U.S. urges Qatar to crack down on A-Jazeera

Monday, May 3, 2004

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Colin Powell urged his Qatari counterpart, Hamad Bin Jaber Bin Jassim Al Thani, to discipline the Doha-based A-Jazeera satellite channel. The officials said the State Department has determined that A-Jazeera has served as the mouthpiece for the Sunni resistance against the U.S.-led coalition.

On Wednesday, Qatar and the United States launched the Strategic Dialogue Discussion. Officials said the discussion concerned bilateral defense and security relations, Gulf regional security and Iraq.

"We have very deep concerns about Al Jazeera's broadcasts because again and again we find inaccurate, false, wrong reports that are, we think, designed to be inflammatory that appear on this network and that make life, make the situation, more tense, more inflamed and even more dangerous for Americans, for Iraqis, for Arabs and other people who are involved, particularly in Iraq," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Boucher said State Department staffers in Baghdad have been closely monitoring a range of Arabic satellite news channels, particularly A-Jazeera. In one case, he said, an A-Jazeera correspondent reported that Iraqi civilians were killed and cut into pieces. In another case, the correspondent reported the use of U.S. cluster bombs in Faluja.

"We've talked about this with the government of Qatar, which has a financial stake in Al Jazeera as well as other places on the board and things like that," Boucher said. "I would say they understand our concerns, but how we proceed, how they proceed, these are questions that will be answered in the future."

In 2003, Qatar replaced some key board members and staffers at A-Jazeera in response to U.S. complaints that the satellite channel was serving as a mouthpiece for Al Qaida. But U.S. officials said the Bush administration has also urged Qatar to suspend funding to A-Jazeera.

"I am not a spokesman for A-Jazeera," Hamad said in a roundtable discussion at the Brooking Institution. "I heard with great attention what the U.S. administration had to say about it. I am not directly involved, but I will certainly deliver it to the right people in Qatar."

U.S. officials said the complaints against A-Jazeera would not affect the close energy, military and security ties with Qatar. In September 2003, U.S. Central Command transferred its air command center from Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

"We have a very important relationship with Qatar and we are developing security relationships, economic relationships, cooperation on reform agendas, cooperation on international issues," Boucher said. "So that's a very important part of our relationship. That's what's going on in the Strategic Dialogue."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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