Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is set to visit the White House this week for his first in-person meeting with US President Joe Biden, as analysts say the Gulf country again finds itself uniquely situated to play a critical role in United States foreign policy.
Topping the agenda on Monday’s meeting, according to the White House, will be efforts to ensure “the stability of global energy supplies”, a not-so-veiled reference to fever-pitched tensions with Russia over Ukraine that could see Europe seek new avenues for its hefty natural gas needs.
Qatar, a country of 2.8 million, is the world’s second-largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG) – just slightly behind the US – and has an outsized influence on the market.
The meeting also comes as the US is searching for a way forward with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, where Doha has served as Washington’s diplomatic representative since November – and as US and Iranian officials say multilateral negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal may be reaching an end game.
Qatar maintains ties with both the US and Iran and, as the host of the US military’s Central Command in the region, has a particularly vested interest in avoiding conflict. The Gulf nation is also preparing to take the global stage when it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November, an event that has drawn renewed scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers. The government has pointed to an array of reforms, but rights groups say it has not gone far enough.
“Qatar finds itself at the nexus of the most pressing geopolitical issues of the day at the moment,” Omar Rahman, a Middle East political analyst and former Brookings Institution fellow, told Al Jazeera. “I think the Biden administration wants to discuss their perspective on these issues, as well as finding a way to advance mutual interests.”
The emir’s visit to Washington, DC, comes as most other US foreign policy priorities have taken a back seat to Russia’s buildup of 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of an invasion and provoking a flurry of diplomacy that has seen little progress.
Amid the standoff, the Biden administration has been scrambling to find an energy security plan for Europe, which relies on Russia for around a third of its natural gas supply, according to Reuters, which is used to heat homes and power its industrial and manufacturing sectors.
The crisis comes as natural gas prices remain at record high levels, with global supplies lagging amid the coronavirus pandemic recovery. Last week, the Bloomberg news agency reported the Biden administration has been in talks with Qatar to possibly supply more LNG to the European Union.
Qatar already supplies about 5 percent of the continent’s supply, with analysts saying the Gulf state is currently locked into several long-term export contracts that may make a short-term surge to Europe impossible.
“If there are restraints or limitations that come on Russia’s export of gas, especially to Europe, Qatar is going to become even more relevant and even more key to the global energy supply,” Rahman noted.
When asked about the reports last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to specifically address Qatar, but said the US is “in discussion with major natural gas producers around the globe to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas output and to allocate these volumes to European buyers”.
Meanwhile, the US has resumed evacuation flights from Afghanistan after a months-long pause, with the Axios news site reporting that Washington hopes to accelerate the evacuation of thousands of vulnerable Afghans left behind when Western countries chaotically withdrew at the end of August 2021.
The first evacuation flight after the pause left Kabul for Doha on Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported. Qatar, which previously hosted talks between the Taliban and the US that eventually led to a 2020 US troop withdrawal agreement, continues to be a key partner for Washington on the issue.
The situation puts Qatar “back to where [it] wanted to be” as a “flexible, active, useful interlocutor for the United States”, said Tobias Borck, a research fellow for Middle East security studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
“The Afghanistan withdrawal, which was an absolute disaster for most countries, gave Qatar the opportunity to really demonstrate its strength rather impressively, and that was noticed in the US and that was noticed elsewhere, too,” he told Al Jazeera, adding the situation resulted in a long-sought strategic dialogue between the countries in November.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani held talks with his counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran last week, in what some observers suggested could be related to the emir’s upcoming US visit.
Iran’s state news agency sought to douse the speculation, saying some are “fabricating” that the Tehran meeting is a means to “facilitate direct talks with the United States”.
However, in recent days, US and Iranian officials have voiced openness to meeting directly to discuss a return to the nuclear deal, after months of talks in Vienna between Tehran and the other signatories to the accord.
Last week, White House National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk said the parties were “in the ballpark” of reaching a deal but said there remains “a very real chance that these talks could collapse very soon”.
The White House visit also represents the first meeting between Qatar’s emir and a US president since the end last year of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, which began in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – along with non-GCC member Egypt – imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Qatar.
While regional relations have since improved, the blockade, which saw Qatar turn to its allies across the world, “will impact Qatari foreign policy for decades to come”, Borck said. That was echoed by Rahman, who said its effect would surely inform US-Qatari relations going forward.
“The blockade made the strong relationship with the United States even more imperative than it was before,” he said, “if that’s even possible.”
President Kais Dissolves Top Judicial Watchdog
Tunisia’s president dissolves top judicial watchdog
Tunisian President Kais Saied has dissolved a judicial council that deals with the independence of judges.
Saied – who had dismissed the government and suspended parliament last July – said on Sunday that the Supreme Judicial Council was a “thing of the past”.
sassinations of left-wing activists in 2013.
His decision raises fears about the independence of the judiciary and caps months of his sharp criticism of Tunisia’s judges.
Last month, he revoked all financial privileges for members of the top judicial council, which was formed in 2016 and tasked with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, disciplining judges and granting them professional promotions.
“In this council, positions and appointments are sold according to loyalties. Their place is not the place where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said in a speech in the interior ministry.
“You cannot imagine the money that certain judges have been able to receive, billions and billions,” he added.
The council’s dissolution comes on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid, with parties and organizations, including the powerful UGTT union, preparing to hold demonstrations later in the day to pressure the judiciary to hold those involved in terrorism accountable.
It is expected that Saied’s supporters also will protest in a second demonstration against the Supreme Judicial Council.
“I tell Tunisians to demonstrate freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council,” Saied said.
Saied’s approval of Sunday’s demonstrations comes even though a government decision to ban all demonstrations remains in effect.
Last month, police fired water cannons and beat protesters with sticks to break up an opposition protest against Saied, whose seizure of broad powers and declared plans to redraw the constitution have cast doubt on Tunisia’s decade-old democratic system and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for public finances.
The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum.
He has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Has Apologiseda To Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australia PM Morrison’s deputy sorry for calling leader a ‘liar’
Morrison said in a statement on Saturday that he accepted Joyce’s apology.
In a leaked message, the deputy prime minister, who heads the junior partner in Morrison’s coalition government, said last year that he had never trusted Morrison.
“He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time,” Joyce wrote to a former staffer of Morrison’s Liberal Party who had alleged sexual assault by a fellow staffer.
Joyce’s remarks further shake the political position of Morrison, who must call a federal election by May. His approval ratings have fallen over his handling of an Omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak.
“I want to apologise to the prime minister … I should have never written the text that I did,” Joyce told a news conference.
“My view from the backbench about the prime minister was based on assumption and commentary, not from a one-on-one working relationship.”
Joyce became deputy prime minister in 2021 as the leader of the National Party, not as Morrison’s appointee. Joyce’s party, which has the power to remove him as its leader, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Morrison responded, “Relationships change over time. Politicians are human beings too. We all have our frailties and none of us are perfect.”
Joyce’s text message, first reported on Friday night by Nine Newspapers, was sent through a third party to former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins. She had alleged that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House in March 2019.
The political commotion comes just days after a controversy about an alleged exchange between senior Liberal Party members making derogatory remarks about Morrison.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “untenable” for Joyce to continue as deputy prime minister.
“I couldn’t care less that the Liberal Party members all don’t like each other,” Albanese said at a briefing. “What I do care about is the consequences of a government that is dysfunctional.”
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Former Vice President Mike Pence has directly rebutted Donald Trump’s false claims that he somehow could have overturned the results of the 2020 election in the United States, saying that the former president was simply “wrong”.
In a speech to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida on Friday, Pence addressed Trump’s intensifying efforts this week to advance the false narrative that, as vice president, he had the unilateral power to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office.
“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
Pence’s declaration marked his most forceful response yet to Trump, who has spent his post-presidency stoking the lie that the 2020 campaign was stolen from him. And it comes as Pence begins laying the groundwork for a potential run for president in 2024, which could put him in direct competition with his former boss, who is also teasing a comeback run.
The relationship between the two men took on a new dynamic this week as Trump escalated his attacks on Pence.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said the committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol should instead probe “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval”. And on Sunday, he blasted Pence, falsely declaring that “he could have overturned the Election!”
Vice presidents play only a ceremonial role in the counting of Electoral College votes, and any attempt to interfere in the count would have represented an extraordinary violation of the law and an assault on the democratic process.
Pence, in his remarks on Friday to the group of lawyers in Lake Buena Vista, described January 6, 2021, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol” and framed his actions that day as in line with his duty as a constitutional conservative.
“The American people must know that we will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” he told the group on Friday.
He noted that, under Article II Section One of the Constitution, “elections are conducted at the state level, not by the Congress” and that “the only role of Congress with respect to the Electoral College is to open and count votes submitted and certified by the states. No more, no less.”
He went on to call out those who have insisted that is not the case.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he added. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
The audience applauded Pence’s line about beating the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election, but remained silent when Pence said earlier that “Trump is wrong”.
Pence was inside the Capitol on January 6, presiding over the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently smashed inside, assaulting police officers and hunting down legislators.
Pence, who released a letter moments before the session got underway that made clear he had no authority to overturn the will of the voters, was rushed to safety as some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
The former vice president, in his remarks Friday, acknowledged the lingering anger among many in Trump’s base, even as he said it was time “to focus on the future”.
“The truth is, there’s more at stake than our party or political fortunes,” he said. “Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”
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