DOHA, Qatar—U.S. diplomats and personnel stationed abroad are being hit hard by the ongoing shutdown of the federal government in Washington, D.C., and are expressing frustration to their boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
During a meet and greet session with U.S. staff in Doha on Sunday, Pompeo sought to allay concerns while acknowledging that the longest government shutdown in history has impacted foreign staff, particularly during the secretary's weeklong trek across the Middle East. In many cases, U.S. staff worked overtime with limited resources and no pay to ensure that Pompeo's trip went smoothly.
"The recent appropriation problems in Washington did cause some hardship for some of our staff, particularly in the intense days preparing for today and we all look forward to getting everyone back at work to advance our agenda with the Qataris on all cylinders firing," William Grant, the chief of mission and chargé d'affaires of the United States in Qatar, said in remarks introducing Pompeo to a small crowd of U.S. personnel and their families in Doha.
Pompeo's whirlwind trip across the Middle East began shortly after the government shutdown and forced U.S. staff across the region to work with uncertainty about when they will receive a paycheck.
Upon opening the floor to questions from his employees, Pompeo was hit with questions about the shutdown.
"The government shutdown. What do you think, sir?" an attendee asked.
Pompeo told those in attendance that he hopes the federal government reopens in the next day or so. Pompeo said he has spoken to President Donald Trump multiple times during his weeklong trip and the issues of the shutdown have been raised.
"When I show up, the car is there, elevators open, it all works," he said. "And I know that looks easy for me and I know how much work it takes for all of you to make that happen."
"I know it's especially difficult at this time when not everybody is at work," Pompeo added. "We want to get everybody back so we have everyone working hard" to advance Trump's regional agenda, which focuses on countering Iran's support for terrorism and militant groups.
"I hope it ends tomorrow," Pompeo said to rousing applause. "I was in Congress for a handful of years too. I saw this when I was there a couple of times. They weren't this long. They're disruptive."
"As I have traveled these days with the shutdown underway, you all get that we still have a mission," Pompeo added. "It's the nature of our democracy that these things happen. I hope we get it resolved and get everybody back to work and get paychecks" to those who have gone without them for nearly a month now. "I know the president shares that [sentiment] as well. I've talked to him a few times on the trip and in all those conversations he shares that goal as well."
Pompeo's answers were possibly met with skepticism by at least some in the crowd.
"I saw you look up to the sky," Pompeo said to one U.S. staffer in the crowd, eliciting laughter. "I got that. No words spoken."
Meanwhile, in Qatar, Pompeo attended an afternoon-long conference known as the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. It is the second time the sides have met in such a forum.
In addition to inking new pacts surrounding education and cultural ties between Doha and Washington, Pompeo discussed the need for regional partners to take a tough line on Tehran, a central theme of his entire visit.
Pompeo was clear eyed about Qatar's ongoing diplomatic problems with fellow Gulf nations, chiefly Saudi Arabia, due to Doha's warm relationship with Iran and permissive terror financing environment.
Iran also was raised during a late afternoon meeting between Pompeo and Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamimbin Hamad Al Thani.
"The secretary thanked the Amir for Qatar's longtime friendship and strategic partnership with the United States," according to State Department Spokesman Robert Palladino. "The secretary and the Amir discussed progress on several regional issues, including combatting terror, achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan and Syria, and on the Middle East Strategic Alliance. The secretary emphasized the importance of a united Gulf Cooperation Council in standing against the Iranian regime's destabilizing activity and ensuring the success of the alliance in advancing prosperity, security, and stability in the region."