U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly told Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Monday that Washington intends to make Qatar a major non-NATO ally.
This designation was created during former president Ronald Reagan’s term in the 1980s and is reserved for close U.S. non-NATO allies such as Israel, Australia, Japan, Egypt and South Korea.
With the Qatari emir at his side, Biden explained why Washington wants to upgrade its relations with Qatar.
“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,” the U.S. president stated. “I think it’s long overdue.”
Successive American presidents have utilized the term “major non-NATO ally” as a diplomatic carrot for rewarding non-NATO countries that are considered particularly important to U.S. interests. Israel and Egypt were among the first countries that received this status in 1987 by Reagan. Over the years, a growing number of Middle Eastern and North African states have joined the ranks of major non-NATO allies and they include Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait and Tunisia.
The elevation of Qatar to a major non-NATO ally is likely connected to the growing crisis between NATO and Russia. Despite its tiny size, Qatar is one of the world’s largest suppliers of liquefied natural gas and could potentially substitute Russia as a gas supplier to Europe if the Ukraine crisis escalates and Moscow decides to end its gas deliveries to the European continent.
During a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby stressed Qatar’s importance as a leading gas supplier, which could stabilize Western interests.
“It opens up a whole new range of opportunities … not just with the United States bilaterally but with other allies. And perhaps the application of acquisition of capabilities, as well,” said Kirby.
However, Qatar does not believe that it is able to unilaterally replace Europe’s gas needs in a situation where relations with Russia have deteriorated sharply.
“The volume of gas needed by the EU cannot be replaced by anyone unilaterally, without disturbing supplies to other regions around the world,” the Qatari Minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi stated.
The Qatari minister was referring to his nation’s contractual commitments that would prevent the Middle Eastern state from diverting vast amounts of gas to Europe from shipments already committed to other destinations worldwide.
Al-Kaabi stressed that Europe’s energy security depended on diversification and collaboration.
“Europe’s energy security requires a collective effort from many parties,” he said.
In addition, since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021, Qatar represents America’s interests in Afghanistan and plays a crucial role as an intermediary between the Biden administration and the Taliban regime in Kabul.
There is also a strong commercial dimension behind the Biden administration’s decision to upgrade its relations with Qatar.
The American aircraft manufacturer Boeing won a large order from Qatar Airways worth $34 billion. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker signed a provisional order for 25 737 Max 10 jets at a White House ceremony held on Monday. The high-profile event was attended by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S., Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani.
Biden hailed the large deal between Boeing and Qatar and said it would create “tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.”
In the Middle East, Qatar has served as an intermediary between rivals such as Hamas and Israel and also between Iran and the United States.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani recently visited Iran while Tehran and Washington are considering direct nuclear talks to find a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions between the Iranian regime and the Western powers.