x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

Trump says US has alternatives to Qatar’s Al Udeid airbase 

US president discusses regional dispute with Saudi king and reiterates need to stop funding of terrorism

Mr Trump: “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it” (EPA/IAN LANGSDON)
Mr Trump: “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it” (EPA/IAN LANGSDON)

As the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours reaches the 40-day mark, Donald Trump has raised the possibility of seeking alternatives to the US military presence at Al Udeid airbase there, were things to escalate.

The US president also discussed the dispute on Friday in a call from Air Force One with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, whose country is one of four Arab nations boycotting Qatar over its support for terrorism.

"King Salman congratulated President Trump on the victory over ISIS in Mosul" and "the two leaders discussed recent diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute with Qatar and underscored the importance of following through on commitments from the Riyadh Summit", the White House said. In particular, "the President emphasised the need to cut all funding for terrorism and discredit extremist ideology".

The call comes after Mr Trump's interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) aired on Thursday, in which he was asked about the impact on the US military installation in Qatar. Al Udeid airbase hosts more than 11,000 US troops and has been publicly operational since 2002. “If we ever had to leave, we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me, and they will pay for it,” Mr Trump said in his first remarks about the base since the dispute started.

Mr Trump appeared to be hedging his bets, stressing that “we are going to have a good relationship with Qatar, we are not going to have problems with the military base” while at the same time saying “if we ever needed another military base, you have other countries that would gladly build it”.

The US president in the same interview repeated his accusation against Qatar, that “they are being brought back in because they were known as funder of terrorism and we said that you can’t do that”. He defined the ultimate goal by saying, “We have to starve the beast, and the beast is terrorism, we can’t have wealthy countries funding that beast.”

Mr Trump’s comments differed sharply different from his secretary of state Rex Tillerson who called Qatar’s response “reasonable” in Doha this week. The US president said, “Rex is doing a terrific job but he and I had a little bit of a difference only in terms of tone.”

Mr Tillerson is back in the United States after a shuttle diplomacy tour to resolve the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. He based his visit in Kuwait, which is also acting as a mediator, but shuttled between Doha and Riyadh for four days without reaching a breakthrough.

The US defence secretary James Mattis also stepped up his engagement in a phone call with Qatari defence minister Khalid Al Attiya last weekend.

Mr Mattis hosted Bahrain’s minister of interior Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa on Thursday.