Lawmakers Call on State Dept. to Declassify U.S.-Qatar Deal on Terrorism Financing
Tillerson signed U.S.-Qatar Memorandum of Understanding in July after Arab powers severed ties. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exits a brief media availability before his meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani - BY: Natalie Johnson — December 21, 2017 5:00 am
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are demanding the Trump administration provide greater transparency of an agreement brokered between the United States and Qatar to combat terrorism financing in the Gulf state.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Doha in July to sign the U.S.-Qatar Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) just one month after several Arab powers severed ties with Qatar over alleged support for Iran and Islamist terrorist groups.
Members of Congress have lamented the deal's secrecy and are calling on the State Department to declassify the document.
"I read the letter and didn't believe that the letter contained anything that shouldn't be made transparent and readily available to the American people," Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday. "If the MOU is made transparent and public, Congress would be able to more effectively and objectively measure the progress of the agreement."
In a letter to Tillerson on Dec. 14, Banks joined three other lawmakers to urge the State Department to reconsider the classification of the agreement so Congress can better assess Qatar's compliance.
"Senior administration officials have stated in both public settings that the MOU is evidence that progress is being made in the joint effort to fight terrorism and discourage terror financing," said the letter, signed by Banks, Reps. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), Scott Perry (R., Penn.), and Robert Pittenger (R., N.C.). "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."
Banks said he's unsure why the administration decided to classify the agreement and that it raises more questions than answers about the process.
Responding to pressure from lawmakers, the State Department in November permitted Congress to view the document four months after its implementation, though only for a few hours and under strict supervision.
Like Banks, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.) told the Washington Post‘s Josh Rogin he didn't see any classified markings on the document. He said in addition to his concern over the deal's secrecy, the document fails to specify the consequences Qatar would face if it failed to make progress on combatting terrorism financing.
"I want to see more concrete steps on how the administration plans to enforce it," Gottheimer told the Post. "There weren't enough specifics and teeth. … Treasury hasn't been aggressive enough."