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Sunday, April 17, 2011

What he didn't say - Obama slights key Arab ally

Obama slights key Arab ally
Obama says that Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani isn�t doing enough to promote democracy in his own country. ReutersClose
President Obama told reporters on Thursday that his meeting with Qatar's emir was cordial and useful, complete with banter about tickets for the 2022 World Cup.

But he struck a different tone later that night at a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago, saying Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani isn’t doing enough to promote democracy in his own country, even as the TV news network he sponsors promotes democracy to the entire region.

The diplomatic gaffe was the result of the same “open mic” problem widely reported Friday: Obama thought he was speaking in confidence to Democratic donors, but CBS News’s Mark Knoller was able to record an audio feed of the president’s remarks, which ranged from the brief mention of Qatar to Republican budget-cutting efforts.

Of Qatar’s emir, Obama said: “He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform — you're seeing it on Al Jazeera." He continued: "Now, he himself is not reforming significantly. There's no big move towards democracy in Qatar.” The president noted that Qataris enjoy a very large per-capita income, which will "dampen a lot of conflict."

His candor was a departure from what he told reporters about the emir of Qatar earlier that day:

"I expressed to him my appreciation of the leadership that the Emir has shown when it comes to democracy in the Middle East and, in particular, the work that they have done in trying to promote a peaceful transition in Libya. ...

"And so, we've had discussions about how we can continue to promote democracy, human rights, increased freedom and reform throughout the Middle East."

In a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One Friday, at which point CBS News had only reported on the president’s comments about last week’s budget negotiations with Republicans, White House press secretary Jay Carney said what Obama said to donors on Thursday was the same thing he said in public, and that the president wasn’t embarrassed by what he said.