Biden grants Qatar major US ally designation
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden named Qatar a major non-NATO ally on Monday, a largely symbolic honor but meant to express his administration’s gratitude for the small Persian Gulf country’s assistance with evacuations. of Afghanistan and at the end of last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
Biden announced the designation during a meeting with Qatar’s ruling leader at the White House. It comes as he seeks the gas-rich nation to step in again to help the West as it faces the prospect of a European energy crisis if Russia invades Ukraine.
“Qatar is a good friend and a reliable partner,” Biden said hours before formally notifying Congress of the nomination. “It’s been long overdue.”
The move could come in handy in Qatar’s bid to secure US approval for a sale of more than $500 million of MQ-9 Reaper drones, demand that has languished since 2020.
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A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision, said the non-NATO ally designation was unrelated to Biden’s hopes that Qatar helps European allies with an energy contingency plan if Russia invades Ukraine. The official said the designation relates to Qatar’s aid to Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Qatar played a pivotal role in helping last summer’s US military evacuations of Afghans who aided the US war effort along with US citizens.
Qatar is also home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East and has served as an intermediary with the Taliban for the past three administrations as they attempted to end America’s longest war.
Qatar is the 18th country to receive this designation, the last being Brazil in 2019. It offers defense trade and security cooperation benefits, including eligibility for loan programs and priority delivery of certain military sales.
“We are very happy and proud of this excellent relationship,” Qatar’s ruling Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said. “We will continue to work together to find ways and means to bring peace to our region.”
The country was a key broker with Hamas during last year’s 11-day conflict, which administration officials feared could escalate into a longer and bloodier war.
Now, with some 100,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, experts say Qatar – the world’s second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, or LNG – is eager to help again, but may only be able to offer aid. limited if Russia continues to disrupt the flow of energy supplies to Europe.
“Qatar sees this as an opportunity to further improve its relationship with the United States after Afghanistan,” said Yesar Al-Maleki, an energy economist at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “But it’s going to be very difficult to do because there’s no oversupply.”
Qatar is already producing at full capacity, with much of its supply contracted to Asia. Even if some US allies in the Pacific, including India, Japan and South Korea, are persuaded to divert some LNG contract orders to Europe, this will have little impact in mitigating the blow, according to energy analysts.
White House officials have been in talks with Asian partners on contingency planning, according to the senior administration official.
Biden and Tamim also used Monday’s meeting to discuss Middle East security and the situation in Afghanistan, where humanitarian conditions have deteriorated following last year’s U.S. withdrawal and takeover. Taliban control. The leaders also discussed US efforts to resuscitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
But a possible contingency plan should Russia decide to cut off gas supplies to Europe was perhaps the most pressing issue on the agenda.
The Biden administration says the plan being developed will not rely solely on “one or two” vendors. Instead, the effort would require “a multitude of sources” to offset a Russian cut, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Suppliers in Australia – the world’s largest supplier of LNG – as well as Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States are among those Biden administration officials have sought to help if needed.
Natural gas futures prices surged last week amid growing fears that a potential dispute could disrupt Russian exports transiting through Ukraine to Europe. The crisis has been aggravated by Russia, which typically provides around 40% of Europe’s natural gas supply, cutting its exports by around 25% in the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020 despite prices global high.
Gallery: Biden meets with Qatar’s leader in the Oval Office