The visit comes amid reports claiming that Qatar and the US have been in talks over supplying Europe with energy if Russia invades Ukraine.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is scheduled to discuss “the stability of global energy supplies” with US President Joe Biden in Washington on 31 January, the White House announced on Tuesday.
Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington, the first since Biden took office in January last year, has been in the works for some time.
White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the leaders are going to discuss “a range of regional and global issues of mutual interest”, which include promoting security in “the Gulf and broader Middle East region” and “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies”.
The Qatari amir’s visit also comes amid reports claiming that the Biden Administration has been in talks with its Gulf ally to supply Europe with gas, in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Energy security has been a critical area of discussion by the international community, especially with the heightening tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The US has also been expressing particular concern over the presence of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.
On Monday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and his US counterpart, Secretary Antony Blinken, touched on the latest developments regarding the exacerbating situation.
During the phone call between the two diplomats, Secretary Blinken “discussed Russia’s unprovoked military buildup near Ukraine’s borders”.
As tensions between the two rivals continue to rise, Europe has been concerned over the impact on their gas supply in the event of an invasion, given that they receive more than 40% of their gas from Russia whilst almost a third of those shipments pass through Ukraine.
On the other hand, Qatar provides up to 5% of Europe’s liquified natural gas (LNG) supply as most of its shipments go to Asian countries.
Washington’s reliable ally
The meeting between Sheikh Tamim and President Biden would exhibit the strength of Doha and Washington’s ties, which have been witnessing significant growth in light of last year’s events in Afghanistan.
Shortly after the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, Qatar was able to facilitate the largest airlift of people in history at a fast rate. The Gulf state has since managed to evacuate over 70,000 Afghans and foreigners from the country.
“The President will also thank Amir Tamim for Qatar’s extraordinary and ongoing effort to ensure the safe transit from Afghanistan of US citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghan partners,” noted Psaki.
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.
Even 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.
Speaking to Al Sharq newspaper on Tuesday, Advisor on Middle East affairs at the US Council on Foreign Relations, John Rivenblad, highlighted the increased confidence between the US and Qatar.
Commenting on the US consultations with Qatar over LNG supplies to Europe, Rivenblad said that the North Field expansion project, the world’s largest natural gas project, would enable it to provide the region with the required supplies.
The Qatar-owned LNG supplier, QatarEnergy, has ramped up efforts over the past year to become the largest provider of natural gas by 2030.
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