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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.

Go deeper

Oct 9, 2021 - World

Blinken to hold trilateral meeting with Israeli and UAE counterparts

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid pose ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27. Photo: Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold a trilateral meeting at the State Department on Wednesday with the foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Why it matters: This is the first such meeting since the signing in 2020 of the “Abraham Accords,” normalization agreements Israel struck with Bahrain and the UAE. It is a substantial step by the Biden administration to strengthen the treaty between the countries.

Aug 15, 2021 - World

Blinken: "This is manifestly not Saigon" all over again in Afghanistan

As video emerged on Sunday of military helicopters landing near the U.S. embassy in Kabul to rapidly evacuate U.S. personnel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured: "This is manifestly not Saigon."

Driving the news: Blinken made the rounds on the Sunday shows to defend President Biden's resolute withdrawal of the U.S. military as Kabul nears complete surrender to the Taliban.

Updated Oct 10, 2021 - World

Taliban: U.S. will give humanitarian aid but withhold recognition

Displaced children are seen at Herat Refugee Camp in Herat on Sept. 16. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.S. will send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan even as the Biden administration continues to withhold formal recognition of the Taliban, the group's leaders announced on Sunday, AP reports.

Of note: State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in an emailed statement that the two sides discussed the U.S. providing "robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people" during talks in Qatar that concluded Sunday.