U.S. President Joe Biden has designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally, placing it among its special allies in the region.
The announcement was made during a meeting between Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and Biden in the Oval Office. Biden called Qatar a “good friend and reliable partner.”
Qatar hosts the Al Udeid Air Base which is the U.S.’s main military base in the Middle East from which it has launched several wars and military operations, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The President during the meeting said that he plans to notify the U.S. Congress of the decision. He told reporters: “Qatar is a good friend and reliable and capable partner. And 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.”
A country that has a close strategic working relationship with the military of the U.S. can be designated as a major non-NATO ally. The last country that was designated was Brazil in 2019 and Qatar became the 18th country to receive the designation.
It provides the countries with an opportunity to avail loan programs and priority delivery of defence equipment sales and close security cooperation with the U.S.
John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary said: “The designation opens up a whole new range of opportunities for defence relationships, not just with the United States bilaterally but with other allies. It includes exercises, operations and perhaps the acquisition of capabilities as well…
“The defence chief shared his vision for integrated deterrence for the region, emphasising the importance of multilateral efforts and integrated operations with partners like Qatar to address threats.”
Sheikh Tamim said: “We are very happy and proud of this great relationship. We will continue working together to find ways and means to bring peace in our region.”
Qatar is currently the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas and if the crisis in Ukraine escalates the country may divert the gas to Europe which is currently supplied by Russia.
In the meeting, regional security and the situation in Afghanistan were also discussed. The two leaders also discussed plans to resurrect the Iranian Nuclear Deal that was signed in 2015.
However, on condition of anonymity a senior administration official told AP: “The non-NATO ally designation was not tied to Biden’s hopes for Qatar to help European allies with an energy contingency plan should Russia invade Ukraine. The designation was for Qatar’s help in Afghanistan and the Middle East.”
An official told reporters that the Al Thani is also meeting with Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss arms sales and military-related issues.
Biden said that strengthening commercial and investment cooperation was on the agenda of both the leaders. On the same day, a $34 billion deal between Qatar Airways Group and Boeing was reached and he said it is “one of the largest deals that Boeing aircraft has ever had and it will support tens of thousands of good-paying U.S. jobs here in America.”