Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim al Thani meets with US President Donald Trump in Washington after his country enters the third year of a blockade by Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani visited the US, in a sign of strengthening ties between Washington and Doha.
The Gulf emirate has been under an air, sea, and land blockade by its neighbours Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE since May 2017.
Sheikh Tamim’s meeting with US President Donald Trump marks a U-turn in ties between the two men.
At the beginning of the blockade, under Riyadh’s influence, Trump sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies, which are also supported by Egypt. The president accused Qatar of being “a funder of terrorism”.
But Trump’s stance on Qatar quickly changed, seemingly because of strong opposition inside his national security team, which advised him not to be a part of disagreements among the Gulf’s wealthy dynasties, and stressing the fact that Doha hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East.
After the meeting in the White House, Trump lavished praise on his Qatari counterpart, praising him as “a highly respected man, a real leader in a large part of the world and a very important part of the world”.
The comments were in keeping with his apparent tendency to generously praise key buyers of US military hardware and commercial equipment.
He applauded his friendship with the emir during the press conference and indicated that there would be a “large transaction” between Washington and Doha.
"[The] investments that you make in the United States - one of the largest in the world - are very much appreciated," Trump also said during the dinner banquet.
For his part, Qatar’s young leader chose to emphasise the shared values between the two countries from their “commitment to human capital” to “education, openness and opportunity for all”.
Though a country of only some 300,000 citizens. Qatar is one of the largest producers of liquified natural gas in the world and has used its wealth to establish global brands such as the media outlet, Al Jazeera, and airline Qatar Airways.
"Unfortunately, there are some in my region who do not share our beliefs. In today's world, at times, alliances have to be made with necessary partners, and certain allies are not actually friends," Sheikh Tamim said in a thinly veiled attack on his neighbours.
Qatar’s counter-blockade efforts
Since the blockade, Qatar has moved to improve its relations with Washington, intensively pursuing a lobbying effort to neutralise the Riyadh-led anti-Qatar political campaign.
Qatar hired the former attorney general John Ascroft’s lobbying firm to access the White House and has also reportedly reached out to 250 individuals, who could have an effect on Trump’s decision-making process.
The lobbying has come in tandem with cold hard cash.
The country’s flagship carrier, Qatar Airways, has bought Boeing commercial aircraft and expressed a willingness to buy other equipment from leading US companies.
Qatar’s defence ministry has also said that it will procure Raytheon’s Patriot and NASAM air defence systems.
Qatar’s unlikely contacts
Qatar, which shares gas fields with its neighbour to the north, Iran, has also positioned itself as a potential mediator between Iran and the US.
According to Jassim al Thani, a top official at the Qatari embassy in Washington, the country has offered to make contact with Tehran, if Washington wished to do so.
Doha has already been instrumental in initiating talks between the Taliban and various Afghan government factions, which are expected to culminate with talks on the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country.