WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Qatar’s emir to the White House Tuesday, calling the Arab country a strong partner in the battle to degrade and defeat the Islamic State militant group, which has taken large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The visit by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani - his first to the White House since he assumed power in 2013 - comes just days after Qatar protested Egyptian airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya.
Cairo launched the strikes last week after a video emerged showing the militant group murdering 21 Egyptian Christians.
Qatar recalled its ambassador to Egypt to protest what it called unilateral action that could hurt innocent civilians - revealing a fracture in the coalition long touted by the Obama administration.
But on Tuesday, the American president sat alongside Qatar’s emir in the Oval Office and expressed appreciation for the work Qatar has done in coordinating with other members of the coalition in the fight.
Obama said the U.S. and Qatar are committed to defeating Islamic State, supporting the Iraqi people and stabilizing Syria.
The two leaders also discussed the unrest in Yemen and Libya, and the importance of bringing peace to the region.
“I think we had a significant meeting of the minds in our shared belief that the more that we can work with all the countries in the region to try to find political solutions to problems, the more that we can reduce sectarian tensions in the regions and isolate violent extremists, the more effective we can be," Obama said.
The Qatari emir was brief in his remarks, echoing the American president on the strong ties between his country and the U.S.
Sheikh Tamim also expressed concern about the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa.
“We are concerned, as well, about the terrorist groups in our region," he said. "I think we all share the same view, the reason why those terrorist groups are growing in our region."
The remarks come from the leader of a country that U.S. Treasury officials say for years openly financed Hamas and allegedly supported extremist groups in Syria. Qatari officials have denied such allegations.
When asked about Qatar’s alleged financing of extremist groups following Tuesday’s talks, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the U.S. does not necessarily agree with the Qatari government on every issue, but:
“The bottom line is that our interests with Qatar converge somewhat more often than they actually diverge," he said. "Qatar has been of significant help on a range of regional issues including Afghanistan, Iran. As you know, the Qataris have even agreed to host a regional training site for the moderate Syrian opposition."
Earnest noted that the Qatari government also has been willing to work closely with the Obama administration on the issue of terrorism financing in preventing Islamic State from carrying out attacks.
During the White House meeting, Obama said he gave the emir an update on the Iran nuclear talks and the goal of ensuring that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.
The two leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Sheikh Tamim noting Obama’s commitment to finding a solution on the issue.