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Washington approves $1bn Qatar arms deal despite Gulf crisis

Deal comes after US President Donald Trump expresses support for Qatar's foes in Middle East
US agreed to deal to service Qatar's F-15 fighter jets (Reuters)

The United States government on Wednesday approved a $1.1bn deal to service Qatar's F-15 fighter jets despite the diplomatic stand-off between the Gulf emirate and its neighbours.

Qatar, home to one of the largest US military bases in the Middle East, is locked in a bitter dispute with Washington's other Arab allies in the region, led by Saudi Arabia.

US President Donald Trump took Riyadh's side in June when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has taken a more cautious line, attempting to broker an agreement to cool ties and build a regional front against extremism and Iranian influence.

On Wednesday, the State Department announced it had approved a $1.1bn contract to service Qatar's F-15QA jets and build them ground facilities and hardened bunkers.

"Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region," the department said, in a note from its Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

"Our mutual defence interests anchor our relationship and the Qatar Emiri Air Force plays a predominant role in Qatar's defence."

The new maintenance and training facilities will also come with improved "cyber security services, mission critical computer resources, support services, force protection services".

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Tillerson visited both Riyadh and the Qatari capital Doha last month in an effort to curb Iran's influence in the region and urge the Arab monarchies to negotiate away their differences.

Last month, Steve Bannon, an influential adviser to Trump and a former White House chief strategist, said the US president’s visit to Riyadh in May sparked the blockade on Qatar.

“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t on one side say you’re a friend and an ally and on the other side be financing the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas,” Bannon said, in an apparent reference to Qatar.

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