Sanctions, leaving military base ‘possible options against Qatar’

Robert Gates. (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense)
Updated 27 May 2017
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Sanctions, leaving military base ‘possible options against Qatar’

WASHINGTON: Qatar was under increasing pressure in Washington this week as Congressman Ed Royce and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised possible sanctions and the moving of the US military base out of the country if Doha does not change its ways.
The news comes after a recent diplomatic spat between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, as well as signs of lukewarm relations between Doha and the Donald Trump administration.
At a conference hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies this week, Royce and former US officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations called for a more hawkish response to what they described as Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian group designated as terrorist by the US.
Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, lambasted Qatar for its alleged support for Hamas. “Qatar hosts the worst of the worst of Hamas’ leaders,” Royce said, adding that his committee is putting together an “acid test legislation” to target Hamas’ backers.
The congressman said that “if it doesn’t change, Qatar will be sanctioned under a new bill I’m introducing to punish Hamas backers.”
Royce also appeared willing to have Congress consider having the US military leave Al-Udeid air base, where the US has been operating since 2003. “If their behavior doesn’t change, we in Congress would absolutely be looking at other options including moving out of Al-Udeid base.”
The change of behavior that Washington appears to be seeking from Qatar is related to cracking down on alleged terror funding activities and “commitments on terror support behavior,” as Royce indicated.

Gates was also open to the idea of ratcheting up pressure on Qatar. Responding to a question on moving the base from Qatar, Gates said: “My attitudes toward Al-Udeid and any other facility is that the United States military doesn’t have any irreplaceable facility.”
Gates criticized the apparent lack of strong action from Qatar against radical groups. “I don’t know instances in which Qatar aggressively goes after (terror finance) networks of Hamas, Taliban, Al-Qaeda,” he said.
He urged both Congress and the Trump administration to “tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base.”
The former defense secretary, who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, added: “Qatar has long had the welcome mat out for the Muslim Brotherhood.” He called the group “science fiction shape shifters.” Gates referred to a generational split within the Brotherhood and said “it’s a mistake to see it as a solid group,” leaving the decision to designate it to Congress.
Jake Sullivan, former Obama official and aide to Hillary Clinton, also advocated a harder line against terror financing. Sullivan said that “terror financing needs to be a persistent issue we bring out from behind closed doors and continually have on the table.” While many Arab leaders have flocked to Washington, Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has not made a visit to the White House since Trump took office.
The highest-level visit of a Qatari official to Washington this year was made by Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who met US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month.
The concerns raised in the US follow tensions in the Gulf earlier this week, after a series of controversial comments attributed to Qatar’s emir.
Sheikh Tamim alleged comments, carried by the official state news agency QNA, apparently saw him endorse Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — strongly diverging from the stance of Qatar’s Gulf neighbors. Doha claimed the report was the result of a hacking attack.
Criticizing the event, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani said that no Qatari official was invited to attend the event.


May Day: British leader’s respite won’t end Brexit mess

Updated 13 December 2018
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May Day: British leader’s respite won’t end Brexit mess

  • May was in Brussels on Thursday, imploring European Union leaders help her sell the UK-EU divorce bill to a skeptical British Parliament
  • Britain’s road out of the EU has been anything but smooth as Britain heads for the Brexit ramp and the way ahead still looks bumpy

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May is safe, for now. She has survived a no-confidence vote engineered by her own Conservative Party, and can’t be challenged again for a year, but that has not brought Britain’s Brexit battle any closer to resolution.
May was in Brussels on Thursday, imploring European Union leaders help her sell the UK-EU divorce bill to a skeptical British Parliament.
UK lawmakers were supposed to approve the plan, painstakingly worked out by May and the European Union for Britain’s orderly departure from the 28-nation bloc, in a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday, but May postponed it rather than face certain defeat.
With the EU insisting the withdrawal agreement can’t be reopened, May faces a struggle to win enough changes to assuage hostile British politicians.
Britain’s road out of the EU has been anything but smooth as Britain heads for the Brexit ramp and the way ahead still looks bumpy.
Britain joined the European Economic Community — now the EU — in 1973, but has long been an ambivalent member. The UK never adopted the euro as its currency, and British politicians have been cool to the bloc’s calls for ever-closer political union.
In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership “to settle this European question” once and for all — and to silence the loud euroskeptic wing of the Conservative Party which had long clamored for a membership vote.
Cameron was confident voters would choose to remain in the EU, but on June 23, 2016, they voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave. Cameron resigned, leaving his successor, May, to deliver on voters’ decision. Last year, May triggered the two-year countdown to departure for March 29, 2019.
Every divorce involves paperwork. Britain can leave without an agreement, a so-called no-deal Brexit — but it won’t be pretty. Departure will tear up thousands of laws and rules stitched together over more than four decades, covering every aspect of British life and the economy.
If Britain and the EU can’t agree to new rules, there could be chaos. Planes would lose permission to fly, British motorists would find their driver’s licenses invalid on the continent, medicine supplies could run short. British officials have warned of gridlock at ports, the need to charter vessels to bring in essential goods and shortages of imported foodstuffs.
The Bank of England has warned that a worst-case “no deal” Brexit would plunge Britain into its worst recession for decades.
With compromises on both sides, Britain and the EU managed to reach agreement on many contentious issues. But one has proved intractable: the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which will be the UK’s only land border with the EU after Brexit.
During Northern Ireland’s decades of violence, the border bristled with soldiers, customs posts, smugglers and paramilitaries. But since a 1998 peace accord, the border has become all but invisible. That’s helped by the fact that Britain and Ireland currently are both EU members, meaning goods and people can flow across the border with no need for customs checks.
Brexit could end all that, disrupting lives and businesses on both sides of the border and potentially undermining the peace process.
To avoid that, the withdrawal agreement includes a border guarantee, known as the “backstop.” It stipulates that if no other solution can be found, the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit to avoid the need for a hard border. Both sides hope the backstop will never be needed: The agreement gives them until 2022 to reach a permanent new trade deal that could render it unnecessary.
But pro-Brexit British politicians hate the backstop, because Britain can’t get out of it unilaterally; it can only be ended by mutual agreement. So potentially it could endure indefinitely, binding the UK to EU customs regulations, unable to make new trade deals around the world.
Pro-EU lawmakers hate it too, because it leaves Britain subject to rules it has no say in making — an inferior position to remaining in the bloc, they say.
Not much. May says she is seeking “legal and political assurances” at this week’s summit that will satisfy Parliament’s concerns about the backstop. But EU leaders are adamant they will not re-open the legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement.
But politics is also about theatrics, and the EU may well offer Britain some sort of wording — a note, an addendum or a codicil — that “clarifies” issues around the backstop. It is possible the spectacle of May under siege from her own party will encourage EU leaders to offer slightly more generous terms to try to keep the process on track.
The British government says it plans to bring the deal, with whatever changes May achieves, back to Parliament for a vote before Jan 21. If it passes, it still must be approved by the European Parliament, but that is not expected to be a problem.
If it fails, Britain is in uncharted waters. Possible outcomes include a no-deal Brexit, a postponed Brexit, a second referendum on Brexit, or a reversal of the decision to leave the EU. All those options have supporters in Parliament, but it’s not clear whether there’s a majority for any of them.
And if May’s plan falls, it’s possible she will too — via a no-confidence vote in Parliament that would trigger a national election. Then it would fall to her successor to try to sort out Britain’s Brexit mess.