Political News

Members of Congress push for US to take tougher line on Qatar

Posted November 21, 2017 2:36 p.m. EST

— Member of Congress are calling on the Trump administration to take a tougher line against Qatar, accusing the small Persian Gulf nation of supporting the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A bipartisan group of representatives sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday that criticized his announcement last month that the United States and Qatar had reached a memorandum of understanding on countering terror financing.

"We are deeply concerned that this joint statement omitted any mention of Hamas," they wrote, calling Qatar's capital, Doha, "a sanctuary to Hamas terrorist officials."

Another group of representatives, some of whom also signed the letter to Mnuchin, had sent a separate letter to US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday, criticizing her for saying Qatar does not support Hamas.

Qatar, for its part, vehemently denies supporting Hamas -- which the US government considers a terror group. However, senior Hamas leadership reside in Qatar, and the country provides significant financial support to Gaza, where Hamas is active.

Speaking at a Washington, DC, think tank on Monday, Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said any suggestion Qatar supports Hamas is "propaganda."

Al Thani emphasized that Qatar's support is for the people of Gaza, and he said it is provided in a transparent manner.

"We offer them just the platform to negotiate and engage with others," he said of the country's connection to Hamas' leadership.

But the issue has created division, both in the Middle East and within the United States.

Over the summer, the House of Representatives passed a bill calling out Qatar, saying it provides "significant financial and military support" to Hamas. At the same time, the Trump administration was grappling with a major diplomatic spat between Qatar and four of its neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, which cut off ties with the nation over its alleged support for terrorism.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conducted a round of shuttle diplomacy in July in an attempt to bring the two sides together, but they remain at odds.

While Tillerson has sought to play the arbitrator, President Donald Trump has offered contradicting positions on the issue, at times backing the Saudi position and at other times projecting a more impartial tone.

The issue is complicated by the fact that Qatar hosts 11,000 US military personnel.

At a May summit in Saudi Arabia -- weeks before the Saudi-led embargo was announced, Trump described US relations with Qatar as "extremely good."