WASHINGTON: The United States is planning to designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally, President Joe Biden has told Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a move that would formally upgrade the partnership between Doha and Washington.
During a meeting with Sheikh Tamim at the White House on Monday, Biden called Qatar a “good friend and reliable partner”.
“I’m notifying Congress that I will designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally to reflect the importance of our relationship; I think it’s long overdue,” Biden said from the Oval Office.
The status would give Doha special economic and military privileges in its relationship with Washington.
“The Major Non-NATO Ally designation is a powerful symbol of the close relationship the United States shares with those countries and demonstrates our deep respect for the friendship for the countries to which it is extended,” the State Department says in a fact sheet.
Qatar would become the second country in the Gulf region after Kuwait to become a US major non-NATO ally.
Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington, the first since Biden took office in January 2021, comes amid a diplomatic and military crisis in eastern Europe, where the US fears that Russia may be planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, the White House said Biden would discuss “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies” with the Qatari emir. Qatar is one of the largest producers of liquified natural gas (LNG).
Europe relies heavily on Russian energy supplies that may become subject to sanctions, cuts or disruptions if Russia, which has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, decides to invade its neighbour.
On Monday, Biden said the partnership with Qatar has been “central” to many US vital interests, including Doha’s assistance in evacuating US citizens and allies during Washington’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.
The US president also cited Qatar’s role in maintaining stability in Gaza and providing “life-saving assistance” to Palestinians.
Later on Monday, Biden formally notified Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, of his intent to upgrade Qatar’s status.
“I am making this designation in recognition of Qatar’s many years of contributions to US-led efforts in the US Central Command area of responsibility and in recognition of our own national interest in deepening bilateral defense and security cooperation with the State of Qatar,” he said in a letter to the Democratic lawmaker.
For his part, Sheikh Tamim said ahead of the meeting with Biden that he will discuss a range of issues with the US president, including the security of the region and the “equal rights of the Palestinian people”.
The two countries have demonstrated during the Afghanistan withdrawal how strongly they can cooperate together, the emir said. “We’re going to continue working together to find ways to bring peace in our region,” he added.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said the Qatar-US relationship has strengthened over the first year of the Biden administration, with Qatar playing an important role in Afghanistan and the Gulf region, as well as in trying to bridge differences with Iran.
“All of that of course has been quite important for upgrading its status,” Bishara said. “For the United States, it is part of President Biden’s attempt to rebuild America’s alliances around the world.”
Earlier on Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also lauded Qatar’s help with the Afghanistan evacuations.
“We couldn’t have evacuated more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan without your help at Camp As Sayliyah and Al Udeid,” Austin told Sheikh Tamim, according to a readout released by the Pentagon. “You welcomed with open arms those who left Afghanistan to find a new beginning.”
Coinciding with Sheikh Tamim’s visit, Qatar Airways placed a provisional order for dozens of passenger jets with US manufacturer, the Boeing Company.
Biden applauded the deal, which he said is worth $20bn. “[It’s] one of the largest deals that Boeing aircraft has ever had, and it will support tens of thousands of good-paying US jobs here in America,” the US president said.