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Trump speaks to Saudi King as Gulf crisis deepens

The leaders of the United States and Saudi Arabia spoke Tuesday as a growing number of countries moved to sever ties with Qatar over alleged ties to terror networks.

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Euan McKirdy (CNN)

The leaders of the United States and Saudi Arabia spoke Tuesday as a growing number of countries moved to sever ties with Qatar over alleged ties to terror networks.

President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on the need for regional cooperation in preventing the financing of terrorism and "eliminating the promotion of extremism by any nation in the region," according to a readout of the conversation released by the White House, which did not mention Qatar by name.

"The President underscored that a united Gulf Cooperation Council is critical to defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability," the document said. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.

Three of the council's six members have severed relations with Doha -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf Cooperation Council is viewed as one of the most influential in the Middle East. Six other governments also have suspended diplomatic ties.

The UAE announced Wednesday that "expressing sympathy, inclination or favoritism toward Qatar" is punishable by three to 15 years in prison, alongside a minimum fine of 500,000 dirhams, about $136,000.

Qatar responds, Turkey criticizes sanctions

As the crisis deepened among the closest US Gulf allies, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNN's Becky Anderson that the Saudi statement accusing his country of "embracing terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at de-stabilizing the region" was full of contradictions.

"With all due respect, this statement is full of contradictions because it is saying that we are supporting Iran and on the other hand supporting the extremist groups in Syria; and we are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in (Saudi Arabia) or in Yemen and we are supporting the (Iranian-backed) Houthis form the other side. In all battlefields, there are adversaries," the foreign minister said.

Turkey, also a key US ally, criticized the decision by nine countries to sever diplomatic ties, according to the semiofficial Anadolu Agency.

"I want to clearly say that we disapprove of the sanctions on Qatar," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a fast-breaking iftar dinner in Ankara.

"These developments, coming at a time when we need solidarity and cooperation more than ever, are no good for any country in the region."

Trump tweets

Trump, meanwhile, appeared to take credit for the decision of the countries to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, putting his stamp of approval on the move despite Pentagon and US State Department attempts to remain neutral.

"During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look," he tweeted Tuesday.

He also said in another tweet that his recent visit to Saudi Arabia was "paying off" due to his warnings on funding terror.

Diplomatic solutions

While most of the Gulf Cooperation Council members have cut ties, Kuwait's Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber Al-Sabah, is seeking a diplomatic solution.

On Tuesday, he went to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a "fraternal visit" to mediate in the crisis, according to the state-run Kuwait News Agency.

Earlier he had urged Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to calm tensions with allies and refrain from escalating the diplomatic rift, according to the agency.

Jordan also signaled a willingness to work with neighboring countries to help end the crisis, according to government spokesman Mohammad Al-Momani.

His government hopes this "unfortunate phase will be overcome and the crisis will be resolved on solid grounds that guarantee that all Arab states cooperate to build a better future for our people."

However, Jordan was taking the terror allegations into consideration and acting accordingly, he said, downgrading diplomatic ties with the beleaguered state and kicking out Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news organization.

"After considering the reasons for the crisis between Egypt, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the kingdom of Bahrain and Qatar, the government has decided to lower its diplomatic representation with Qatar and cancel the licenses of Al Jazeera's bureau in the kingdom."

US: Russian hackers suspected

US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency and planted a fake report that contributed to the crisis, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

Officials said the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the United States and its allies. In recent months, suspected Russian cyberactivities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.

It's not clear whether the United States has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks.

Mauritania joins list

The West African country of Mauritania has joined the swelling ranks of the countries cold-shouldering Qatar. On Tuesday, it became the ninth nation to sever diplomatic ties with the Gulf state, according to a statement published by the official Mauritanian state news agency.

"Mauritania's positions have always reflected our firm belief in the need to strengthen cooperation and solidarity among brothers and to confront any threat to security and stability in our Arab homeland," the statement said.

"But, unfortunately, the State of Qatar has been working to undermine these principles on which the joint Arab action has been based.

"As the State of Qatar insists on continuing its policies, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania has decided to sever its diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar."

UAE: Qatar can change, or be isolated

The UAE and other nations cutting ties with Qatar are doing so because years of trying to work through grievances against the small nation on the Arabian Peninsula have "all hit basically a brick wall," the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs told CNN on Tuesday.

"As a result, this is an action that we have to take because Qatar is a partner with us in the GCC, and we need to work together," the minister, Anwar Gargash, said.

If Qatar doesn't change its approach, then it "needs to understand that it's on its own, and it has to sort of deal and run its economy and run its country on its own," Gargash said.

"But we cannot accept that we have a partner sitting with us around the same round table that is undermining our stability and undermining security in the region."

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