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U.S. President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2022.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Qatar going global?

On Monday, US President Joe Biden designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally after hosting its emir at the White House. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was the first Gulf leader to meet with Biden in person since he became president.

Biden and Tamim discussed how Qatar might supply more of its plentiful natural gas to Europe in case Russia’s President Vladimir Putin decides to turn off the tap in response to possible US/EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. That’s a long shot, given that 90 percent of Qatari gas exports are now tied up in long-term contracts — although Doha has ways to to fill a short-term supply gap if needed.

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What We're Watching: Qatar-Saudi embrace, Jack Ma's whereabouts, Egyptian incompetence

Qatar blockade lifted: A bitter dispute between Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar has begun to ease after Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani flew to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit and was warmly embraced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The immediate cause of the détente was Riyadh's decision to lift a years-long land and air blockade that significantly disrupted Qatar's economic activity and led to a bitter standoff in the Gulf. (The Saudis, along with Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE launched a joint blockade against Qatar in 2017, citing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and regional foes Iran and Turkey.) It's unclear what concessions Qatar made in exchange for beginning the normalization process, though President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, a close friend of MBS, has been lobbying for the move for some time. Qatar has long denied claims that it supports Islamic extremist groups and rebuffed demands like terminating Turkey's military presence within its borders. As for the timing for the rapprochement, it could reflect a feeling that increased GCC cooperation is needed as the incoming Biden administration in the US is expected to promptly re-engage in talks with Iran.

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