American officials have been in talks with Qatar over supplying European countries with liquefied natural gas (LNG) in case a Russian invasion of Ukraine leads to shortages on the continent, news reports say.
Two people close to the issue told Bloomberg that President Joe Biden planned to ask the Gulf state’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to visit the White House, possibly as soon as later this month. It added the meeting between Biden and Sheikh Tamim had been in the works for some time.
The United States is concerned Russia is preparing for the possibility of a new military assault on the country it partially invaded in 2014, while Moscow denies it plans to attack Ukraine.
The European Union depends on Russia for about one-third of its gas supplies, and US sanctions over any conflict could disrupt that supply.
Any interruptions to Russia’s gas supply to Europe would exacerbate an energy crisis caused by a shortage of the fuel.
The State Department’s discussions with energy companies were led by senior adviser for energy security Amos Hochstein, a senior US State Department official told the Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The United States promised to have Europe’s back if there is an energy shortage due to conflict or sanctions,” another source told the agency.
“Amos is going to big LNG producing companies and countries like Qatar to see if they can help the United States,” he added, referring to Hochstein.
Qatari authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russian deployment to the border
Moscow has alarmed the West by massing troops near Ukraine in the past two months, following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv troops in eastern Ukraine.
Biden has previously told Russian President Vladimir Putin that a new Russian move on Ukraine would draw sanctions and an increased US presence in Europe.
Russia denies planning to attack Ukraine and says it has the right to move its troops on its own soil as it likes.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva on Friday at what the former dubbed a “critical moment” in the crisis.
The top diplomats said they were open to further dialogue after the talks yielded no sign of breakthrough.
The EU member states acquire about 40 percent of their natural gas supply from Russia, and most of it passes through Ukraine.
Qatar is one of the largest producers of LNG, with most of the fuel sold to East Asian countries.