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.


Thai cave boys wave and smile in first public appearance after rescue

Updated 18 July 2018
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Thai cave boys wave and smile in first public appearance after rescue

  • A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the group arrived in vans from the hospital
  • Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment, but gave no further details

CHIANG RAI, Thailand: The 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand waved, smiled and offered traditional “wai” greetings in their first public appearance on Wednesday at a national broadcast in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
Doctors, relatives and friends, some in yellow traditional garb, greeted the boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with a red graphic of a wild boar and carried in footballs they kicked gently on the set.
“Bringing the Wild Boars Home,” read a banner in Thai on the set, designed to resemble a football field, complete with goalposts and nets, where the boys arrayed themselves on a dais, beside five members of the rescue team.
A crowd of media and onlookers was penned behind barricades as the group arrived in vans from the hospital where it has stayed since last week’s international effort to extricate it from a flooded cave complex where it had been trapped.
“Today we will get the answers to the questions we have been wondering, from the boys themselves,” said Suthichai Yoon, presenter of the 45-minute program being televised live on dozens of channels.
The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained an average of 3 kg (6.6 lb) each since the rescue, and rain through confidence-building exercises ahead of Wednesday’s event, the hospital director said.
The boys, their coach and some rescuers will answer a series of questions journalists submitted in advance, officials said.
“We don’t know what wounds the kids are carrying in their hearts,” said justice ministry official Tawatchai Thaikaew, who asked for the boys’ privacy to be respected after the discharge, for fear that media attention could affect their mental health.
“The media know the children are in a difficult situation, they have overcome peril and if you ask risky questions then it could break the law,” he told reporters.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang cave complex for about an hour after football practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
Two British divers found them on July 2, squatting on a mound in a chamber several kilometers inside the complex. All were brought to safety during the three-day rescue, organized by Thai navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.
The rescue effort drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists, many of whom left after it wrapped up, but excitement picked up again in the usually sleepy town of Chiang Rai ahead of the much-anticipated appearance.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn has granted permission for a party in the Royal Plaza, a public square in Bangkok’s old town, to thank the Thai and foreign participants in the rescue, the government said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters the celebration would feature a banquet and entertainment, but gave no further details.