U.S. President Joe Biden and Qatar's Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met at the White House on Monday. At the forefront of their talks were discussions about Qatar supplying natural gas to Europe in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine.
Just ahead of their meeting, Biden described Qatar as a "major non-NATO ally" and the emir as "a good friend and reliable partner."
"We're committed to your nation and our friendship," Biden told Sheikh Tamim.
The emir, the first Persian Gulf leader to meet with Biden in Washington during his year-old presidency, said Qatar and the U.S. have "a very strong relationship." Sheikh Tamim said he planned to discuss "equal rights for Palestinians" with Biden and ways to pursue Middle East peace.
The meeting's timing is not coincidental, as the U.S. and Western allies worry that if they impose severe economic sanctions on Russia in response to an invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin would retaliate by cutting off energy supplies to Western European countries.
Russia supplies about one-third of Western Europe's energy needs. Qatar, a country of about 2.9 million people, is the world's second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, slightly behind the United States, and plays an important role in world energy markets.
Because Doha already has energy contracts with Asian nations, analysts say it is unclear whether Qatar has the gas-producing capacity to also help supply Europe.
The U.S. and Western allies have been attempting to lay out various contingencies in case Moscow invades Ukraine. Although Russia says it has no plans to attack Ukraine, it has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's eastern flank. U.S. officials say an invasion could occur at any time.
Aside from talks with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Sheikh Tamim is also scheduled to meet Monday with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and key members of Congress.
Biden's talks with the emir come as the U.S. searches for a path to deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the U.S. fled the country in August in a chaotic ending to its 20-year war there. Qatar has been the U.S. representative in Kabul since then and initially housed 60,000 Afghan refugees looking to emigrate to the U.S.
Biden and Sheikh Tamim are also likely to discuss ongoing attempts by the U.S. to rejoin the international treaty to constrain Iran's nuclear program, which former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from.
In his Washington visit, Sheikh Tamim was also expected to push the U.S. to approve Qatar's request to buy U.S. Predator drones and American F-35 stealth fighters.