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Qatar Denies It Supports Terrorist Organizations

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What exactly is happening in the Persian Gulf? In a startling move, Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with its neighbor Qatar and so did several other nations including Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the UAE. They all accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, although Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, is an ally of the United States. Buzzfeed Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi is covering this story. He's on the line. Hi, Borzou.

BORZOU DARAGAHI, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: People here, I think, were surprised by this - totally wasn't on our radar. Is it surprising in the Middle East?

DARAGAHI: I mean, the severity of it is rather surprising because you're not talking just about diplomatic relations. They're talking about airlines are no longer allowed to fly. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia ordered all Qatari nationals, just ordinary people, to leave their countries within two weeks.

INSKEEP: Wow.

DARAGAHI: I mean, that is an extreme move. And it's not surprising that there's tension. There's been tensions for years, but the severity is surprising.

INSKEEP: OK, so I've heard the official story of this. The official reason is that the leader of Qatar made a speech, allegedly, that some people found disagreeable. But there's questions about whether the speech even happened. So what is the real reason that all these nations would suddenly gang up on Qatar?

DARAGAHI: Either they think they see a way of pressuring Qatar into changing its behavior - specifically, two issues. One is its rather vocal support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates around the region, and the other is its rather friendly relations with Iran and other groups that are considered pro-Iranian, like Hezbollah and, to some extent, Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

So this is really at the heart of the dispute. It's not really the issue of terrorism groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, which has been tied to al-Qaida in the past that many people in the Gulf have supported over the years. Even ISIS, many people in the Gulf - individuals may have given support to it. So I think that terrorism is a sort of slogan for some of the diplomatic and ideological ties that the Qataris have.

INSKEEP: So real questions about what the Qataris are doing, but at the same time, they host this really important U.S. military command center. How can both of those things be true at once?

DARAGAHI: Well, I mean, I think - it's the Middle East, you know, Steve. And, you know, people play very smart diplomatic games, very complicated diplomatic games. They have good relations with people who are enemies. They try to leverage those relations. It's not just Qatar. Oman, as well, which is another Gulf state, also has great relations with Iran, for example. Kuwait has tolerable relations with Iran.

So, you know, what really has pushed this over the edge is hard to identify. But it seems very much that some people in the Gulf saw an opportunity, a way to pressure the Qatari leadership into changing its stance, whereas, you know, that wouldn't work within Iran or Syria or another country like that.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is the United States, in some way, behind this because the United States is trying to build pressure on Iran? And you're telling me that Qatar is under pressure in part because it's been friendly with Iran.

DARAGAHI: Well, you know, some people are saying they're speculating that Trump's visit and his wholehearted embrace of the Saudis and Iraqis recently may have emboldened them to take this rather dramatic step.

INSKEEP: OK, Borzou, thanks very much - really appreciate it. Borzou Daragahi, veteran correspondent speaking with us from Istanbul after news that Saudi Arabia and several other nations have cut off diplomatic and other ties with their neighbor, Qatar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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