A Republican-led House panel delivered a blunt bipartisan warning to Qatar on Wednesday, backing legislation that would slap sanctions on any countries or individuals providing financial and material support to the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill by voice vote, setting the stage for the full House to consider the measure. The bill specifically criticised Qatar for having backed Hamas and hosting senior members of the militant group. The legislation cited a March 2014 Treasury Department report that said Qatar “has for many years openly financed Hamas.”
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke ties with Qatar earlier this year over allegations it funds terrorism. President Donald Trump echoed the accusation.
Late last month, however, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced a rare display of cooperation among Gulf states when he unveiled a coordinated counterterrorism effort involving Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
The countries agreed to sanction a number of Yemenis and an entity suspected of financing Daesh and Al Qaida.
In late June, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the committee the crisis between the Gulf States and Qatar presented an opportunity to tell Qatar to “quit funding Hamas, quit doing these things in Gaza that they are doing.”
But Haley changed her testimony a few months later, according to an answer she gave to a follow-up question from the committee.
“While the Qatari government does not fund Hamas, it does allow Hamas political representatives to be based in Qatar, which Qatar believes limits Iran’s influence and pressure over Hamas,” Haley wrote.
The committee’s bill underscores the complicated relationship between Qatar and the United States.
Qatar is home to the massive Al Udeid Air Base, the forward headquarters of US Central Command where nearly 10,000 US troop are stationed as part of the campaign against Daesh and the war in Afghanistan.
Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Dan Donovan of New York said last month that “Qatar is the master of playing all sides.”
The country, they wrote in an op-ed published in The Hill newspaper, has used an “innovative approach” to avoid being punished by the US and European nations for backing terrorists groups:
“Pursue good relations with the United States, make false promises about combating terror, lavishly fund western universities and business projects – all while quietly financing and promoting terror, allying with Iran, and leveraging an American air base as an insurance policy against punishment for promoting terror,” the congressmen wrote.
Donovan said Wednesday that Hamas has been “intertwined with Iran ideologically, politically and militarily.” Qatar, he added, “now has a strategic opportunity to sever itself from Hamas and by extension, Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism.”