Qatar Wins US Protection by Expanding the US Air Base

The US and Qatar signed a new pact on Tuesday, Jan. 30, whereby the US agreed to “deter and confront external threats” to the emirate’s territorial integrity. A few days earlier, it was announced that the US Al Udeid air base in Doha was to be expanded.

The deal was concluded at a meeting in Washington attended by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis and their Qatari opposite numbers, Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani and Defense Minister Khalid al-Attiyah.

Al Udeid currently holds around 10,000 US troops and serves as the headquarters of the US Air Force Central Command.

The pact went forward although Washington easily envisioned the sour faces in Riyadh, Cairo and Abu Dhabi over the favored treatment awarded to their Gulf Arab rival, Qatar. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi would have calculated that it would not be up to Tillerson or Mattis to decide when – or if – to send the US military to defend Qatar, but President Donald Trump in person. And he had already come down on their side in their running feud with Qatar.

But this was only cold comfort, especially in view of the cavalier way their feud was treated at the bilateral meeting in Washington. The communique stated that Qatar and the US “expressed the need for an immediate resolution which respects Qatar’s sovereignty.”

Another US-Qatari statement said both countries were committed to promoting peace and stability and countering the “scourge of terrorism.” And indeed, just 24 hours after the pact was signed, Washington added former Palestinian Prime Minister, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniya, to its sanctions list as a Specially Designated terrorist. The new pact obliges Qatar to impound Haniyeh’s property and, if he arrives in the emirate, to arrest him upon a US request.

It is noteworthy that Qatar is one of the largest purchasers of US military equipment. Their current sales contract is worth $24bn.

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