The United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Qatar on terror financing and counterterror efforts. But is this the deal the President wanted? It was negotiated in a whirlwind round of diplomacy by Secretary of State Tillerson but there is concern it is simply a fig leaf to allow Qatar back into good graces. The Saudis and other Gulf nations have refused to join the agreement and say it fails to meet the requirements they placed on Qatar.
There are rumblings in the White House that this was another example of Sec. Tillerson exceeding his mandate or ignoring the wishes of his boss. The President got some strong assurances from the Saudis and others that they are serious about changing their ways on support for terrorism. Last Fall former US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad reported some startling admissions from the Saudi royalty.
In the past, when we raised the issue of funding Islamic extremists with the Saudis, all we got were denials. This time, in the course of meetings with King Salman, Crown Prince Nayef, Deputy Crown Mohammad Bin Salman and several ministers, one top Saudi official admitted to me, “We misled you.”
Since that time, 31 year old Mohammed Bin Salman has become the Crown Prince and seems to be radically shifting the Kingdom’s position on supporting Islamist extremists and terrorism. This is self-serving in many ways as the Saudi monarchy is a long-standing target of the extremists who find it lacking in sufficient adherence to Islamic doctrine. But whatever the reasons, President Trump has taken advantage of this change to gain Saudi support in recruiting the Gulf Arab states to unite with us against the terrorist groups.
This effort is what led to the Saudis and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and others to present Qatar with their list of demands and impose the crippling embargos. Since then, the State Department has been scrambling to find a way to defuse this situation and rescue Qatar. Now we must find out if this deal actually accomplished anything more than providing the rationale for taking the pressure off Qatar.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has not been publicly released but there are certain items it must have addressed for it to be a valid extension of the President’s policy. Sr. VP at Security Studies Group, Brad Patty, outlined the vital one.
A complete end to support for terrorism… All terrorist groups must be included. The 13 points contains a list of groups Qatar has worked with that should serve as a minimum rather than a maximum.
This is paramount and if the MOU lets Qatar wiggle on which groups they will stop supporting, it may even be counterproductive. One group that must be taken out of play is the Muslim Brotherhood which the Saudis, UAE, Bahrain and others have already designated as a terror organization. The Brotherhood needs to be included in the list of groups Qatar will no longer support and the time is probably right for the United States to join in designating as the terrorist organization they are.
There is an opportunity to push the terrorists out of favor with many of their biggest supporters. While an agreement with Qatar seems like a good thing, we must make sure this one helps further that agenda.