Blinken praises Qatar’s ‘meaningful strides’ in improving human rights

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Qatari FM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha on Tuesday for the fifth Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Qatar’s “meaningful strides” in addressing labour rights on Tuesday, after congratulating the Gulf state on hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The remarks came during a joint press briefing in Doha between Blinken and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

The diplomats met in the Gulf state for the fifth Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue, where they discussed issues concerning the region. 

The meeting also came a day after Blinken watched the first Team USA game against Wales, which ended at a 1-1 score that kept fans on their toes at the stadiums.

“Our team played with so much heart,” noted Blinken.

With Qatar facing criticism, particularly from the West, over its alleged violations of migrant workers’ rights even after the tournament kicked off, human rights was a key point on the agenda.

Blinken stressed that “Qatar has made meaningful strides in recent years to its labor laws to expand worker rights”, while highlighting the role of migrant workers in preparing the country to host the region’s first World Cup.

Sheikh Mohammed noted that “human rights are the responsibility of the state towards everyone who lives in Qatar, and reforms have been adopted to achieve this goal”.

The Qatari diplomat has also thanked Blinken for Washington’s role in supporting its hosting of the event.

Qatar has repeatedly responded to criticism over its treatment of migrant workers by citing its efforts to reform its legislation to address the concerns. Among the most important steps was the dismantling of the controversial kafala, or sponsorship, system. 

“Real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over,” added Blinken.

Some of the latest criticism Qatar faced has centered on the LGBTQ+ community, with questions over their presence in Doha repeatedly rising among the press. The Gulf state maintained that everyone is welcome to Qatar, stressing the need to focus on the beauty of the sport.

On Monday, FIFA also dropped the “One Love” armbands just hours after England captain Harry Kane and several other national captains said they would defy any prospective ban on the rainbow armbands.

Responding to a question on the matter, Blinken said that placing restrictions on the freedom of expression “is always concerning”, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

 “In my judgment, at least no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” said the US official.

Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue

Apart from the World Cup, the officials discussed regional issues of concern, including developments in the Iran nuclear deal’s revival, Iraq’s situation, and the global energy crisis.

The Palestinian case was also a key issue of concern, which Sheikh Mohammed stressed “remains a central issue”.

The two countries also signed a letter of intent on the World Cup legacy for the years 2022-2026.

Throughout the press conference, there was great emphasis on Qatar’s diplomacy and mediation efforts, a key part of Doha’s foreign policy.

Blinken reiterated the US’ appreciation for Qatar’s major role in Afghanistan last year in carrying out history’s largest airlift of people. The mass evacuations took place once the Taliban seized Kabul on 15 August at the time.

As chaos ensued at the Kabul airport, Qatar was able to safely evacuate at least 80,000 Afghans and foreigners.

In January, the US named Qatar as a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA) in a move that analysts say reflects the strengthening ties between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Blinken expressed his gratitude for Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s decision to ramp up the production of liquified natural gas (LNG) amid the latest energy crisis.

While Europe has been grappling with an energy crisis in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, the war between Russia and Ukraine only exacerbated the situation in the market.

Qatar has proven its role as a reliable energy partner as it works towards expanding its LNG production through its mega North Field Expansion project, the largest of its kind.

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