WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump has stepped up his pressure against Qatar, singling out the Persian Gulf state for its alleged funding of extremists, while appearing to contradict his chief diplomat who earlier sought to defuse the crisis.
Trump's comments on June 9, at a joint news conference with visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, contrasted sharply with those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who just an hour earlier asked Qatar to "be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors."
The divergent statements came amid worsening circumstances within Qatar, which was targeted by a blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and several other states earlier this week.
The countries cut all land, air, and sea links, accusing it of supporting terrorism, something Qatar has dismissed accusations as baseless.
Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan defended Qatar against accusations of support for terrorism, and called for an end to the blockade.
The situation is particularly fraught as Qatar is home to the Al-Udeid forward base for U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations not only in Syria, but also Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 10,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed there.
With U.S. diplomats trying to mediate the crisis, Trump posted a message to Twitter a day after the blockade was imposed, accusing Qatar of funding extremism and terrorist groups.
At the State Department on June 9, Tillerson called on Egypt Saudi Arabia, and the other Persian Gulf states to ease their blockade on Qatar, saying the move had hindered the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State militants.
"Our expectation is that these countries will immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve their grievances they have with each other," he told reporters at the State Department.
President Trump, however, doubled down on his earlier posts to Twitter in his news conference with Iohannis, again calling out Qatar for funding extremists.
"The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level," Trump told reporters at the White House.
"[We] call on Qatar to end its funding. They have to end that funding. And its extremists ideology in terms of funding," he said.
"Stop teaching people to kill other people, stop filling their minds with hate and intolerance. I won't name other countries, but we are not solving the problem, but we will solve that problem. Have no choice," he said.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain welcomed on Saturday U.S. President Donald Trump's demand for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism, but did not respond to a U.S. Department of State call for them to ease pressure on the Gulf state.
After severing ties with Qatar on Monday, Saudi Arabia said it was committed to "decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism" in a statement carried by state news agency SPA, attributed to "an official source".
And in a separate statement issued on Friday, the United Arab Emirates praised Trump's "leadership in challenging Qatar's troubling support for extremism".
Trump's repeated accusations against Qatar will no doubt keep the pressure up on the tiny country and will strengthen Saudi Arabia's resolve to insist on Qatar meeting Saudi preconditions for resolving the crisis.