October 6, 2017 / 9:25 AM / 3 years ago

U.S. military says 'opting out' of some exercises following Gulf rift

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United States is scaling back its involvement in some joint military exercises in the Gulf region, a spokesman said on Friday, following a rift between Qatar and its neighbors.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, along with Egypt, severed ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting terrorism, in the most serious rift between the United States’ Gulf Arab allies.

Doha denies it supports terrorism and says the sanctions are intended to force it to change its foreign policies.

Asked whether the United States had scaled back military operations with some Gulf Cooperation Council countries due to the rift, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Colonel John Thomas said in an emailed statement:

“We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests.

“We will continue to encourage all partners to work together toward the sort of common solutions that enable security and stability in the region,” he added, without elaborating.

The U.S. Central Command is responsible for 20 countries in the Middle East and South and Central Asia, from Egypt to Kazakhstan.

The United States has sought to encourage its Arab allies to discuss their differences, which appear to revolve around Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group designated by Saudi Arabia and its allies as a terrorist organization.

Gulf Arab states also accuse Qatar of cozying up to non-Arab Iran, which they accuse of trying to expand its influence in Arab countries by supporting Shi’ite Muslim minorities, something Tehran denies.

The United States maintains close military ties with all Gulf Arab states and regularly holds joint exercises. It has military bases in several of the counties, including Qatar which hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.

Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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