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Biden Hosts Qatari Leader to Talk Gas Supplies, Afghanistan

Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is the first GCC leader to visit the White House since Biden took office.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, arrives for the trophy ceremony of the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in the Qatari city of Khor on Dec. 18, 2021. Jack Guez/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visits the White House, Socialists win Portugal’s election, and the world this week.

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Qatar’s Emir Visits Washington

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visits the White House, Socialists win Portugal’s election, and the world this week.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Qatar’s Emir Visits Washington

U.S. President Joe Biden hosts the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the White House today, with a packed agenda in store.

Biden is expected to lean on the Qatari leader for support in countering the power of Russian gas exports in Europe by sending some of its own stocks to the continent. It’s not clear what capacity Qatar has to divert gas to Europe; it already accounts for roughly 5 percent of Europe’s gas, but the majority of its exports go to Asia.

On a call with reporters on Sunday afternoon, a senior Biden administration official refused to be drawn on the issue, only saying that the White House was “consulting with all the leading gas suppliers around the world.”

It’s not the first time the United States has turned to its Gulf partner to help weather a geopolitical crisis. With the Biden administration refusing to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Qatar is now the official U.S. go-between on the ground, stepping in where the U.S. Embassy no longer operates.

Qatar also took the lead in evacuation flights during the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021. Those flights, chartered by the U.S. government and operated by Qatar Airways, resumed last Thursday following a weekslong hiatus.

The two men are also likely to take up the issue of Iran, at a time when talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal have shown signs of steady momentum. Unlike its Gulf competitors that are only now taking steps to mend their relationships with Tehran, Qatar has ties that go deeper, with the two countries sharing in the North Dome/South Pars oil field, the source of Qatar’s wealth.

While Biden has kept some Gulf leaders, most notably Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at arm’s length, the same can’t be said for Sheikh Tamim. “Qatar’s regional policies and the Biden administration’s have aligned in the sense that Biden has put diplomacy first,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at Rice University and author of Qatar and the Gulf Crisis, told Foreign Policy. “Qatar has since 2017 tried to dial down tensions, it hasn’t been the same as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which were heavily involved in inflaming regional conflicts.”

It’s likely that even after the chaotic exit from Afghanistan, the U.S. government will still be looking to Doha to iron out its more difficult problems, Coates Ulrichsen said: “The fact the Qataris have relationships and can bring people together that cannot talk directly, from a U.S. perspective, that could produce results with Iran too.”

And what will Qatar want from the meeting? By being the first Gulf Cooperation Council leader to visit the White House under Biden, Sheikh Tamim has already won in the Gulf prestige stakes, but the emir is expected to press for more concrete results as well. While a future designation as a major non-NATO ally—floated in 2020 but not followed through—may be too much, clearance on a $500 million U.S. weapons sale is likely to be a priority.


The World This Week

Tuesday, Feb. 1: Russia assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of February.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visits Russia, where he is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wednesday, Feb. 2: The International Energy Agency holds a ministerial-level meeting, chaired by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

OPEC+ holds a ministerial-level meeting.

Thursday, Feb. 3: The European Central Bank makes its interest rate decision.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan pays a three-day visit to China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Beijing.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s term in office expires.

Friday, Feb. 4: The 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony takes place in Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Beijing.

Saturday, Feb. 5: African heads of state and government convene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Union leaders’ summit.

Sunday, Feb. 6: Queen Elizabeth II marks 70 years as British monarch. Official celebrations take place in June.

Costa Rica holds presidential and legislative elections.


What We’re Following Today

South Korea’s presidential contest. The two leading contenders for South Korea’s presidency, the Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung and conservative People Power Party’s Yoon Suk-yeol, go head to head in the first debate of the campaign season. The most recent poll gave Yoon a six-point lead over Lee. The two men are likely to discuss North Korea’s latest missile activity after it tested a nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday.

Portugal’s election. Portugal’s ruling Socialist Party came out on top in Sunday’s legislative elections, winning approximately 42 percent of the vote—enough to give it an absolute majority of 117 seats in the country’s 230-seat legislature under Portugal’s proportional representation system. The rival Social Democrats won 29 percent of the vote, while the right-wing Chega party won 7 percent, giving it 12 seats.


Keep an Eye On

Mali’s deadline. Today marks the self-imposed deadline for Mali’s military leadership to present an election timetable to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) following repeated delays. ECOWAS has already sanctioned officials involved in the May 2021 coup, and European officials have expressed frustration with the country’s leadership after it disrupted international efforts to combat the Islamic State in the Sahel region.

Israel’s president in UAE. Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates concludes today, bringing an end to a historic visit, the first of any Israeli president to the country. Herzog’s trip went smoothly, although UAE authorities on Monday reported intercepting a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi militants.


Odds and Ends

Ireland’s fishing community scored a victory over the Russian navy after Moscow caved to their demands to move naval exercises out of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. The fishermen had planned to stage a peaceful protest at sea if the exercises had gone ahead as planned, prompting a showdown between Dublin and Moscow.

On Saturday, Russia’s ambassador to Ireland said the exercises would be moved out of Ireland’s EEZ “as a gesture of goodwill” and aimed “not to hinder fishing activities by the Irish vessels in the traditional fishing areas.”

Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association welcomed the news and said that Russia “may have miscalculated.” Byrne’s organization is now calling for a 10-year moratorium on any country’s naval exercises within the Irish EEZ.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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