- President Donald Trump has criticized Qatar for funding extremist ideology and took partial credit for a Saudi-led coalition isolating the small Gulf monarchy.
- Qatari Finance Minister Ali Shareef al Emadi said Trump had recently praised Qatar for combating terrorism.
Last week, Trump criticized Qatar for funding extremist ideology after Saudi Arabia and several of its allies on Monday cut diplomatic ties with the small Gulf monarchy, ostensibly over its alleged funding of terrorist organizations. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump also took partial credit for the countries moving to isolate Qatar.
But Emadi said Trump had struck a different tone during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia three weeks ago.
"He started his speech by really praising Qatar," Emadi said, adding, "Qatar is really an important partner and actually combating terrorism and money laundering and the war."
"So I think the message was very clear from the American administration that we're taking good part in this and we're working with our allies, with our partner, with our fried really to combat."
It was unclear if Emadi was referring to Trump's public speech, or comments at some other point during his meetings with foreign leaders. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Emadi's remarks.
During part of his speech in Riyadh in which Trump briefly noted the contributions to regional security that a number of Muslim majority nations had made, he said, "Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, is a crucial strategic partner," according to a readout from the White House.
Trump's tweets and comments in the last week have at times appeared to undercut messages from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer last week appeared to lend support to Emadi's claim that Trump had taken a more conciliatory stance on Qatar in Riyadh.
Just hours after Trump made his views public on Twitter on Tuesday, Spicer said Trump was "very heartened" by his "constructive conversation" with the emir of Qatar. He noted the emir had shown commitment to joining a new U.S.-Saudi initiative to disrupt terror financing.
Tillerson on Friday urged Gulf states to ease their blockade of Qatar, saying it has "humanitarian consequences" and hinders the United States' military efforts. Roughly an hour later, Trump criticized Qatar without mentioning a need to pull back on the blockade, calling the nation "a funder of terrorism at a very high level."
Asked about the mixed messages, Emadi said it was important to look at the history of Qatar's relationship with the United States, rather than its interactions with just one president.
"I think what we're seeing today is a little bit of up and down here, but we understand that this is a delicate situation for all the regions in the Gulf and hopefully that we can come out of this in a much stronger way for Qatar," Emadi said.
Qatar is an important ally to the United States. Al Udeid Air Base hosts the largest U.S. military presence in the Middle East and is also a base for Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. operations from Egypt to Pakistan and north through Afghanistan.
But Qatar has long been criticized for allowing terror financing to flourish within its borders, as well as for its support of the Palestinian organization Hamas and certain Islamist militant groups in Syria and Egypt.
Asked about Qatar's alleged support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, Emadi said propaganda is being used to exert pressure on Qatar from the international community.
"I think everybody that works very closely with us will understand clearly where we stand on these issues," he said. "And that's why we're working very closely with our allies to explain where we stand on those things, and we're happy to address if there's any specific issue that we are not aware of."
To be sure, the Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition is seen by some analysts to be chiefly concerned with Qatar's overtures to regional Shiite Iran and its news agency Al Jazeera, which has long been a thorn in other Gulf nations' side. While the countries stress the terror financing issue, they are also seen to be trying to bring Qatar in line with Saudi-dominated foreign policy.
Emadi did discuss his impressions of how the diplomatic spat reached this point.
"Well, I think we go back to all the reports that we've seen, especially in the last few weeks or the last few months, Emadi said.
"We know who's behind it. We know that all these things are really to put propaganda against Qatar and to make all these allegations to weaken our point of views here and to really encourage the international community to take some stands against Qatar."
But he did not answer a question on whether Saudi Arabia was a focus.
"I will not put any names here, but I think I will leave this for the audience."
— Jacob Pramuk contributed to this story.