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Qatar signs $12 billion deal to buy 36 F-15 jets as US warships arrive in Qatar for military exercise

In a paradoxical development in the current Saudi-Qatari dispute, Qatar and the United States Wednesday signed a deal to buy F-15 fighter jets for $12 billion while two US warships arrived in Qatar for joint exercise.

Tellingly, the $12 billion deal was signed despite Qatar being criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump for supporting “terrorism.”

The Bloomberg News quoted a Defense Department statement as saying that Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and his U.S. counterpart, Jim Mattis, completed the $12 billion agreement on Wednesday in Washington.

The sale “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Mattis and Qatari Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid al-Attiyah also discussed the current state of operations against the ISIS and the importance of de-escalating tensions so all partners in the gulf region can focus on next steps in meeting common goals, the Pentagon added.

According to Bloomberg News, the F-15 sale highlights the complex position the Trump administration finds itself in, forced to balance its focus on fighting terrorism against regional rivalries between key allies. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the U.S. depends on to target ‘Islamic State’.

“It is confusing, and the worst thing you want to do in a heated, delicate situation like this is to give mixed messages,” Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, was quoted as saying of the Pentagon announcement.

Qatar’s Defense Ministry said the deal would create 60,000 jobs in 42 U.S. states while reducing the burden on U.S. forces. The F-15 accord will lead to “closer strategic collaboration in our fight to counter violent extremism and promote peace and stability in our region and beyond,” the ministry said Wednesday in a statement.

U.S. Presence in Qatar

The Bloomberg News pointed out that, while Trump appeared to back Saudi Arabia and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a more neutral tone, the Defense Department underscored its relations with Qatar, saying the U.S. was grateful to the country for its support of the U.S. presence there.

“We encourage all our partners in the region to work towards common solutions that enable regional security,” Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement when the crisis began.

Last year, after the State Department approved the jet sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a report saying that the proposed sale “enhances the foreign policy and national security of the United State by helping to improve the security of a friendly country and strengthening our strategically important relationship.”

“Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” the agency said.

Two US Navy vessels

Meanwhile, the Qatari news agency reported Wednesday that two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha to take part in a joint military exercise with the Qatari Emiri Navy. The two warships arrived in Qatar just days after US President Donald Trump accused Qatar of being "a funder of terrorism at a very high level". 

Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East with more than 11,000 troops deployed or assigned to al-Udeid Air Base. More than 100 aircraft operate from there, according to Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera said it was unclear if the arrival of the two warships to Doha was planned before the Gulf rift or if it was a sign of support from the Pentagon.

The Pentagon last week renewed praise of Qatar for hosting the US airbase and for its "enduring commitment to regional security", Al Jazeera said adding:

The Pentagon reassurance differed from Trump's comments that applauded the decision seemed to take credit for the blockade on Qatar and the cutting of diplomatic ties.

Turkish FM urges dialogue in Gulf crisis

In another development, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks in Doha with with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Economy and Trade Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani.

After the talks Cavusoglu told Anadolu, the Turkish news agency:

"The situation we have been going through in this [holy month of] Ramadan is a really undesired one. There is such a crisis between sister countries and there are some steps that directly affect people. We must absolutely overcome it. We need to overcome it through peace and dialogue,” Cavusoglu said, underlining that Turkey was contributing to the peace process.

Cavusoglu also said he would visit Kuwait later Wednesday and meet Saudi Arabian king Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud on Friday in Mecca.

Last week, five Arab countries -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen -- cut off ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of what they called supporting terrorism.

Qatar, for its part, has denied the accusations, calling the moves to diplomatically isolate it “unjustified”.

Ankara has said that it stands with Qatar against sanctions and has urged Riyadh to take the lead in finding a solution to the crisis.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com

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