©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walks with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani September 11, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
By Andrew Mills
DOHA (Reuters) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has opened up diplomatic and commercial opportunities for gas-exporter Qatar to expand energy sales to the West and strengthen its alliance with Washington amid US tensions with other Gulf Arab states.
Qatar has sought a broadly neutral stance on the conflict, but while trying to avoid choosing sides, its response has signaled that it can offer significant political and economic assistance to Western partners.
With many European energy importers urgently looking for ways to reduce their heavy reliance on Russia, Qatar has proposed to pipe more gas to Europe in the future.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, have resisted Western calls for a rapid increase in oil production in a bid to stem the rise in crude oil prices caused by the conflict in Ukraine.
These two leading Gulf Arab powers, which have been trying to isolate Qatar for years, have seen their own relations with Washington strained in recent years, in part because of concerns about US security obligations to its Gulf Arab partners.
Meanwhile, Qatar, which hosts the largest US airbase in the Middle East, was named a key non-NATO ally of the United States last month – a status not accorded to either the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.
It has attempted to play a role during nuclear talks with Iran and has passed messages between Tehran and Washington.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday. The talks focused on removing obstacles to finalizing the Iran nuclear deal, a source with knowledge of the Iran talks told Reuters.
“Prior to the visit of Qatar’s foreign minister to Moscow, there was coordination with Washington, particularly regarding the JCPOA discussion,” the source said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal’s official name.
A day before his Moscow trip, Sheikh Mohammed spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He also met with interlocutors in Germany and France who are involved in the Iran talks alongside the United States, Britain, China and Russia.
After the meeting, Lavrov backed down from earlier demands that had stalled negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
“It seems that Qatar has figured in the discussions on the fringes of the Iran talks. How direct and consequential that role is is debatable,” said Mehran Kamrava, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar.
“DO NOT ATTEMPT A PROTECTION”
Although Doha, like Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, has strengthened its diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow in recent years, it maintains a strong partnership with Washington.
While the UAE abstained from a US-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution last month and US President Joe Biden has yet to speak directly to Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he did meet with Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House in January.
“Qatar is not trying to hedge like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates… The bottom line is that this small country, sitting on this huge gas field that will generate huge amounts of money, believes it has only one ultimate source of protection. And that is the United States,” said Martin Indyk, Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and former US Messenger of Peace to the Middle East.
Among the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers, Qatar is one of the wealthiest nations per capita and is home to nearly three million people, 85% of whom are foreign workers.
On the international stage, Qatar’s central role was hosting Afghan peace talks that led to the 2020 US withdrawal agreement.
It remains an essential link between Western nations and the Taliban-led government, housing the West’s Afghan diplomatic missions and even flying officials to Kabul, whose Qatar airport helps with administration and control.
“Now, whenever there is an opportunity, (Qatar) just do it. They market themselves as an extension of US foreign and security policy in a way no other Gulf country does,” said Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College in London.
“A MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY”
When Qatar decided to ramp up LNG production by 2027, some wondered how Qatar would find customers. But now, amid strong demand and high prices, Western leaders are urging Qatar to increase supplies to Europe amid concerns about Russia, which currently supplies about 30-40% of the continent’s gas needs.
“Renewed interest in diversifying Europe’s gas supply presents a tremendous opportunity for Qatar to sell the huge new supplies that are coming online,” said Justin Alexander, director of Khalij Economics, a Gulf-focused consultancy.
Qatar’s Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi recently stressed that new LNG volumes are destined for customers in Asia and Europe, echoing previous announcements that the additional gas is mainly destined for Asia.
However, Qatar has yet to announce any new long-term European deals, which Alexander said will take time to negotiate and require new infrastructure to accommodate Qatar’s LNG tankers.
(Reporting and writing by Andrew Mills; Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean)
https://www.investing.com/news/commodities-news/ukraine-conflict-opens-diplomatic-and-energy-opportunities-for-qatar-2787972 Ukraine conflict opens up diplomatic and energy opportunities for Qatar By Reuters