Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called for increased pressure on Qatar to push it to implement its pledge regarding halting financial support for terrorism.
Panetta’s remarks came during a conference entitled, “Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood” held in Washington on Monday.
Organized by Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, the conference discussed Qatar’s troubled relationship with its Arab neighbors, which was the result of its ties with Iran and funding terrorism.
Panetta noted that the Arab region has experienced divisions throughout its history, affecting its capacity to achieve stability.
“Terrorism by ISIS, al-Qaeda and ‘Hezbollah’ is what impedes access to stability in the region,” the former defense secretary said, adding that Qatar could no longer continue to support terrorism and back Iran.
“Qatar has announced that it wants to abide by international standards and cut off financial support to terrorist groups,” he said. “The situation is now in the hands of the United States to make sure that Qatar is already executing and implementing its promises.”
Panetta said he was optimistic about the diplomatic efforts exerted by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah to resolve the dispute with the Arab Peninsula.
On the means to face terrorism, the US official explained that despite military victories in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS will not disappear, and “the worst thing is declaring victory without pursuing ISIS elsewhere, such as in southern Syria and North Africa.”
He went on to say: “It is necessary to confront Iran in the region and halt its support for terrorism and ‘Hezbollah’, and its attempts to spread instability in Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad.”
Panetta pointed out that he had previously proposed “the establishment of a coalition of countries in the Middle East, that would also include Israel, to deal with these challenges, and form a joint command center with the United States to pursue the sources of terrorism in different places with different tactics.”
As for the Syrian crisis, the US former defense secretary said: “Bashar al-Assad's continued presence in power is the reason for the ongoing civil war and instability in Syria.”