Almost four months after Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, challenging the State Department’s “active partnership with Qatar,” he received a response defending the relationship.
Signed by assistant secretary for legislative affairs Julia Frifield, the letter sought to justify Kerry’s outreach to Qatar during the Gaza conflict last July and August by saying the U.S. needed the help of “countries that have leverage over the leaders of Hamas” to end the fighting.
Frifield said the administration had “urged Qatar to support the Palestinian Authority and its moderate leadership,” and that Qatar had assured the U.S. that financial aid it has pledged for rebuilding in Gaza “would not go to Hamas.”
“We continue to interact closely with the Government of Qatar and will reinforce that such assistance should not go to Hamas.”
Qatar’s assistance to Hamas included a 2012 pledge of more than $400 million, supposedly for construction projects. Israel told the U.N. this year that Qatari money funded rockets as well as the cross-border tunnel network built by Hamas to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.
In his July 31 letter to Kerry and Lew, Roskam had pointed to concerns about Qatar’s support for Hamas as well as for jihadists in Syria, citing allegations by a senior Treasury official last March. He noted that the State Department’s latest annual report on terrorism described Qatar’s counter-terror financing policies as “inconsistent” and “lacking.”
Frifield’s response said Qatar had made “some improvements” in recent years in counter-terror financing efforts, but also acknowledged that the government’s “disruption of terrorist financing by Qatari individuals and charitable associations remains inconsistent.”
The U.S. was working closely with Qatar in strengthening its efforts in those areas.
Frifield characterized the small, gas-rich state as an important regional partner, noting that Qatar hosts U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters at the Al Udeid Air Base.
She said the U.S. also has “a productive relationship with Qatar on key regional issues ranging from Syria to Iran.” Qatar shares President Obama’s view that a negotiated settlement between Israel and the P.A. will advance regional “security, prosperity, and stability,” the letter added.
As Kerry last summer worked to bring about a ceasefire to a seven-week conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, he looked for help to Qatar and another Hamas supporter, Turkey.
In doing so, Kerry drew accusations from both Israel and the P.A. that he was promoting Hamas’ demands, at the behest of Qatar and Turkey. The State Department rejected the claims. An Egypt-brokered ceasefire eventually took hold on Aug. 26.
Two weeks after the ceasefire, a joint hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on terrorism and the Middle East took Qatar to task for its role as Hamas’ patron.
“The United States must get tough with Qatar while looking at alternatives for our military bases in Qatar,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), chairman of the terrorism subcommittee.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the panel Hamas also receives support from Turkey, Iran and Sudan, but described Qatar as “currently Hamas’ ATM.”
Among his recommendations to Congress: pressure Qatar to freeze Hamas’ assets and expel its leaders, and consider putting a hold on military sales to Qatar (and Turkey) until the issue of Hamas financing is addressed.
Schanzer argued that even alerting the Qataris that the Pentagon was considering options for relocating the al Udeid base would send a message “that they will not enjoy the protection of the United States forever, so long as this relationship continues with Hamas.”
Avi Jorisch, senior fellow for counterterrorism at the American Foreign Policy Council, recommended that the U.S. threaten to blacklist both Qatar and Turkey as state-sponsors of terror, or for disrupting Mideast peace efforts.
Hamas was established in 1987 as the Palestinian arm of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar’s backing is part of its broader support for the MB.
In 2012 Qatar’s (now former) emir became the first world leader to visit Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in violent clashes with P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in 2007.
Qatar’s pro-MB stance caused a serious rift between Doha and anti-MB regimes, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt’s current government, all of which have outlawed the Brotherhood as a terrorist group over the past year.
The U.S. has long designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, but does not view the Brotherhood in the same light; speaking in the region last June, a senior State Department official in an apparent reference to groups like the MB advised Arab states not to “conflate Islamists with terrorists.”