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Biden announces plans to designate Qatar as 'major non-NATO ally'

Biden announces plans to designate Qatar as 'major non-NATO ally'
President Joe Biden announced plans to name Qatar a "major non-NATO" ally during a meeting with Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Photo by Tom Brenner/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Monday announced plans to designate Qatar as a "major non-NATO ally" during a meeting with leader Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House.

During a joint news conference ahead of the meeting, Biden said he would notify Congress of the plans, which he described as a "long overdue" step in the partnership between the two nations.

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The United States expects Qatar to be a key ally amid fears that Russia may invade Ukraine. The gas-rich Middle Eastern country could play a major role as a supplier if Russia were to disrupt European markets by sending military forces into Ukraine -- a crisis that's concerned Western nations for months and was the focus of a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday.

Biden did not mention specifically what kind of role Qatar may play in the conflict but assured "we are ready no matter what happens."

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Also one of the most dependable U.S. allies in the Middle East, Qatar hosted negotiations between the United States and the Taliban over Afghanistan under former President Donald Trump and presently has 10,000 U.S. troops stationed there.

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"This past year, the partnership with Qatar has been central to many of our most vital interests, relocating tens of thousands of Afghans, maintaining stability in Gaza and for providing life saving assistance to the Palestinians, keeping pressure on ISIS and deterring threats across the Middle East. And a lot more," Biden said.

In his comments, al-Thani noted that 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Qatar and the United States.

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"We're very happy and proud of this great relationship. And we're going to continue working together to find ways and means to bring peace in our region," he said.

He added that two countries would mainly discuss "the security of our region" as well as "equal rights of the Palestinian people."

Biden and al-Thani "will consult on a range of regional and global issues of mutual interest, including promoting security and prosperity in the Gulf and broader Middle East region, ensuring the stability of global energy supplies, supporting the people of Afghanistan and strengthening commercial and investment cooperation between our countries," the White House said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

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Biden in recent weeks has been trying to secure natural gas for Europe in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which would disrupt supplies going through Eastern Europe.

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Qatar, which will also host the quadrennial FIFA World Cup this year, has received some criticism for its treatment of migrant workers.

"Qatar finds itself at the nexus of the most pressing geopolitical issues of the day at the moment," Omar Rahman, a Middle East political analyst and former Brookings Institution fellow, told Al Jazeera.

"I think the Biden administration wants to discuss their perspective on these issues, as well as finding a way to advance mutual interests."

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