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Pentagon agrees to $12 billion jet deal with Qatar

Deal occurs amid diplomatic crisis

(CNN) - Amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and a number of its Gulf neighbors, the US has agreed to sell $12 billion worth of American F-15 fighters 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. 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," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness told CNN in a statement.

"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.

The sale of US combat aircraft represents a major signal of US support for Qatar as it faces regional isolation and the severing of travel and trade links.

The announcement comes after a week of somewhat mixed messages from the Trump administration regarding the spat between Doha and number of Arab nations.

After three Sunni Gulf countries -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE -- along with Egypt moved to cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar, host to the one of the Pentagon's largest military bases in the Middle East and a linchpin in the fight against ISIS, President Donald Trump seemed to back the move, saying last week that Qatar had to do more to combat the funding of terrorism.

"The time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding," Trump said.

But other officials in the administration including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have called for the situation to be deescalated and on Wednesday while appearing before the House foreign affairs committee Tillerson played down any suggestion the President is on a different page stating: "there is no daylight between he and I" on the issue of Qatar.

Speaking to the House armed services committee Monday, Mattis called the diplomatic situation "very complex," acknowledging the large US military presence and close US-Qatar military relationship.

"We've obviously got shared interests with Qatar ... I will admit it's not tidy but it's something we've got to work together on," Mattis later added.

The Qatari defense ministry issued a statement Wednesday celebrating the F-15 deal.

"This agreement underscores the longstanding commitment of the State of Qatar in jointly working with our friends and allies in the United States," al-Attiyah said in the statement.

He also praised the US-Qatar relationship, saying the two countries had "solidified their military cooperation by having fought together side by side for many years now in an effort to eradicate terrorism."

Al-Attiyah called the deal "yet another step in advancing our strategic and cooperative defense relationship with the United States."


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