White House

Qatar has ties to Iran, but Trump eyes ‘investments’ ahead of talks with emir

President didn’t mention Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan during dinner for al-Thani

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., in May. He meets with the emir of Qatar, who has ties to Iran amid tensions with that Middle East power. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — Escalating a name-calling feud with your closest ally’s envoy to your government and threatening another with trade penalties is an unconventional way to build a coalition. But amid tensions with Iran, President Donald Trump is doing just that.

The U.S. leader is slated to meet privately Tuesday afternoon with Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office. The duo will have no shortage of things to discuss, from how to combat Iran’s increasingly aggressive actions related to its nuclear program to Qatar’s ongoing spat with some close American allies.

But before his meeting with al-Thani, the president appeared to have woken up fired up. He posted tweets continuing to slam Sir Kim Darroch, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Washington, after cables leaked over the weekend of the British diplomat describing Trump and his administration as “clumsy and inept.”

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Trump on Tuesday morning called Darroch “wacky” and a “very stupid guy.” The American president, who announced a day earlier that his administration will no longer speak with Darroch, added this in a second tweet: “I don’t know the Ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool.”

The U.S.’s diplomat in chief, who likely would seek the support of U.S. allies if he felt a need to strike Iran over its nuclear ambitions, also had a warning for India, writing in another post during one of his most prolific mornings in weeks: “India has long had a field day putting Tariffs on American products. No longer acceptable!”

Here are three things to watch when Trump’s diplomacy switches from his smart phone to real life when al-Thani pulls up to the West Wing portico on the North Lawn around noon.

Iran ties

If the president is looking to shore up support in the region for a possible conflict with Tehran, the emir appears a key player.

As Nawaf Obaid, a commissioner of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, noted last year in a Foreign Policy essay, Qatar’s government has developed “close ties with Iran.” If Trump can form a close relationship with al-Thani, perhaps it would become a backchannel with Tehran that would avoid a military conflict.

But like with other partners around the world, the U.S. president has had an up-and-down relationship with Qatar. Last summer, speaking in the Rose Garden, Trump said the country funds Islamic extremist groups “at a very high level,” adding: “The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding. … They have to end that funding.”

Tuesday’s meeting could provide clues about whether Trump is willing to look the other way on Qatar’s relationship with groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and others in return for al-Thani’s help either averting a military conflict with Tehran or carrying one out.

Neighborhood squabble

The emir’s visit to the White House no doubt will be closely watched by some of the United States’ top Middle allies. That list includes Saudi Arabia, the first country Trump visited after taking office, as well as Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

All last year severed diplomatic relations with Doha and slapped economic sanctions on the country over frustrations about over a dozen issues, including its relationship with Iran and extremist groups, a demand that it shutter a Turkish military base, close down the al-Jazeera news network and others.

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Trump initially fired off a tweet endorsing the U.S. allies’ move. But hours allater, he offered to arbitrate the dispute — which is ongoing a year later. At a dinner for the emir Monday evening hosted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump offered no signals he intends to press al-Thani on prickly issues. His remarks about al-Thani, with whom he claimed to have a long friendship that predates his political career, were glowing, in fact.

All business

To say the White House’s Middle East peace plan proposal — an effort led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner — landed without much fanfare would be diplomatic. Few experts gave it much change to bringing Israeli and Palestinian leaders to a negotiating table anytime soon.

In fact, U.S. lawmakers barely reacted when it was rolled out on a weekend in late June.

“Serious Palestinian businesspersons and investors, those responsible for creating 70 percent of the jobs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, have said they will not be party to any plan that does not include an independent Palestinian state as a part of the political horizon — something not called for under Kushner’s plan,” according to Zaha Hassan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.

Notably, at the Monday dinner, Trump didn’t even mention his son-in-law’s plan. He described the U.S.-Qatar partnership as mostly about doing business, noting the U.S. sells the country a lot of military equipment and other items.

“Tamim, you've been a friend of mine for a long time, before I did this presidential thing, and we feel very comfortable with each other. And I have to say that the investments that you make in the United States — one of the largest in the world — but the investments that you make are very much appreciated,” Trump said. “And I know the planes you're buying and all of the other things you're investing in. And I view it differently; I view it as jobs. Because for me, it's jobs.”

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