- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Qatar joined other Arab powers Wednesday in a U.S.-backed push to level fresh sanctions against individuals and organizations accused of financing the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Yemen — an unexpected shift by the tiny Persian Gulf nation that has been diplomatically blackballed by its Arab neighbors for allegedly supporting terrorists.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin announced the new sanctions in Saudi Arabia, signaling a rare moment of coordination among the feuding oil-rich Gulf states. And analysts saw Qatar’s involvement as a small but hopeful sign of progress toward a resolution of the ongoing diplomatic crisis that has badly divided some of the U.S.’ strongest allies in the region.

Wednesday’s development came roughly four months after the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt banded together to impose an economic and diplomatic blockade against Qatar over what they claim are its too-close ties to Iran and suspected support for terror groups and political Islamists. Qatari officials strongly denounced the blockade, and U.S. mediation efforts in the past made little progress.

The ongoing diplomatic standoff with tiny Qatar, which sits atop some of the world’s largest proven natural gas reserves and hosts the most strategic U.S. military base in the Persian Gulf, has proven vexing for the Trump administration as Washington has found itself caught in the middle of the regional dispute.

While President Trump has suggested via Twitter that he sides with the Saudis and others, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has engaged in shuttle diplomacy trying to steer the Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris — all of whom are heavily armed members of the U.S.-backed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — toward dialogue.

Mr. Tillerson, who has spent much of the week in the region, painted a discouraging picture over the weekend. He told reporters in Qatar Sunday that “there’s not a strong indication that parties are ready to talk” despite his push on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during a previous visit to Riyadh to “please engage in dialogue.”

But Wednesday’s development offered a new twist, with Mr. Mnuchin appearing in the Saudi capital to commemorate the opening of a new U.S.-backed Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, which all the GCC members, including the Saudis and the Qataris, have agreed to work with.

Speaking at an investment conference in Riyadh, Mr. Mnuchin announced the new wave of sanctions designating nine individuals and entities accused of financing and facilitating Islamic State and al Qaeda activity in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran have waged a messy proxy war since 2015.

He described the sanctions, signed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar, as the “largest-ever multilateral designation in the Middle East.”

The treasury secretary also claimed the new Terrorist Financing Targeting Center “will be a catalyst for additional multilateral actions against terrorist financiers” and a “place where member countries come together to share information.”

The Qatari government said that Doha’s participation in the new Saudi-based counterterrorism center reaffirms its “strong and continuous commitment to combatting terrorism and terrorism financing.”

Qatar has strengthened its counter-terror legislation and set new rules for defining terrorism and the financing of terrorism,” Qatari Maj. General, Abdulaziz A. Al Ansari said in a statement. “We are committed to taking the necessary steps to defeat terrorism in all its forms, and will continue to work closely with the United States to impose sanctions on those who facilitate terrorist activity.”

 

 

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