Sep 8, 2021 - World

Afghan evacuation role boosts Qatar in Washington

Blinken (2nd-R) and Austin (L) with their Qatari counterparts Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (R) and Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah.
Blinken (2nd-R) and Austin (L) with their Qatari counterparts Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (R) and Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty

Qatar played host Tuesday to both Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in a sign of how the Gulf country's role in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has strengthened its standing in Washington.

Why it matters: Qatar became a central partner for the U.S. in the region as it mediated between the U.S. and the Taliban, and Doha was the largest hub of the massive U.S. evacuation effort.

  • Around 60,000 people were evacuated via Qatar, which even provided several planes for the mission. After the evacuation, the U.S. relocated its diplomatic mission from Kabul to Doha.
  • That came as Qatar was also rebuilding trust with its rivals for regional influence, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Blinken said at a press conference in Doha that Qatar's help would be remembered for "a long, long time" and that the strengthened U.S.-Qatar relationship would pay dividends across "so many key areas in the months and years ahead."

Other Gulf countries — including the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain — also offered the U.S. the use of their territory to transfer and process evacuees, and Blinken has called his counterparts in those countries to thank them.

  • One country that didn't play any notable role was Saudi Arabia, which has cool relations with the Biden administration.

Driving the news: A senior State Department official told me Blinken's discussions in Qatar were dominated by Afghanistan, but also covered the situation in the Gaza Strip.

  • Qatar is playing a key role in the efforts to prevent another war between Israel and Hamas, and it reached a deal recently with Israel and the UN to provide $20 million in monthly humanitarian assistance to Gaza to buy fuel for the power station and provide grants to poor families.
  • Ahead of his talks in Qatar, Blinken spoke by phone with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid about Gaza and the Qatari role.
  • Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh also visited Doha on Tuesday and met with Qatari officials on the situation in Gaza.
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