US, Qatar leaders to meet amid Europe energy concerns

Talks come as US and EU seek to build energy contingency plans should Russia shorten supplies to Europe over Ukraine tensions.

A general view of a liquefied natural gas plant in Russia
The US is concerned that Russia could invade Ukraine, triggering sanctions from the West, which could make Kremlin halt gas deliveries to Europe [File: Vladimir Soldatkin/Reuters]

Qatar’s emir will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on January 31 on a range of issues including global energy security, according to the White House, amid concerns over gas supplies to Europe.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s scheduled visit to the White House, 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.

On Monday, reports said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the matter with the foreign minister of Qatar, a top liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) producer, in a phone call.

The emir’s meeting with Biden 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”.

Washington is concerned that Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, could invade its neighbour, triggering US and European sanctions that would prompt the Kremlin to halt deliveries of Russian gas to Europe.

Global gas supplies are already tight and Qatari energy shipments are locked into long-term supply contracts which cannot be easily broken.

The EU would only be able to find alternative gas supplies in “rather smaller volumes from a multitude of sources” to make up for a Russian cutoff, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke to The Associated Press news agency about internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

Qatar Airways-Airbus dispute

Sheikh 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 US troop pullout from Afghanistan.

The two leaders are also 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 war, two sources told Reuters news agency.

The emir’s trip to Washington also comes amid a spiralling dispute between Qatar Airways and European firm Airbus, a rival of US planemaker Boeing.

Airbus revoked a Qatar Airways order for jetliners after the Qatari airline sued the producer for more than $600m over paint and surface flaws the airline says forced it to ground 21 of its 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, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters, while cautioning that talks had not yet been finalised.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker has publicly indicated he is willing to look at buying as many as 50 freighters.

Source: News Agencies