President Donald Trump’s statements backing the diplomatic isolation of Qatar by several Gulf nations seem to depart from his own State Department’s stance on the issue.
On Monday, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain announced they had severed diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quick to urge representatives of each country to “sit down together and address these differences” and said the US thinks it’s important that the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to “remain unified.”
Tillerson also said he doesn’t think the diplomatic isolation of Qatar would have “any significant impact, if any impact at all” on the “fight against terrorism in the region or globally.”
But Trump hit Twitter on Tuesday morning to deliver a message that stood in stark contrast to the measured calm of Tillerson’s statements.
In a series of tweets, Trump appeared to take credit for the Saudi-led move. He visited Saudi Arabia last month and met with some Gulf leaders.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump tweeted. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”
Trump said that it was “so good” to see his Saudi Arabia visit “already paying off.”
“They said they would take a hard line on funding … extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” Trump tweeted.
Before he started tweeting about Qatar, Trump made clear that it’s his message voters should rely on to convey how he really feels.
“The FAKE MSM is working so hard trying to get me not to use Social Media,” he said in reference to the mainstream media. “They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out.”
But Trump’s remarks stand in contrast even to his own previous comments on Qatar. He told the emir last month that “our relationship is extremely good” with the country.
State Department officials reinforced this message on Tuesday.
“Our relationship with Qatar is one that’s strong,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. “We continue to cooperate with Qatar and other countries in the region in the fight against terrorism.”
She continued: “We recognise that Qatar has made great efforts to try to stop financing of terror groups … However, let me make this clear: they have made progress, but they still have work to do.”
When asked about the apparent contradiction between Trump’s statements and the State Department’s stance, Nauert said Secretary of State Tillerson has been clear in the past that Trump’s tweets are “serving the president pretty well.”
“The secretary says, ‘I don’t intend to advise him on how to communicate. That’s up to him,'” Nauert said.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, gave a similar response to reporters during his press briefing Tuesday.
“The president is the most effective messenger on his agenda and I think his use of social media … gives him an opportunity to speak straight to the American people, which has proved to be a very effective tool,” Spicer said.
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker appeared visibly shocked by Trump’s words Tuesday morning when reporters asked him to comment. Corker reportedly took a long pause before asking when the president had posted the tweets.
“The president?” the Tennessee Republican asked. “I want to go back and see specifically what he has said.”
“Our general stance as a nation has been that these things ebb and flow and they come up from time to time but we’ve worked with all the countries,” Corker continued.
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