U.S. Protests Arab Country’s Acquisition of Stinger Missiles
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States has filed a formal protest with officials of Qatar over its refusal to hand over U.S.-made Stinger missiles it bought on the black market, a State Department official said Monday.
″Assistant Secretary (Richard W.) Murphy was there last weekend and he brought it up. They have them. They got them from some place and we want them back,″ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Murphy, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, met in Qatar’s capital of Doha last Saturday with the defense minister of the tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom.
Murphy demanded that the Stingers be returned to the United States. He also reiterated the United States’ demand for access to the missiles to determine through their serial numbers who had sold them to Qatar.
The United Sttes prohibits other governments in its Stinger contracts from transferring the weapons to a third party.
The defense minister, Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, rejected Murphy’s demands on the grounds that Qatar needed the missiles to defend itself against threats to its security, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The United States learned Qatar had Stinger missiles in March, when U.S. Embassy officials in Bahrain noticed one in a military parade in Qatar. When confronted, officials in Doha admitted they had secretly bought 12 missiles, but refused to identify the source.
In May, Murphy said the highly accurate, shoulder-fired rockets may have been passed to Qatar by Iran, which in turn obtained them from the U.S.-supplied Afghan rebels.
Murphy’s efforts last weekend were meant to signal to Qatar that buying the Stingers on the black market has hurt relations with the United States and will make military cooperation impossible until they are returned, the Times said. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved language to prohibit any military dealings with Qatar until the Stingers were returned.
State department officials told the Times the United States has no plans to recall its ambassador over the disagreement.
Qatar does not buy any weapons nor does it receive any military or economic aid from Washington, but it has traditionally sought good relations with America.
The Times quoted some Persian Gulf experts as saying Qatar is believed to be upset that the United States has agreed to sell 70 Stingers to Bahrain, Qatar’s neighbor and traditional rival. The United States has said it would carefully monitor Bahrain’s use of the missiles.