U.S. President Joe Biden and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani are meeting at the White House on Monday, with discussions about Qatar supplying natural gas to Europe in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine at the forefront of their talks.
The emir is the first Persian Gulf leader to meet with Biden in Washington during his year-old presidency.
The meeting’s timing is not coincidental, as the U.S. and Western allies worry that if they impose severe economic sanctions on Moscow in the event it invades its former Soviet republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin could retaliate by cutting off energy supplies to Western European countries.
Russia supplies about a 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.
With Doha’s already existing energy contracts in place 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 the event of a Moscow invasion of Ukraine. Russia says it has no plans to attack Ukraine, but also has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern flank, with U.S. officials saying an invasion could occur at any time.
Aside from talks with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 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 at a time when the U.S. is searching for a path to deal with the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the U.S. fled the country in August in a chaotic ending after 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 Tamim are also likely to discuss ongoing attempts by the U.S. to rejoin the international treaty to constrain Iran’s nuclear program that former President Donald Trump withdrew from.
In his Washington visit, Tamim is also likely to push the U.S. to approve its request to buy U.S. Predator drones and American F-35 stealth fighters.