The UK’s new ambassador to Qatar has said he’s hopeful that the government will purchase British-made Typhoon fighter jets despite plans to order 24 French warplanes.
Ajay Sharma, who took up his post in Doha in mid-November, made the remarks in a roundtable discussion with reporters earlier today.
“We’re continuing our discussions with the Qatari authorities. We hope they will take a decision to buy Typhoon because we think it is the right aircraft for Qatar,” Sharma said.
Currently, Qatar’s air force effectively consists of 12 French-made Mirage 2000 planes that analysts have said were manufactured in the late 1990s.
Reports emerged in 2013 that Qatar was planning to bolster this with 72 new fighter jets amid a broader military buildup that included some QR87 billion worth of new equipment.
Last year’s deal with French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation will reportedly add another €6.3 billion (QR24.77 billion) to that total.
Though Qatar is slashing spending amid plunging government revenues, some analysts have argued that the country does not appear to be cutting its defense budget.
Sharma said the country’s defense and security relationship extends beyond arms sales and also includes co-ordinated efforts against ISIS and the UK training of Qatari military officers, a program the ambassador said he’d like to see expanded.
Sharma describes himself as a career diplomat who has spent more than 20 years working in the British Foreign Service.
Before arriving in Qatar, Sharma was the UK’s deputy negotiator in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and was part of the team that reopened the British Embassy in Tehran last summer.
He arrived in Qatar at a time when bilateral trade between it and the UK is booming, having doubled between February 2011 and March 2015 to £4.4 billion (QR22.9 billion), driven mostly by natural gas sales.
At the same time, Qataris have been actively buying up real estate in the UK as well as purchasing well-known companies such as luxury retailer Harrods.
While some have suggested that “London is being sold off to Qatar,” Sharma said he welcomed Qatar’s financial interest in the UK, saying:
“The UK is the primary destination for Qatari investment and we want to stay in that position.”
World Cup defense
The ambassador also distanced himself from critics in the UK who have argued that Qatar should be stripped of the 2022 World Cup over corruption allegations and the abuse of blue-collar workers.
“The World Cup is going to be here, we want to be a part of – we’re going to try to qualify for it when the time comes – and we all want to help build the infrastructure that supports it,” he said.
He added however that British companies that win World Cup contracts should be operating in Qatar in a way that’s “consistent with international standards.”
Sharma said that he met with several members of the British trade union Unite over the weekend during the labor organization’s visit to Qatar alongside several UK politicians.
According to the Peninsula, the union wanted the ambassador to “open up a channel of communication with the Qatari government.”
“We can assist the government to enforce those (labour) laws and to make sure that they are monitored, and any abuses of workers are brought to their (officials’) attention. And we can raise the standards,” Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey was quoted as saying.
Sharma told Doha News that the meeting also included a discussion about the ways the embassy and labor activists could work with the Qatar government to make labor inspections “as effective as possible.”
He added that no proposals were officially adopted.