Rep. Ted Lieu on Thursday questioned the U.S. deal to sell F-15 fighter jets to Qatar days after President Trump accused the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and supported a blockade against it.
During a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing with U.S. officials overseeing foreign military sales, the California Democrat asked Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, whether reports were true that the U.S. has agreed to sell Boeing F-15s to Qatar for $12 billion. She said the contract has just been signed.
Qatar signs LOA for the purchase of the F-15QA fighter jets creating 60,000 new jobs in 42 states across the United States pic.twitter.com/tnOAC3KGma— Meshal Hamad AlThani (@Amb_AlThani) June 14, 2017
"I don't mean to be facetious about this, but does the president know that?" Lieu asked. "I believe so," Kaidanow answered.
Lieu cited the mixed messages from the administration since the other Gulf nations announced their blockade and diplomatic rift with Qatar, a move that Trump appeared to take credit for on Twitter.
"During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!" Trump tweeted on June 6.
During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
"How do you square that sale with what the president has been saying about Qatar, since you said arms sales are an element of foreign policy?" Lieu asked Kaidanow.
She answered that while Qatar's actions are a concern, the bigger issue involves building up allies in the Gulf to defend against Iran.
"It's not simply a question of the things we concern ourselves with regard to extremism and so forth. Qatar needs to do some more things, the president and [Secretary of State Rex Tillerson] have made that clear to the Qataris," she said.
"By the same token, the Qataris and the Gulf countries as a whole face certain threats from Iran, from other sources, but primarily from Iran, that they need to address through means that we can assist them with," Kaidanow said. "These fighter sales are designed to address those kinds of threats. So I think you can easily understand why we have to do multiple things at the same time."
Following Trump's tweets on the issue, the State and Defense Departments issued conflicting statements about the extent to which the blockade is affecting the coalition fight against the Islamic State, which is run from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
"The blockade is hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS," Tillerson said on June 9.
The assertion that the end of routine commerce and the ban of commercial flights to Qatar was affecting U.S. military operations came less than two hours after military officials assured reporters at the Pentagon that the dispute was having no effect on operations at Al Udeid. Tillerson's statement prompted the Pentagon to quickly issue a clarification.
"While current operations from Al Udeid Air Base have not been interrupted or curtailed, the evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman who said earlier there was no problem.
Lieu called on the White House and the rest of the administration to get it stories straight with respect to Qatar.
"My only point is that it's very confusing to world leaders and members of Congress when the Trump administration does two exactly opposite things and that's my hope that as the administration grows and learns that the administration stops doing that," he said.