BY ELLEN MITCHELL
Qatar has signed an agreement to buy up to 36 Boeing-made F-15 fighter jets from the United States, despite President Trump’s harsh words for the country after several Gulf states moved to isolate Qatar.
Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis completed the $12 billion deal on Wednesday in Washington, the Defense Department told Bloomberg.
The sale “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” according to a Pentagon statement on the deal.
Qatar’s defense ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement that the deal will lead to “closer strategic collaboration in our fight to counter violent extremism and promote peace and stability in our region and beyond.”
President Obama in November authorized the sale of up to 72 F-15s for $21 billion, but the agreement was seen as in jeopardy following last week, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar. The countries said there were renewed concerns that Qatar is helping to fund terrorist groups and was too close to Iran.
U.S. and Qatar relations were then muddled when Trump seemed to celebrate the dispute and even took credit for the decision.
“During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding …. extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!” he continued later.
Trump doubled down on his position Friday during a press conference at the White House.
“The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level,” he said. “I’ve decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals, and military people, the time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding.”
Tillerson, meanwhile, has tried to play mitigator, calling for all sides to de-escalate the conflict, and for Gulf countries to end the blockade.
He also met with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Monday and was scheduled to meet the foreign minister of the U.A.E. for dinner Wednesday night, according to Bloomberg.
Qatar is strategically significant for the United States as it houses the Al Udeid Air Base. The U.S. military base is the largest in the region and where the Defense Department plans much of the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.