United States Air Force F-16s on the flightline at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2016, on August 3, 2016. Pitch Black is a biennial multinational air warfare exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) that focuses on offensive counter air and defensive counter air combat in a simulated war environment. File Photo by LSIS Jayson Tufrey/Australian Defence Force/UPI | License Photo
June 14 (UPI) -- Despite President Donald Trump's accusations against the government of Qatar for supporting terrorism, the Pentagon approved a deal to sell $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to the country.
"Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met today with Qatari Minister of State for Defense Affairs Dr. Khalid al-Attiyah to discuss concluding steps in finalizing the Foreign Military Sales purchase of US-manufactured F-15 fighter aircraft by the State of Qatar," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness told CNN in a statement. "The $12 billion sale will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar."
"The secretary and the minister also discussed mutual security interests, including the current status of operations against ISIS, and the importance of de-escalating tensions so all partners in the Gulf region can focus on next steps in meeting common goals," Cabiness added.
But experts were taken aback by the announcement of the arms deal, which came just five days after he said Qatar has "historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level."
"It is confusing, and the worst thing you want to do in a heated, delicate situation like this is to give mixed messages," said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University.
The fighter jet sale comes during a time of diplomatic crisis for Qatar.
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with the country for allegedly supporting terrorism in the region.
The Saudi Press Agency accused Qatari officials of repeatedly violating "their international obligations and the agreements they signed under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States to cease hostilities against [Saudi Arabia] and stand against terrorist activities."
Days later on June 9, those countries went even further by imposing sanctions on dozens of organizations and individuals for suspected terrorist links.
Qatar has denied all allegations of terrorism and hired former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to help challenge the charges.
Ashcroft's law firm will be paid $2.5 million for 90 days of work.