x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US approves $1 billion Qatar arms deal

Qatar — home to one of the largest US military bases in the Middle East — has been boycotted by Washington’s other Arab allies in the region since June 5

The US government approved on Wednesday a $1.1 billion (Dh4bn) deal to service Qatar’s F-15 fighter jets as the Gulf crisis enters its fifth month.

Qatar — home to the largest US military base in the Middle East — has been boycotted by Washington’s other Arab allies in the region since June 5 over its support of extremist groups and links with Iran.

In June, US president Donald Trump took Riyadh’s side and said that Qatar has a history of funding terrorism at a “very high level” and must stop “immediately”.

Meanwhile, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has taken a more cautious line, attempting to broker an agreement to cool ties and build a regional front against Iranian influence.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Doha, which has repeatedly refused to meet the Arab quartet’s demands to break the stalemate.

Its demands include the shutting down of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera Arabic news channel - which has been used as a platform for extremists and dissidents -- and the closing of a Turkish military base in the country.

On Wednesday, the State Department also announced that it would build ground facilities and hardened bunkers to service the fighter jets.

The new maintenance and training facilities will also come with improved "cyber security services, mission critical computer resources, support services, force protection services”, the department said, in a note from its Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

Mr Tillerson's talks in Riyadh and Doha last month focused on curbing Iran's influence in the region. He urged both Gulf governments to negotiate away their differences.

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