President Trump said Qatar is funding terrorists, according to leaked audio of his speech at a campaign fundraising event this week, which could undermine Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's attempts to resolve a dispute between a range of U.S. partners in the Middle East.
Trump on Wednesday reiterated his support for Saudi Arabian-led bloc of countries that have blockaded Qatar, another U.S. partner in the Middle East, by calling it a necessary part of "the hard fight" against those who fund terrorism.
"I prefer that they don't fund terrorists," Trump said of Qatar, according to audio of the event that was published Friday. He then added of Saudi Arabia's effort, "they really are fighting the hard fight."
Tillerson has urged Saudi Arabia to ease its crackdown of Qatar, and has even accused the Saudis of making an insincere series of accusations to justify the blockade. The State Department accused the Saudis of using Trump's counterterrorism push as an excuse for score-settling with Qatar.
"The more that time goes by, the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on June 20. "What we see this as [is] long simmering tensions that have been going on for quite some time."
But Trump echoed the Saudi position by accusing Qatar of funding terrorism, according to audio that was obtained by The Intercept. The closed-door comments show that Tillerson's maneuvering the end the stand-off hasn't changed Trump's position, since the president took credit for the eruption of the dispute when the Saudis first took aim at Qatar.
"So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off," Trump wrote in a series of tweets. "They said they would take a hard line on funding, extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"
Trump also acknowledged that Saudi Arabia funds terrorism, though that didn't seem to color his view of the Qatar fight. "As you know, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and others, hundreds of millions of dollars on a monthly basis goes toward funding terrorists and terrorism and radical Islamic terrorism," he said. "There's this tremendous dispute going on right and in the end I think you're going to have a situation where terrorism and the funding of terrorism goes all the way down."