US Secretary Blinken to travel to Doha for World Cup, strategic dialogue

Secretary of State Antony Blinken to land in Doha on November 21, where he will attend the World Cup and take part in the fifth annual US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will land in Qatar on Monday to support Team USA in its first 2022 FIFA World Cup match and to attend the US-Qatar joint Strategic Dialogue, a State Department statement said on Friday.

Blinken will recognise Doha’s important contribution to international sports diplomacy, as the Gulf country hosts the World Cup.

“The Secretary will be cheering on the US Men’s National Team in its first game of the World Cup, as the United States takes on Wales,” thestatement said.

Blinken will be in Qatar between 21 and 22 November, where he is scheduled to meet senior Qatari officials, including Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

“He will also recognise Qatar’s important contribution to international sports diplomacy as it hosts the World Cup[…]he will reiterate US appreciation for the long-standing partnership between the United States and Qatar and discuss a range of priorities,” the statement said.

The Qatar-US Strategic Dialogue, which will be held on Tuesday, is expected to address security cooperation, trade and investment, humanitarian assistance, international development, labour and human rights. 

The annual high-profile meeting, which was launched in 2018 in Washington, brings together Qatari and US officials to address issues of mutual concern, and often results in agreements boosting bilateral relations between the two states.

Last year’s meeting took place in Washington just months after the US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, ending America’s longest war.

At the time, Qatar had stepped in to conduct history’s largest air lift of people.

Doha safely evacuated at least 80,000 Afghans and foreigners, including thousands of Americans

In the aftermath of the US and NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington moved its embassy from Kabul to Doha to allow diplomats to carry out operations outside of the country.

During the previous Strategic Dialogue, Qatar and the US signed an agreement enabling Doha to represent Washington’s interest in Afghanistan following the closure of the American embassy in Kabul.

Qatar also hosts the Al-Udeid Airbase, the largest American military post in the Middle East, which is used extensively by the US for its operations in the region. At least 10,000 American military service members are based in Al-Udeid.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1972, which marked the beginning of a strategic alliance between them.

Their cooperation was further highlighted this year with the US joining Qatar’s international partners in providing security for the World Cup.

Members of Qatar’s police forces had met with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) Transit Bureau team in January to exchange expertise over safety and security best practices during major events.

More recently, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed agreements with Qatar over World Cup security.

The DHS would help “identify air passengers linked to terrorism, trafficking, detecting watchlisted travelers, and monitoring potential security risks at Hamad International Airport”, as it previously explained in a joint statement.

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.

The designation provides Washington’s foreign partners with several benefits in areas concerning defence trade and security cooperation.

US investigation into killing of Palestinian journalist

The latest US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue meeting comes as US President Joe Biden’s administration announced it will investigate the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, following pressure from the international community and rights groups.

Last week, the FBI said it has opened an investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist, who was shot dead six months ago while reporting in the occupied West Bank.

The investigation will see Washington, Israel’s main ally, investigate actions of Israeli forces involved in the killing of the veteran journalist.

In May, the world was left shocked after footage surfaced online showed the body of Abu Akleh slumped on the ground in Jenin, where she had been deployed to cover an Israeli raid.

Abu Akleh was killed while reporting, wearing a reporter’s blue vest and helmet, clearly identifying her as a member of the press. 

The bullet had hit a part of Abu Akleh’s skull which was not covered by the helmet she wore at the time.

A previous US inquiry found that the bullet was likely fired “unintentionally” by Israeli forces, in an apparent attempt to divert blame for the killing.

Qatar key mediator in Iran nuclear deal negotiations

As a key mediator, Qatar had hosted a round of indirect talks between the US and Iran in June in an effort to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Qatar served as a platform for dialogue in an effort to restore the deal, with officials from the Gulf state continuously holding discussions with the US and Iranians.

Talks over the JCPOA’s revival took place after negotiations kicked off in Vienna in April last year, which yielded no results. 

The talks currently appear to be at a stalemate amid ongoing tensions between the US and Iran.

The lifting of the crippling US sanctions has been a key demand for Iran.

Speaking to French outlet Le Point in September, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said that while no one officially approached Doha for mediation, it continued talking with the Americans and Iranians.

“We are talking with our US allies, and we are talking with the Iranians, because Iran is our neighbour. It is in our duty and interest to do everything to bring the parties together and to encourage them in negotiating a peaceful settlement,” Sheikh Tamim said at the time.

During the latest UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim also stressed the need to reach an agreement that addressed the concerns of all parties.

“No one has an alternative to such an agreement, and reaching it would be in the interest in the security and stability of the region and will open the door to a broader dialogue at the regional security level,” said the amir.

The US unilaterally stepped out of the JCPOA in 2018 under Donald Trump’s administration in an effort to exert maximum pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear activity.

Russia-Ukraine war

The ongoing Russian war on Ukraine has been a key issue of concern, which has impacted global energy and food supply.

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.

The region previously received 40% of its gas supplies from Moscow, and almost a third of the shipments pass through Ukraine. However, supplies dropped amid sanctions against Russia following its invasion of its neighbour. 

As a key liquified natural gas (LNG) producer, Qatar was approached by several European countries in an effort to secure their energy supply. 

However, the Gulf state repeatedly stressed that it cannot fulfil the gap in supply alone while expressing its willingness to support its international partners in times of need.

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