In the lead-up to President Trump’s Tuesday meeting with Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamas al-Thani, conservatives from across the spectrum urged Trump to address what they say is Qatar’s cheating on the Open Skies agreement between the two nations.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, there was little overt evidence to suggest conversations between Trump and al-Thani touched on the integrity of the Open Skies arrangement, with most news reports indicating the meeting was focused primarily on Qatar’s investment in US companies instead.
At issue is the belief by many conservatives that Qatar’s investment in a small Italian airline called Air Italy is an intentional move to get around Open Skies restrictions on the middle eastern nation that prohibits some direct flights to Europe and the US.
Conservatives such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Ken Blackwell both urged the president to make violations of the Open Skies agreement between Qatar and the US part of Tuesday’s meeting.
Gingrich told Fox’s Maria Bartiromo that Qatar may be “deliberately undercutting” competition.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Fox News contributor, believes Trump must ease turbulence with Qatar for the future of U.S. airlines.
“Qatar has been deliberately undercutting and acting in ways that make it impossible for a company to compete in the Middle East. They promised several months ago that they would stop -- they haven’t stopped,” he told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo on Monday. “And certainly those of us who are working this issue hope that the president is going to look them in the eye and say 'look, you’ve got to keep your word,’ ... we want to inspect results, not just words … for the future of the American airline industry, this is a very big issue.”
Blackwell, along with Tea Party Patriots president Jenny Beth Martin and Americans for Limited Government president Rick Manning, penned a letter to Trump ahead of Tuesday’s meeting asking that the administration remain resolute on the Open Skies issue.
Apart from raising concerns about support for terrorism, the conservative leaders pointed to Qatar’s ongoing subsidizing of its national carrier, which critics say violates both the U.S.-Qatar Open Skies agreement and a separate agreement between the Trump administration and Qatar last year, and puts more than 1.2 million U.S. jobs at risk.
“Once again, members of Congress on both sides have called for strong action to ensure Qatar’s compliance with these trade agreements,” Blackwell, Martin and Manning said.
“We cannot allow these nations to use loopholes to flout competition and endanger American industries,” they added. “Secretary Pompeo has rightly recognized the seriousness of this issue and has made clear that it is being looked at closely.”
Trump and al-Thani signed several agreements Tuesday including “the purchase by Qatar Airways of five Boeing 777 Freighters and a large-cabin aircraft from Gulfstream.”
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.
“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.”
Emir al Thani is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday in Washington.