(CNSNews.com) – State Department spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday declined to comment on a claim, purportedly contained in an email sent by Hillary Clinton in 2014, about Saudi and Qatari government support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL). But Kirby stressed that the U.S. relies on the two Sunni monarchies in the campaign against the jihadist group.
“Qatar and Saudi Arabia are members of the counter-ISIL coalition and have been contributing members of that coalition pretty much since its founding,” he told a briefing.
“And we rely a great deal on their efforts to help us counter terrorism in the region, particularly counter this particular group, Daesh [ISIS/ISIL].”
Kirby said the U.S. looks forward to their participation as active members of the coalition continuing.
On the actual claim of Saudi and Qatari backing for ISIS, however, Kirby said he would not “speak about the veracity of leaked documents and whether they’re authentic or not.”
The incendiary claim appears in one of the latest tranche of emails released by Wikileaks. Sent from Clinton’s account to John Podesta – now her campaign chairman, but at the time a counselor to President Obama – the email argues for the U.S. to exert more pressure on the two Gulf states’ governments.
“We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region,” the email says.
“The Qataris and Saudis will be put in a position of balancing policy between their ongoing competition to dominate the Sunni world and the consequences of serious U.S. pressure,” it adds.
(It is not clear whether Clinton authored the note, or was merely forwarding it to Podesta. If it was the latter, she did not comment on or contest the allegation. A line at the top indicates the information’s sources included “Western intelligence, U.S. intelligence and sources in the region.”)
Saudi Arabia and Qatar back some of the anti-Assad rebel groups fighting in Syria, including Islamist factions, but whether that support extends to the jihadists of ISIS or the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra has long been a point of dispute.
In a March 2014 speech, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official expressed concern about reports that the Qatari government was supporting “extremist groups operating in Syria.”
Three months later, as ISIS fighters swept across large parts of northern and western Iraq and captured the key city of Mosul, the then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the Saudis of giving them moral and financial support. The State Department’s Jen Psaki at the time rejected the charge as “inaccurate and offensive.”
In July of that year, the former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency said in a speech the Saudis were at the least turning a blind eye to “substantial and sustained funding” for ISIS originating in their countries.
The email from Clinton’s account to Podesta was sent several weeks later, on August 17, 2014.
The Saudi and Qatari governments have repeatedly denied claims of support for ISIS and terrorism in general. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in an interview last June called the claim “preposterous,” saying the kingdom was at the “forefront of fighting extremism and terrorism in the region, and in the world.”
This isn’t the first time leaked documents have linked Clinton to allegations of Saudi support for terrorism.
A 2009 diplomatic cable – leaked by Wikileaks in 2010 – quoted the then secretary of state as saying that donors in Saudi Arabia were “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”