WASHINGTON/DOHA, Jan. 25 (Reuters) – Qatar’s ruling emir will hold talks with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 31 on a range of issues that will include global energy security, the White House said on Tuesday, amid concerns about gas supplies to Europe.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s visit, the first since Biden took office last year, comes as Washington discusses with energy-producing states and firms a potential diversion of supplies to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the matter with the foreign minister of Qatar, a top liquefied natural gas producer, in a phone call on Monday, according to a source familiar with the matter who requested anonymity.
Tamim’s meeting with Biden at the White House will provide the leaders with an opportunity to discuss “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Other issues will include “promoting security and prosperity in the Gulf and the broader Middle East region” and “supporting the people of Afghanistan,” she said.
Washington is concerned that Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, could invade its neighbor, triggering U.S. and European sanctions that would prompt the Kremlin to halt deliveries of Russian gas to Europe.
Global gas supplies are already tight and Qatar Energy’s shipments are locked into long-term supply contracts which the company cannot easily break.
Tamim’s visit aims to build on relations with Washington that have strengthened since Doha hosted talks that led to the 2020 deal for the U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan.
The small Gulf emirate played a pivotal role in evacuation operations during the chaotic final U.S. withdrawal in August and has become the U.S. diplomatic representative in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Tamim and Biden are expected to discuss efforts by global powers to salvage the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran, with which Doha has ties, and efforts to end Yemen’s civil war, two knowledgeable sources said.
AIR FREIGHTER INTEREST
The emir’s visit also comes amid a spiraling row between Qatar Airways and Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA), a rival of U.S. planemaker Boeing (BA.N).
Airbus revoked a Qatar Airways order for jetliners after the Qatari airline sued the planemaker for more than $600 million over paint and surface flaws the airline says forced it to ground 21 A350 jets.
Qatar Airways has excluded Airbus from talks to buy new cargo planes and has said it is considering an attractive offer from Boeing to launch a proposed freighter version of its 777X.
A deal to renew Qatar’s fleet of some 34 freighters with the new 777X model could come as early as next week when Tamim visits Washington, two people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, while cautioning talks had not yet been finalized.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker has publicly indicated he is willing to look at buying as many as 50 freighters, with the larger number expected to include options.
Both companies declined comment.