Mueller’s team concern a private consulting firm, Wikistrat, as well as two of its co-founders, Joel Zamel and Daniel Green.

Wikistrat—which was founded in Israel in 2010 and today is based in Washington, D. C.—bills itself as a crowdsourced consulting firm that draws on a large network of experts to help analyze geopolitical problems on behalf of corporate clients and governments.

Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for Messrs. Zamel and Green and Wikistrat, said that his clients aren’t a focus of the probe.

“Joel is a bright young businessman and Wikistrat has been privileged to serve several U.S. government clients,” Mr. Mukasey, chairman of white collar defense at the law firm Greenberg Traurig, said in a statement. “Joel and Wikistrat have only a tenuous connection to the special counsel’s investigation and are cooperating fully.”

Mr. Zamel has informally met with Mr. Mueller’s team, according to a person familiar with the matter, and was asked questions about his business relationship with George Nader, a Lebanese-American who serves as a top adviser to U.A.E. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and was also close to Trump administration officials last year.

The person described Mr. Zamel’s relationship with Mr. Nader, who has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation since earlier this year, as “arms’ length.”

Mr. Mueller’s team also asked Mr. Zamel questions about his work, including for certain clients, the person said. The ultimate target of this line of inquiry is unknown.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

Mr. Mueller’s mandate is to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump. ” The order appointing him says he is also empowered to examine ”any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Mr. Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign with Russia, and Moscow has denied interfering in the U.S. election.

According to people familiar with the firm’s work, Wikistrat was contracted by the U.A.E. beginning in 2015 to conduct war game scenarios on Islamist political movements in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. both entered the Yemeni civil war in early 2015, aiming to combat an Islamist insurgency. That conflict is still ongoing.

Wikistrat’s efforts for the Gulf state later morphed into what one person close to the company referred to as “intelligence lite”—using local on-the-ground sources to anticipate threats. Mr. Zamel in recent years had built a close relationship with top Emirati national security officials and has held business meetings in the U.A.E., according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.A.E., together with Saudi Arabia, has aggressively courted the Trump administration in a bid to win U.S. backing for a regional campaign designed to counter and isolate Qatar, another Gulf state that is a close U.S. ally.

The extent and nature of Mr. Zamel’s relationship with Mr. Nader is unclear. A person familiar with the matter said the two have “done some business together.”

During the presidential transition early last year, both men were seeking to build relationships with the incoming Trump administration.

Mr. Zamel asked his contacts whether they were close to top officials in the incoming White House, according to the person close to Wikistrat. In December 2016, when Mr. Zayed met with Trump transition officials in New York, Mr. Nader didn’t attend the meeting but greeted Emirati officials as they were departing, according to a person familiar with the interaction.

Mr. Nader also held multiple meetings at the White House in the early months of the administration, including with then chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller has heard testimony from Mr. Nader about a meeting in the Seychelles weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration between a Russian executive close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Erik Prince, a top GOP donor close to the Trump transition team. Mr. Nader also has close ties to Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who has informally discussed with the White House issues related to U.A.E., a country where he has business interests.

Wikistrat was founded by Messrs. Zamel and Green in 2010, and they described the company as “Wikipedia meets Facebook ” in a 2011 interview with the Jerusalem Post. Wikistrat, which aims to use the collective wisdom of its experts to produce analysis and forecasts for its clients, says that it has a pool of roughly 2,200 experts it can tap for client projects.

Mr. Zamel, an Australian native, is based in Israel. A online profile for Mr. Green indicates that he is based in the Washington area.

The firm’s work for the U.A.E. involved looking at the deteriorating political situation in Yemen in 2015, specifically at the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have in recent years perceived the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to regional stability, especially after it briefly took power in Egypt in 2012.

Wikistrat put together a war game concerning the political situation in Yemen for the U. A. E and then briefed top Emirati national security officials twice, according to a person familiar with the matter. The experts involved in the war game didn’t know the client were the Emiratis.

Write to Byron Tau at, Rebecca Ballhaus at and Aruna Viswanatha at