President Trump on Friday slammed Qatar for being a “high-level” sponsor of terror, ratcheting up tensions in the region even as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls for dialogue to resolve the mounting crisis. A string of Gulf Arab states have severed ties with Qatar and cut off all transportation routes in recent days over claims the country is backing terrorism, an allegation the country has blamed on a cyberattack last month in which it says hackers falsely attributed comments to Qatar’s emir. After taking credit for the Gulf states’ boycott of Qatar earlier this week, Trump on Friday continued his foray into the region’s crisis. “The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” he told reporters at the White House. “So we had a decision to make, do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action. We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided ... the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding,” he said, reiterating that he helped plan the move by Gulf states to cut ties.
A senior administration official said earlier this week, however, that there was no indication of the boycott when Trump met with leaders in Riyadh last month, Reuters reported. While Trump appeared to hype up the blockade, Tillerson urged leaders in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to “ease the blockade against Qatar,” as it was harming Qatari civilians and hindering the U.S. fight against the Islamic State. Qatar is home to about 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces at the U.S. Air Force’s largest base in the region. Tillerson also urged Qatar to “do more” and “do it more quickly” to end terrorism, but acknowledged that “the emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country.”