As Russia weighs an invasion and seeks to keep Ukraine from being declared a NATO ally, President Joe Biden has informed Congress he has designated Qatar a major non-NATO ally.
"Qatar is a good friend and a reliable partner," Biden said during a meeting Monday with the Gulf country’s head of state Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. 'It's long overdue."
The announcement comes after Qatar played a lead role in assisting efforts to evacuate U.S. nationals and supporters from Afghanistan. Qatar has been a liaison between the U.S. and the Taliban during the past three U.S. administrations.
Qatar, who hosts the U.S. Centcom’s forward command at Al Udeid air base, has engaged in quiet diplomacy to ending Israel-Hamas warfare in Gaza last year.
Former President Donald Trump has sought to get U.S. approval for more than $500 million in sales of MQ-9 Reaper drones, and the designation might help move that stalled deal, according to The Associated Press.
A senior administration source told the AP the designation's timing is not tied to potentially giving European allies an energy alternative to Russia if Ukraine is invaded.
Brazil is the latest major non-NATO ally to be designated, back in 2019, and Qatar will become the 18th. The designation provides benefits in defense trade and security cooperation, including eligibility for loan programs and priority delivery for certain military sales.
"We're very happy and proud of this great relationship," Al-Thani said. "We will continue working together to find ways and means to bring peace in our region."
With some 100,000 Russian troops massed at the Ukraine border, experts say Qatar — the world's second-biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — is eager to help again but might only be able to offer limited assistance if Russia further disrupts the flow of energy supplies to Europe.
"Qatar sees this as an opportunity to further improve its relationship with the U.S. after Afghanistan,'" said Yesar Al-Maleki, an energy economist at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "But it is going to be very hard to do because there isn't excess supply."
Qatar is already producing at full capacity with much of its supply under contract to Asia. Even if some Pacific allies of the U.S. — including India, Japan and South Korea — are persuaded to divert some LNG orders contracted to Europe, it will only have a small impact in softening the blow, according to energy analysts.
"It opens up a whole new range of opportunities … not just with the United States bilaterally but with other allies," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during Monday's press briefing. "And perhaps the application of acquisition of capabilities, as well."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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