Republican congressmen have written to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to request declassification of a US-Qatar Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed as America’s top diplomat toured the region this year.
The MOU was completed in Doha on July 10 amid US attempts to end the crisis between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on the other. The boycott by the Arab Quartet was put into place to curtail Doha’s support for Islamist extremism and tolerance of funds following to terror outfits.
The State Department has never disclosed the contents of the document signed during Mr Tillerson’s shuttle diplomacy. Congressional pressure for greater scrutiny of the deal has grown and The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the congressmen behind the letter had “called the agreement into question”.
The State Department said it had followed proper procedure in keeping the agreement under wraps.
“The Memorandum of Understanding Secretary Tillerson signed with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani contains information that pertains to foreign government information, intelligence activities, and foreign relations and foreign activities of the United States, and is classified,” the spokesman said.
The four Republicans, Jim Banks, Scott Perry, Ron Desantis and Robert Pittenger, filed the letter with Mr Tillerson’s office last week.
“We write today to request the US-Qatar counter-terrorism Memorandum of Understanding be declassified and made available to the public,” it said, adding Congress had been “unable to review the agreement until November 2017 without an explanation for the delay”.
“While our national security must never be compromised, public policy should be discussed and reviewed in public” it said. “The American people have a right to know what steps Qatar’s government is taking to deter Islamic terrorism.
“The US-Qatar MOU does not appear to contain classified or sensitive information” the letter added. “The decision to classify the document while publicly praising Qatar’s progress toward upholding its contents makes it impossible for the public to judge Qatar’s compliance.
“While we sincerely support the joint initiative, by not having direct consistent access to the MOU because of classification, the legislative branch is unable to effectively and objectively measure this reported progress.”
Last month the State Department allowed members of Congress to review the text for few hours in the Special Compartmentalised Information Facility inside the office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, according to The Washington Post.
Democrats in Congress have also voiced criticism of the administration’s handling of the agreement. Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer told The Washington Post that the issue of how to hold Qatar accountable for activities within its borders was not adequately addressed in the agreement.
“I want to see more concrete steps on how the administration plans to enforce it,” he said. “There weren’t enough specifics and teeth… Treasury hasn’t been aggressive enough.”
Senior officials have so far fended off attempts to make the text available to the public, with both Mr Tillerson and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley making claims that it contains classified and sensitive information.
In letter to Congress on December 7, Mrs Haley defended the decision to extract written commitments from Qatar. “[It] lays out steps for the United States to work together in support of the goals outlined by the President at the Riyadh summit in May,” she said.
She added that the agreement “covers actions Qatar can take to improve its counter-terrorism efforts against all terrorists groups including Hamas”.