Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will visit the White House this week for his first personal meeting with US President Joe Biden, as analysts say the Gulf country is once again uniquely located to play an important role in foreign relations. of US policy.
At the top of the agenda of Monday’s meeting, according to the White House, will be efforts to ensure “stability of global energy supplies”, which is not so covertly a reference to the feverish tensions with Russia over Ukraine, which could make Europe look for new ways for its huge needs for natural gas.
Qatar, a country with a population of 2.8 million, is the world’s second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) – shortly after the United States – and has a huge market influence.
The meeting also comes as the United States seeks a way forward with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, where Doha has served as Washington’s diplomatic envoy since November – and as US and Iranian officials say multilateral talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran can reach the final game.
Qatar has ties to both the United States and Iran, and as the host of the U.S. Central Command in the region, has a particularly keen interest in avoiding conflict. The Gulf country is also preparing to take the global stage when it hosts the November 2022 FIFA World Cup, an event that has once again drawn attention to its treatment of migrant workers. The government has cited a number of reforms, but human rights groups say they have not gone far enough.
“Qatar is at the center of the most pressing geopolitical issues of the day,” Omar Rahman, a political analyst in the Middle East and a former fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera. “I think the Biden administration wants to discuss its point of view on these issues, as well as find a way to promote mutual interests.
Russia is emerging
The emir’s visit to Washington, D.C., comes as most other U.S. foreign policy priorities have receded into the background amid a gathering of 100,000 Russian troops along its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of invasion and provoking a wave of diplomacy that made little progress.
Amid opposition, the Biden administration is struggling to find an energy security plan for Europe that relies on Russia for about a third of its natural gas supplies, according to Reuters, which is used to heat homes and power industry and manufacturing.
The crisis is coming as natural gas prices remain at record highs, with global supplies lagging amid a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Biden administration was in talks with Qatar over possible supplies of more LNG to the European Union.
Qatar already supplies about 5 percent of the continent’s supplies, with analysts saying the Gulf state is currently locked into several long-term export contracts that could make a short-term leap to Europe impossible.
“If there are restrictions or restrictions on Russian gas exports, especially to Europe, Qatar will become even more relevant and even more crucial for global energy supplies,” Rahman said.
Asked about the reports last week, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to address Qatar specifically, but said the United States was “in talks with major natural gas producers around the world to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily increase production.” natural gas and distribute these volumes to European buyers. “
The United States, meanwhile, has resumed evacuation flights from Afghanistan after a month-long hiatus, with news site Axios reporting that Washington hopes to speed up the evacuation of thousands of vulnerable Afghans left after a chaotic Western withdrawal in late August 2021.
The first evacuation flight after the break departed from Kabul for Doha on Wednesday, Reuters reported. Qatar, which previously hosted talks between the Taliban and the United States, which eventually led to an agreement to withdraw US troops in 2020, continues to be a key partner for Washington on the issue.
The situation puts Qatar back in place [it] I wanted him to be “a flexible, active, useful interlocutor for the United States,” said Tobias Bork, a research fellow in security research in the Middle East at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“The withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was an absolute disaster for most countries, gave Qatar the opportunity to really demonstrate its strength quite impressively and this has been noticed in the United States and it has been noticed elsewhere,” he told Al Jazeera, adding. led to a long-sought strategic dialogue between the countries in November.
Iran nuclear deal
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani held talks with counterpart Hossein Amirabdolahyan in Tehran last week, which some observers say may be linked to the emir’s upcoming visit to the United States.
Iran’s state news agency has tried to quell speculation, saying some “fake” that the Tehran meeting is a means of “facilitating direct talks with the United States”.
However, in recent days, US and Iranian officials have expressed readiness to meet directly to discuss a return to the nuclear deal, after months of talks in Vienna between Tehran and other signatories.
Last week, White House National Security Council Coordinator Brett McGurk said the parties were “at the forefront” of reaching an agreement, but said there remained a “very real chance that these talks would collapse very soon”.
Qatar publicly supports a return to the 2015 deal
The White House visit is also the first meeting between the Emir of Qatar and the US President since the end of last year in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, which began in 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – along with a non-member of the GCC, Egypt – imposed a blockade on land, air and sea in Qatar.
As regional relations have improved since then, the blockade, which has forced Qatar to turn to its allies around the world, “will affect Qatar’s foreign policy for decades to come,” Bork said. This was repeated by Rahman, who said that its effect would certainly provide information on US-Qatar relations in the future.
“The blockade has made strong relations with the United States even more urgent than before,” he said, “if at all possible.”