Alwaght- Last week, the third round of strategic talks between Qatar and the US was held in Washington. According to the Turkish Anatolia News Agency, one of the most important results of this round of comprehensive talks, which began on September 14 with the participation of high-level delegations of the two sides, including the foreign and economy ministers, was to reach an agreement worth up to $ 26 billion regarding the sales of arms.
History and Objectives of US-Qatar Strategic Negotiations
So far, three rounds of strategic talks have been held between Doha and Washington. The first round of talks took place in January 2018 and the second in January 2019 in the US. The important factors about the start of these negotiations are the hazards that had been initiated after the crisis that began in the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in June 2017, due to the sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt aimed at Qatar. The countries that had sanctioned Qatar initially announced 13 conditions for the normalization of relations, which were opposed by Doha. The crisis was such that a military action by these countries against Doha was not far from reality. In these circumstances, the US, which initially supported the sanctions against Qatar, was pushing for mediation after realizing that the initial pressure on Qatar had not been successful, which was followed by the Iranians and the Turks support for Qatar, subsequently resulting in strengthening Doha's inclination towards Tehran and Ankara. On the other hand, the US had noticed that a full collapse of the GCC was possible in the event of an escalation of the crisis at hand, and therefore, formed the strategic negotiations to be applied between the two sides in order to encourage the Qataris.
In line with this, the United States issued a resolution reaffirming the need to respect Qatar's sovereignty and declare military support in the event of security matters, including military aggression towards the country, to send a clear message to the besieging countries.
Thus, Washington took advantage of the talks to strengthen its military and economic presence in Qatar and gain more economic benefits from Qatari investment in the United States. Over the past three rounds of negotiations, issues concerning arms sales and economic cooperation have been the priority.
At a recent meeting, Qatar's economy minister said: Qatar has invested billions of dollars in the US economy. He also stated that: Our economic partnership has exceeded $ 200 billion. The United States Secretary of the Treasury also said: The United States is the largest foreign direct investor with a total of $ 110.6 billion foreign investments in Qatar. And we are the largest export unit to this country with $ 6.5 billion in 2019. The energy sector continues to offer great opportunities for American companies. The North Field Expansion Project of Qatar’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is set to increase production from 77 million tons per year to 126 million tons by 2027.
At the second round of strategic talks in 2019, the United States raised the issue of the sales of arms worth around $ 26 billion to Qatar, which was emphasized for implementation in the current round of talks. After the start of the crisis between the Arab countries, the sales of arms have been the main objective of the United States in order to take full advantage of the tense situation created in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Furthermore, with the U.S. economy struggling with the coronavirus crisis and the unprecedented rise in unemployment, one of Donald Trump's main objectives is to rapidly solve economic problems in the run-up to the election by expanding arms sales. Another example is the emphasis of selling F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, that are the main nemesis of the Brotherhood organization and also an enemy to Doha.
Strengthening Al Udeid Air Base, US Gaining from Conflict
The emphasis of expanding Al Udeid's Air Base in Qatar at the recent summit should be seen as an announcement by Washington to Doha that no plans are set to close or relocate it.
In recent weeks, some Arab media close to the UAE and Saudi Arabia have raised speculation about the US plan to move Al Udeid Air Base (as the United States largest Air Base abroad), to the UAE as an alternative. Last month, in a controversial move, the UAE announced the normalization of relations with the Israeli regime. Accordingly, the discussion of the concessions received by Abu Dhabi from Washington as an advantage to normalizing relations with the Israeli regime had raised concerns amongst the Qataris.
These speculations also erupted in October 2019, when the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon planned to remotely monitor Al Udeid Air Base for a full day each month, eight hours a day, at a base located in Florida.
On a typical day in Al Udeid Air Base, it is said that CENTCOM monitors the activities of 300 US warplanes located in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with around 11,000 US military personnel stationed at the base. Last year, Qatar announced a budget of $ 1.8 billion for the development of Al Udeid Air Base in order to please the White House and get the attention of Trump. As for the United States recent efforts to reduce military spending abroad and to delegate the military situation to the hosted countries, it seems that Washington has pursued the issue of Al Udeid on the agenda of the negotiations.
The Difficult Path of Strategic Alliance in the Shadow of Disputes
Despite naming the negotiations as a strategic cooperation between the two sides and Washington's offer to place Qatar as its non-NATO ally, the reality is that there is a wide range of differences between Doha and Washington that make it difficult to understand a strategic alliance between them would last. As one of the most important foreign policy issues, last year the United States placed the Muslim Brotherhood organization on the list of terrorist groups which are backed by Qatar.
On the other hand, relations with Iran are another major issue of disagreement between the two sides. Qatar and Tehran have always emphasized the continuation of friendly relations of economic partnership and cooperation regarding regional issues to maintain stability and transition from the current difficult situations that the region faces, especially after the GCC fell into crisis. This comes at a time when Washington has called on Doha to accompany the imposed sanctions brought upon Tehran that have been set by the White House.
In the face of widespread US pressure on Arab governments, especially the ones located in the Persian Gulf, Doha has announced that it will not join the campaign of normalizing relations with the Israeli regime. This being said, as long as such issues and disagreements between Washington and Doha exist, it will be hard to imagine a strategic alliance between the two sides will ever last.