The meeting’s agenda is expected to tap into gas supplies to Europe amid Russia-Ukraine tensions, the current situation in Afghanistan, the revival of the 2015 nuclear accord, along with the development of Qatar-US ties.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is in Washington, DC, for his first White House meeting with US President Joe Biden since he came to office in January last year.
Taking place on Monday, the meeting will be the first between a Gulf leader and President Biden since assuming presidency.
Sheikh Tamim is also going to be accompanied by Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
The meeting comes as Qatar and the US work on strengthening their bilateral ties in various fields, as well as their diplomatic cooperation in a number of issues of common interest.
The latest developments regarding Russia-Ukraine tensions are expected to be at the top of the meeting’s agenda, with rising concerns over the EU’s gas supply should Moscow invade Kyiv.
Commenting on the visit, White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the two state leaders are going to discuss “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies”.
Psaki’s statements came amidst reports claiming that the Biden Administration has been in talks with its Gulf ally to supply Europe with gas.
Europe has been particularly concerned over the impact on their gas supply if Russia-Ukraine tensions further escalate, given that they receive more than 40% of their gas from Russia with almost a third of the shipments passing through Ukraine.
Qatar provides up to 5% of Europe’s liquified natural gas (LNG) supply as most of its shipments go to Asian countries.
On Sunday, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc is currently holding talks with Qatar, the US and Azerbaijan to find ways to maintain gas deliveries to Europe, which is currently grappling with an energy crisis.
“We have to be prepared in case diplomacy fails. We are looking at all options and scenarios, including working with partners, like the US, Qatar and Azerbaijan, on the issue of gas supply in case Russia decides to reduce or halt deliveries,” wrote Borrell on his personal blog.
Whilst most evacuees were able to reach their final destinations, up to 10,000 Afghans continue to live in American military bases, awaiting the issuance of their visas to continue their lives outside of Kabul, as CNBC reported on Sunday.
Data obtained by the American media outlet, verified by the Department of Homeland Security, found that some 2,500 evacuees are living on US military bases overseas including the American-run Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Before the collapse of the former Afghan government, Qatar hosted face-to-face negotiations between the Taliban and the US in 2020, which saw the signing of the Doha agreement.
Under the agreement, the US troop pull out was set to be conducted on the condition that the Taliban ‘halts its support for terrorist organisations’ by May 2021, before it was changed by Biden to 31 August.
Last year, Qatar and the US signed an agreement during the latest Strategic Dialogue between the two countries, enabling the former to represent Washington’s interest in Afghanistan in light of the US closing its embassy following the Taliban takeover.
Iran nuclear deal
Efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would possibly be discussed in the upcoming meeting between the two leaders amidst efforts to salvage the accord.
Qatar has long expressed its support for the revival of the nuclear deal and previously said that it would “spare no efforts” in restoring the JCPOA. It also offered to mediate between the US and Iran in the past.
Last week, Qatar’s foreign minister travelled to Iran where he met with top officials including his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was also in the Gulf state on 11 January.
Previous reports claimed that the Iranian diplomat had reportedly requested Qatar’s help during his visit to Doha, in brokering the release of Iranian-Americans and Iranian-Europeans jailed in Tehran.
Iran has been arresting dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years for political reasons, with rights groups accusing the Islamic Republic of using the detainees for diplomatic leverage—including the revival of the 2015 nuclear accord.
Tehran has long denied holding the prisoners for political reasons.
Qatar-US ties have been flourishing over the past years.
This was further exhibited late last year, when the US Congress had issued a statement calling legislators to include Qatar in the National Defense Authorisation Act [NDAA] for the 2022 fiscal year.
Despite this, there have been no updates regarding the delayed approval of Qatar’s requests to purchase four MQ-9b Predator drones from Washington, and it remains unclear whether the issue would be brought up during the upcoming meeting.
Officials at the State Department said [the US] is wary about the sale due to its fear of angering other Gulf allies, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Doha’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup later this year was also referenced in the nation’s request for drones, with officials believing that the mega-event will need protection against potential attacks.
Qatar also hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East, the Al-Udeid Airbase, which is used extensively by the US for its operations in the region.