Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa- photo courtesy of her official website
CAIRO – 28 July 2017: Qatar’s role in funding or failing to stop funds to militant and extreme groups should raise questions about the suitability of Qatar to host the Al Udeid airbase, said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, on Wednesday.
The Defense Department has consistently said it is not seeking alternatives to the base, which has hosted more than 11,000 US troops since 2002. But Donald Trump raised the prospect in an interview two weeks ago saying that ten countries would bid to host the base if the US ever decided to pull out.
“We cannot allow for our air base to be used as a means to justify this sort of behavior,” said Ms Lehtinen, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was hosting his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani a few miles away.
“Doha’s behavior must change the status quo, and if it does not, it risks losing our cooperation on the air base.”
She defined Qatar as only helping “to facilitate our operations at our airbase”, while “the UAE, for example, has spent 12 years with us fighting alongside in Afghanistan”.
The Republican congresswoman described Doha as “a permissive environment for terror financing” and said that it had “openly housed Hamas leaders, Taliban leaders, and has several individuals who have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department and it has failed to prosecute them.”
She said she hoped the rift would end with the Gulf countries working closely with the US Treasury Department “to root out and disrupt terror financing streams”.
It came following a report in the Financial Times last month which suggested that Qatar had paid up to $1bn to release members of its royal family, kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip.
Qatar’s relations with several Arab states have been strained since May 24 over a leaked statement attributed to Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, criticizing Gulf foreign policy with Iran, describing it as “unwise”.
Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad’s recent remarks in which he attacked Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prompted the major Arab powers to adopt urgent and strict measures towards Doha.
The Qatari crisis was escalated when Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE, along with Yemen and Libya announced a coordinated diplomatic break with Qatar, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They also closed their airspace and seaports for Qatari transportation.