Trump defends decision to back Qatar isolation, as Tillerson calls for de-escalation

Trump defends decision to back Qatar isolation, as Tillerson calls for de-escalation, Washington TimesCarlo Muñoz, June 9, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Trump defended his decision to back a Saudi-led effort to isolate the small, oil-rich nation of Qatar on Friday, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for a de-escalation of tensions between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, saying the ongoing diplomatic row in the region is harming American interests.

“Do we take the easy road or take a hard and necessary action?” Mr. Trump said regarding his decision during a joint press conference with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis at the White House. “The time has come to call on Qatar to end that [terrorism] funding.”

The decision to back Riyadh’s efforts against Qatar came during Mr. Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month, the president’s first overseas diplomatic visit since taking office. Characterizing Qatar as “historically a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Mr. Trump did say his decision could be the beginning of bringing Qatar “back among the unity of responsible nations,” adding the U.S. is “not done solving that problem, but we will solve that problem. We have no choice.”

Hours before Mr. Trump’s comments, Mr. Tillerson called upon Saudi Arabia and its backers within the Gulf Cooperation Council to scale back its efforts to segregate Qatar

“We call for calm and thoughtful dialogue with clear expectations and accountability among the parties in order to strengthen relationships. We ask that there be no further escalation by the parties in the region,” he said Friday in his first public statement since the harsh diplomatic and economic sanctions against Doha were put in place.

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