Qatar emir meets Biden in shadow of Ukraine tensions

5. Qatar US
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani speaks during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (out of frame) at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on January 31, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
WASHINGTON, DC — US President Joe Biden will build on attempts to ensure energy back-up for European allies when he hosts Qatar’s emir Monday in a White House meeting overshadowed by fears Russia could cut exports over the Ukraine crisis.اضافة اعلان

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani will be the first Gulf state leader to visit Biden since he became president just over a year ago and the Oval Office talks will cement the tiny country’s status as a major international player.

In addition to meeting Biden, the sheikh will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, members of Congress and other officials, the White House said. A deal between Qatar and Boeing is also on the cards, with a signing ceremony scheduled at the White House.

The most urgent agenda item for Biden is a scramble by the US and the EU to ensure that European nations, already hit by soaring energy prices, can weather disruption in Russian exports if Moscow decides to cut supplies.

Western capitals are threatening unprecedented economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine, where it has placed more than 100,000 combat troops on the border.

However, there are fears that the oil- and gas-producing giant could retaliate against the EU, which imports 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

Announcing the visit, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the emir and Biden would be discussing “the stability of global energy supplies.”

Limits to Qatar’s role

Qatar is one of the world’s biggest liquid natural gas (LNG) exporters, along with the US and Australia, and there are hopes in Washington and Europe that Doha can temporarily redirect exports destined for Asian markets.

However, Qatar has little to no extra capacity in its LNG and there are limitations to how much supply can be diverted from existing contracts.

Speaking just ahead of the visit, a senior US official seemed to downplay the focus on how much to expect from Qatar in the energy reshuffle, saying only “we’re consulting with all the leading gas suppliers around the world.”

“I’m not going to be able to give you anything further on LNG,” the official told reporters Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It will figure in the mix, but I can’t give you any details.”

Qatar plays a key role in the region for the US as host for the Pentagon’s Central Command.

During the Afghanistan evacuation last year, US forces sent about 60,000 Afghans and Americans transiting through the Qatar air base.

Doha, serving as Washington’s diplomatic contact with the Taliban, will be pivotal to any future contact with Afghanistan, as well as playing a role in efforts to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal.

Separately to the Biden bilat, representatives of Qatar and Qatar Airways were set to hold a signing ceremony with Boeing Company and GE Aviation in the White House.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was to preside over the event, which follows Qatar Airways’ strong interest in becoming the launch customer for Boeing’s new 777X freighter.

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