Joe Biden and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held talks in Washington on gas supplies to Europe

Qatar emerges as a key NATO ally amid Ukraine crisis

AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM - U.S. President Joe Biden in a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, in the Oval Office of the White House on January 31, 2022 in Washington, DC.

The crisis in Ukraine has stoked fears of a possible suspension of gas supplies to Europe by Russia, the continent's main energy supplier. For this reason, US President Joe Biden is seeking an alternative to Russian gas for its European partners in the event that Moscow cuts off or reduces supplies, either through armed conflict or sanctions that would directly affect trade and economic relations with Russia. In this regard, as a senior State Department official told Reuters, "the United States has pledged to support Europe if there are energy shortages due to conflict or sanctions".

To this end, Biden has looked directly to another major energy resource epicentre, the Persian Gulf. The US leader has opted for Qatar, one of the world's largest gas producers. In this way, the US president is also maintaining his foreign policy towards Doha, with whom he has intensified relations since the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. 

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Biden invited Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar to Washington to discuss this and other issues such as security in the Middle East, the situation in Afghanistan and other issues related to trade cooperation.

Following the meeting, the US president announced his decision to name Qatar a "major ally" outside NATO. Other countries such as Israel, Brazil, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Argentina enjoy this special status, which allows them to obtain advanced US weaponry, as well as to cooperate on security and defence issues. 

El presidente de EE.UU., Joe Biden, recibio al emir de Qatar, el jeque Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, en la Casa Blanca el 31 de enero. Biden y el líder del estado del Golfo hablaron de la seguridad en Oriente Medio y de "garantizar la estabilidad de los suministros energéticos mundiales" AFP/BRENDAN SMIAOLOWSKI & JACK GUEZ

"Qatar is a good friend and a reliable partner. I'm going to inform Congress that I'm going to designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally to reflect the importance of our relationship," Biden told reporters. "I think it's long overdue," he added. This Non-NATO Senior Ally designation, the State Department reports, "is a powerful symbol of the close relationship the United States shares with these countries and demonstrates our deep respect for the friendship with the countries to which it extends."

Al Thani said they would continue to work together "to find ways and means to achieve peace in our region". Qatar would become the second country in the Gulf region to join NATO's exclusive group of allies after Kuwait. Moreover, the Qatari emir is the first regional leader to meet with Biden since his election, demonstrating the strong partnership between Doha and Washington, an aspect of US foreign policy that has changed compared to the previous US administration led by Donald Trump, which was closer to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

 Los afganos suben a un avión mientras esperan en el aeropuerto de Kabul, el 16 de agosto de 2021, tras el asombroso y rápido final de la guerra de 20 años en Afganistán, mientras miles de personas se agolpan en el aeropuerto de la ciudad tratando de huir del temido régimen islamista de línea dura del grupo AFP/WAKIL KOHSAR

Qatar, in addition to organising and hosting negotiations between the Taliban and Washington, also emerged as a key player during the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. On the occasion of Al Thani's visit, Defence Secretary Austin Lloyd praised Qatar's assistance in the evacuations. "We could not have evacuated more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan without their help at Camp As Sayliyah and Al Udeid," he said. As Sayliyah is a US military base located on the outskirts of Doha, while Al Udeid is a Qatari base that hosts foreign forces, including US forces. Both are used by Qatar to house the thousands of Afghans who have applied for US visas.

Earlier in November, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a pair of strategic agreements in which Doha assumed the role of "protecting power" for US interests in Afghanistan. "Qatar is a crucial partner in promoting regional stability," Blinken said at the time. In this context, Doha's role as an intermediary between the US and Iran is also noteworthy.

El Secretario de Estado Antony Blinken estrecha la mano del Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, durante una conferencia de prensa tras una ceremonia de firma en el Departamento de Estado en Washington, el viernes 12 de noviembre de 2021 AP/OLIVIER DOULIERY

During his recent visit to the US, Al Thani also met with Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Qatar Airways has also ordered dozens of aircraft from the US-based Boeing Company. The $20 billion deal will "support tens of thousands of good-paying jobs in the United States", Biden said.

Dialogue and diplomacy continue in Ukraine crisis

As Washington strengthens key alliances that can supply gas to Europe, diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine continue. Russia has already responded in writing to US proposals regarding the situation in Eastern Europe. In addition, Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will return to the issue during a scheduled telephone conversation on Friday. 

Tubos de gas natural impresos con las banderas de Rusia y Ucrania en esta ilustración tomada el 31 de enero de 2022 REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

The recent Security Council meeting on the Ukrainian crisis ended without agreement. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, described the situation in Europe as "urgent and dangerous" and said that her Russian partners "did not give her the answers she expected".

Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia accused Washington of "escalating tensions" and insisted again that Moscow had no plans to attack Ukraine. "President Zelensky himself said that the rhetoric about what is happening is escalating and is not justified," Nebenzia added, alluding to recent statements by the Ukrainian leader accusing world leaders of exaggerating the likelihood of war between his country and Russia.

Gráfico que muestra las importaciones de la UE por país de origen AFP/AFP

The UK, on the other hand, no longer seems to be relying on diplomacy to deter Russia. London has announced a new package of sanctions against Moscow that will be ready on 10 February. These "far-reaching" sanctions are aimed at "anyone providing strategic or economic support to the Russian regime". "There will be nowhere to hide," said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. 

Un instructor muestra cómo usar las armas a un grupo de mujeres durante un entrenamiento en Kharkiv, Ucrania. Algunos habitantes de la segunda ciudad más grande de Ucrania se están preparando para contraatacar si Rusia invade. Kharkiv está a sólo 40 kilómetros (25 millas) de algunas de las decenas de miles de tropas rusas concentradas en la frontera AP/EVGENY MALOLETKA

In this context, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is travelling to Kiev to meet with Zelensky and express his support for Ukraine's sovereignty. Media and political analysts have pointed out that these moves by the British government seek to divert attention from the latest controversies surrounding Partygate, as well as trying to reinforce the Prime Minister's leadership, which has been badly affected since the Downing Street parties during the confinements came to light.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra

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