Trump's national security adviser says ending Gulf rift 'priority'

Qatar has been under a land, sea and air blockade by four regional states since 2017.

al-monitor National security adviser Robert O'Brien attends a briefing on enhanced narcotics operations at the US Southern Command in Doral, Florida, on July 10, 2020. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 17, 2020

Resolving the three-year-old blockade on Qatar by fellow Gulf states is a priority of the outgoing Donald Trump administration, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Monday. 

“I would like to see that get done before — if we end up leaving office — I’d like to see that get done in the next 70 days. And I think there’s a possibility for it,” O’Brien said at the Soufan Center’s 2020 Global Security Forum.

Qatar remains under an air, land and sea blockade imposed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. The four countries severed ties with the tiny Gulf peninsula in the summer of 2017, prompting a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region. 

The so-called Anti-Terror Quartet’s rivalry with Qatar stems in part from the country’s support for Islamists during the Arab Spring uprising; Doha’s relations with Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood; and coverage on the Qatari-funded satellite news channel Al Jazeera. 

Qatar emphatically denies supporting terrorism and has refused to comply with the quartet’s demands. Conditions for lifting the three-year blockade include cutting ties with Iran and shutting down the TV network.

“This is really kind of a family dispute. And like family disputes, sometimes those are the hardest to solve. But we'd like to get all these cousins back together at the Thanksgiving table, so to speak. And it's something we're working on, and we're going to keep working on it. As long as the president's in office, it’s something that'll be a priority,” O’Brien said.

Trump initially took credit for Qatar’s isolation, but his administration has since repeatedly called for an end to the dispute and a united Gulf front that would provide a counterbalance to Iran.

“To close the door to increased Iranian meddling, it’s past time to find a solution to the Gulf rift,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the start of the US-Qatar strategic dialogue at the State Department in September. 

Qatar is a member of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State and is home to some 10,000 US troops stationed at the Al Udeid Air Force Base, the largest American military facility in the Middle East. The administration has said it wishes to give Qatar the designation of a major non-NATO ally