Biden names Qatar major non-NATO ally as energy crisis looms

The US president says Qatar is a good friend and reliable partner



Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during a meeting with US President Joe Biden. — AP
Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during a meeting with US President Joe Biden. — AP

By AP

Published: Tue 1 Feb 2022, 1:25 AM

President Joe Biden on Monday announced he’s designating Qatar a major non-NATO ally.

The designation is largely a symbolic honour but one that was meant to convey his administration’s gratitude for the country’s assistance during last year’s US evacuations in Afghanistan and assistance in ending last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Biden made the announcement as he met His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Amir of Qatar, in the Oval Office. Earlier, Sheikh Tamim told reporters that he would discuss regional security with Biden as well as push for equal rights for the Palestinian people.

The announcement comes as Biden looks for the gas-rich nation to step up once again to help the West as it faces the prospect of a European energy crunch if Russia invades Ukraine.

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“Qatar is a good friend and a reliable partner,” Biden said. “I’m notifying Congress that I will designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally to reflect the importance of the relationship. It’s long overdue.”

The move could be helpful in Qatar’s bid to get US approval for a more than $500 million sale of MQ-9 Reaper drones. The request has been languishing since 2020, when Trump was still in office.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the decision, said the non-NATO ally designation was not tied to Biden’s hopes for Qatar to help it and European allies build its energy contingency plan should Russia invade Ukraine. The official, who is not authorised to comment publicly, said the designation is for Qatar’s help in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Qatar played a central role in aiding last summer’s US military evacuations of Afghan helpers and US citizens in Afghanistan, hosts the biggest American air base in the Middle East and served as a go-between with the Taliban for the last three US administrations as they tried to wind down America’s longest war.

The country was also an essential go-between with Hamas during last year’s 11-day conflict that administration officials had worried have turned into a longer and bloodier war.

“Qatar sees this as an opportunity to further improve its relationship with the US after Afghanistan,’” said Yesar Al Maleki, an energy economist at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Biden administration officials said the two leaders will discuss the Ukraine situation but declined to comment on what, if any, commitment the president may ask of Qatar in addressing the mounting European energy crisis.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Qatar’s Ambassador Sheikh Mishaal bin Hamad Al Thani ahead of the leaders’ meeting on Monday announced that Qatar Airways has agreed to order 34 freighter jets, with the option to buy 16 more, from US-based Boeing Co. The total purchase could be worth more than $20 billion, according to the airline.


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