Syria dominated a meeting between Qatar’s Emir and US President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday, with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani calling what is happening a “major and horrific tragedy.”
Qatar has been a strong supporter of Bashar Al Assad’s removal from power, supporting the opposition and sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria in humanitarian aid.
AFP reports Obama as saying:
“We’re going to be continuing to work in the coming months to try to further support the Syrian opposition, and we’ll be closely coordinating our strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.”
The sheikh in turn said through a translator that his country hoped “to find a solution for the bloodshed in Syria, for this current government to leave power, to give room to others to take over. “We hope that any party that succeeds… will be supportive of democracy,” he added.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explains the significance of the Syrian question between the US and Qatar:
Qatari money may be supporting “some pretty ghastly Jihadi types” in an effort to topple Assad while the U.S. is facing criticism it isn’t doing enough to match its rhetoric that Assad must go.
“The Qataris are saying, ‘Well what are you doing in Syria? You don’t want Assad there either and we’re actually doing something about it,’” Henderson said. “And I’m not sure quite what the American response to that would be.”
The meeting with Obama “confers status on the emir,” Henderson said. “So it’s all good news for Qatar. For Obama, it’s probably an awkward confrontation with foreign policy realities.”
“The only card that Obama has to play probably is that Qatar feels vulnerable toward Iran,” Henderson said.
Obama also thanked the Emir for Qatar’s part in facilitating dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And in a bit of a recap of their last official meeting, which took place in April 2011, the two leaders also discussed the Palestinian question and the ongoing transition in Egypt.
Before that visit, there was an eight-year gap in meeting with the American president that analysts attributed to tension over Doha-based Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war.
Qatar is home to the largest US air base in the Middle East and diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries run deep.
Credit: Photo courtesy of White House blog