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Sunday August 25th, 2019 2:31PM

Trump gives warm welcome to Qatar amid Persian Gulf disputes

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump gave a warm White House welcome Tuesday to the leader of Qatar amid a bitter rift between the tiny, energy-rich nation and its fellow American allies in the Persian Gulf and rising tensions with Iran.

Trump clasped hands with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and called him a friend while recognizing the country's extensive military partnership with the U.S. and billions of dollars in purchases from American companies.

"They are investing very heavily in our country," Trump said. "They're creating lots of jobs. They're buying tremendous amounts of military equipment, including planes."

Five commercial agreements were signed. Qatar Airways is buying five Boeing 777 Freighters and large-cabin aircraft from Gulfstream Aerospace and plans to use General Electric Co. jet engines to power its Boeing aircraft.

The White House also said the Qatari defense ministry will buy a missile defense system from Raytheon. In addition, Chevron Phillips Chemical and Qatar Petroleum have agreed to jointly develop a $8 billion petrochemical plant on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The price tags on the other deals — including some that have been previously announced — were not disclosed, but those familiar with the transactions said they totaled tens of billions of dollars.

The emir's visit comes at a time when Trump is facing critical decisions in the Mideast.

Four Arab nations that are friendly with the United States — Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — have boycotted Qatar, claiming it supports extremist groups in the region. The countries have stopped Qatar Airways flights from using their airspace, closed off the small country's sole land border with Saudi Arabia and blocked its ships from using their ports.

In the past, Trump also has accused Doha of funding terror groups. Qatar denies the charges and at a Monday night dinner for the Qatari delegation, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praised the emir for his help in combatting terrorist financing.

The four Arab nations aligned against Qatar also have pointed to Doha's close relationship with Iran. Qatar restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute.

Efforts by the U.S. and Western powers to mend the split largely have gone nowhere.

Meanwhile, Iran, which is chaffing under U.S. economic sanctions, has begun enriching uranium in violation of a 2015 nuclear deal. The deal has been unraveling since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. Finding ways to counter Iran will be a priority when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with the emir on Wednesday.

Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command. The sprawling Al Udeid Air Base is home to some 10,000 American troops. Last month, nearly a dozen Air Force F-22 stealth fighters were deployed there in response to intelligence reports of heightened Iranian threats against American forces in the region. The F-22 Raptors were sent to the base, which is a hub for U.S. air operations in the Middle East.

"They built one of the great military bases I would say anywhere in the world," Trump said. "It's just been expanded with runways and everything else."

Qatar, which has one of the world's highest per capita incomes due to its natural gas reserves, has worked to open up other avenues of income to offset the impact of the boycott.

"We have a lot of investments in the U.S.," the emir said. "We trust the economy here. We do a lot on infrastructure and we're planning to do more investment."

Qatar also has paid millions of dollars to Washington lobbyists to help burnish its image and makes lavish gifts to top U.S. universities, including Georgetown University and Texas A&M. The Education Department is investigating the gifts.

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