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Closer US monitoring of illicit Qatar finance a good first step

The announcement by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that it will deploy officials to Doha to more closely inspect terror-related illicit finance is clearly due to the pressure exerted by the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The announcement, and Doha’s decision to amend its anti-terrorism law, were hailed by ATQ officials as a sign that Qatar is realizing that the status quo is no longer viable.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told international media: “The pressure of the crisis has started to bear fruits, and the wiser course would be changing the whole orientation.”

The fact that the DoJ will have officials embedded inside Qatar’s government to ensure oversight and compliance with anti-terror laws indicates that Doha has a long way to go before it can be deemed fully compliant with ATQ demands and international norms. Interestingly, this concession by Doha to the US is not being broadcast enthusiastically by Qatari-controlled media, as it seems to contradict the entire sovereignty narrative.

Qatari officials have until now tried to project to domestic and international audiences that their opposition to the ATQ’s demands was a matter of maintaining national sovereignty. That argument held up until Doha agreed to allow the DoJ unprecedented access to the Qatari general prosecutor’s office. DoJ officials will be charged with ensuring that Doha’s alleged desires to counter malign financing of terror groups is followed up with tangible action.

Doha has a history of signing deals with Western and regional states on strategic cooperation against terror financing, but refusing to follow up once the proverbial camera lights are off.

Oubai Shahbandar 

Reuters quoted a Western official as saying: “If followed, this (deal) should achieve exactly what (US President Donald) Trump requested in the Riyadh summit.” However, Qatar has a history of signing deals with Western and regional states on strategic cooperation against terror financing, but refusing to follow up once the proverbial camera lights are off.

The Jeddah Communique, signed in 2014, committed Doha to working more closely with the US to freeze the assets of designated terror financiers. Unfortunately, merely a year later the US Treasury Department designated dozens of international extremists that had financial links to either Qatar’s government or Qatari-supported individuals.

Having international monitors operating with full and unimpeded authority inside the Qatari system is perhaps the only measure that could successfully hold Qatari leaders to their word. The sooner such verification measures are implemented and sustained in Doha, the faster this crisis can be resolved. Qatar’s defensive claims of placing sovereignty over anti-terror compliance hopefully will no longer prove to be an impediment.

 

Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.