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US arms sale to Qatar

June 15, 2017

The US and Qatari defense ministers have met in Washington, signing off on a fighter jet deal worth billions. This follows four regional rivals severing ties with US ally Qatar, a move Donald Trump initially lauded.

Israelischer Kampfjet
Saudi Arabian and Israeli militaries also use Boeing's F-15 fighter jetImage: picture-alliance/dpa

One Qatari source said that the Emirate was purchasing 36 of the F-15 tactical fighter jets in the deal finalized in Washington on Thursday. A Qatari diplomat posted a social media photo showing Wednesday's signing ceremony involving Qatar's defense minister Khalid al-Attiyah and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

"The $12-billion sale will give Qatar a state-of-the-art capability and increase security cooperation and inter-operability between the United States and Qatar," the Pentagon said in a statement. 

The Pentagon on Thursday also deployed two warships to waters off Qatar.

The US has been seeking to reassure one of its allies in the region since President Donald Trump tweets appeared to back theSaudi-led boycott on Qatar on charges that it sponsors terrorism and aligns itself with Iran, claims rebutted by Doha.

US air base in Qatar

Mattis formerly oversaw US Central Command whose forward operating base is the vast al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar - a hub for the international campaign against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

"Our militaries are like brothers. America's support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes," said an unnamed Qatari official in Doha, according to the news agency Reuters.

Attiyah was quoted by the official Qatar News Agency as saying the deal would create 60,000 jobs in the United States.

The Pentagon said the jet sales, priced at $12 billion (10.7 billion euros), would boost cooperation. Mattis and Attiyah had also discussed the need to deescalate tensions between Qatar and four Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia, it added.

Naval visit

The US vessels - the USS Chinook and the US coastguard cutter Baranof - docked in Hamad Port, south of Doha, according to the US 5th Fleet based in neighboring Bahrain - one of the countries to have frozen ties with Qatar.

Fleet commander Bill Urban said their trip was a "routine port visit" and not part of a maneuver as depicted by the Qatari defense ministry.

Qatar complains to ICAO

Energy-rich Qatar, whose land, maritime and aviation routes have been interrupted by a quartet comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, sent officials to Montreal, where the UN aviation agency is based.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said it would host talks of ministers and senior officials from the complainant Qatar and the four other Gulf nations to seek a "consensus-based solution."

A Qatar Airways Airbus A380 superjumbo, photographed at the 2015 Paris Airshow.
Qatar Airways is scrambling to adjust its routes now it's banned from key regional hubsImage: Airbus - photo by master films/ H. Goussé

Since Qatar Airways was denied passage across Saudi Arabia, the airline has resorted to flying longer routes over Iran and Turkey. Its feeder flights in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also been disrupted.

Making itself 'important'

David B. Roberts, the author of a recent book "Qatar, Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State" and assistant professor at King's College London told the Associated Press that the airspace row could "go on for a very long time," given the ICAO's weak adjudicative rules.

"Qatar long has wanted to make itself a particularly important ally for America where it can," Roberts said, referring to the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Qatar has organized dairy shipments from its ally Turkey. Iran has also begun shipping food to Qatar, where in early June nervous residents rushed on grocery stores.

Turkey's Cavusoglu calls for dialogue

Visiting Kuwait on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Qatari officials denied causing the crisis. He said Turkey urged resolution "through dialogue."

Cavusoglu said he would travel to Mecca on Friday for talks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

He was quoted by Kuwait's al-Qabas newspaper and Qatar-based Al Jazeera as saying that Turkey had a neutral stance toward Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)