(January 30, 2022)
2:06 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. I truly appreciate you joining us on a Sunday afternoon. Thanks for calling in for this embargoed preview call. This call is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning.
Just as a reminder, this is a preview for the visit of the Amir of Qatar. Today’s conversation is on background and attributable to a senior administration official. And again, the contents are embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning.
For your information only, our main speaker today will be [senior administration official]. Also on the line is [senior administration official]. For this call, [senior administration official] will be SAO ONE, and [senior administration official] will be SAO TWO. But a reminder: For the purposes of this call, they are “senior administration officials.”
With that, I will turn it over to SAO ONE.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much. And good afternoon, everybody. So, I thought I would just spend a couple of minutes kind of setting the scene for the visit, and then I know [senior administration official] has a few comments that she would want to offer. And then we’ll be happy to take it in whatever direction you’d like.
So we’ve been working to schedule this visit for some time. Sheikh Tamim is the first head-of-state visit in 2022, of course, and he’s the first Gulf leader to visit Washington during the administration.
The Amir and the President met when President Biden was Vice President during the Obama administration. And the two leaders had an opportunity to speak last summer, in August, when the President called Sheikh Tamim to thank him for Qatar’s, really, tremendous support for our evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.
The Amir will meet, of course, with the President tomorrow. He’s also scheduled to see Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, and members of Congress. Secretary Blinken will join the President’s meeting with Sheikh Tamim tomorrow.
It’s — the visit itself is an important and timely opportunity for the President and Sheikh Tamim to consult on a whole range of regional and global issues of mutual interest, including promoting security and prosperity in the Gulf and the broader Middle East region, ensuring the stability of global energy supplies, supporting the people of Afghanistan, and strengthening the commercial and investment cooperation between us.
So in terms of the bilateral relationship, what I’d point out is that, in March, we’ll commemorate 50 years of diplomatic ties with Qatar. And, really, the country has been a steadfast supporter of this administration’s goals.
On Gaza, as you may know, Qatar has played a really critical role and worked closely with all of the parties to resume Qatar — to resume its humanitarian and financial assistance to Gazans following the May 2021 conflict.
You know, that war had all the ingredients to last for months. And we here in Washington, in the White House, at State, were engaged on it every day and remain fully engaged with partners like Qatar and Egypt to keep the calm.
Qatar’s economic and diplomatic assistance, in close coordination with all of the parties on the ground, has been critical to helping Gazans get back to work and thereby making tangible improvements to Gaza’s humanitarian situation overall. They’ve really provided lifesaving assistance to the Palestinians from the very start.
In August — of course, last year — Qatar served as the first and primary transit destination for over 60,000 evacuees from Afghanistan, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, special immigrant visa applicants, and other Afghans who are at risk. I’m going to let [senior administration official] go into a little bit more detail on all of that.
But I would also add, in terms of the bilateral relationship, that on counterterrorism, Qatar has really stood with us as a member of the D-ISIS coalition and as a member of the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center. And Doha has actively participated in five rounds of multilateral sanctions designations against major U.S.- and U.N.-designated terrorist organizations.
Qatar also joined the U.S. in September of last year in designating a major Hezbollah financial network based in the Arabian Peninsula. This was the first such joint sanctions action we’ve done together, and there are going to be more to come.
Qatar also robustly implements U.N. sanctions and has an updated anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regimen.
In terms of an investment and commercial relationship between us, we really enjoy very strong ties. Qatar has invested heavily in the U.S. in recent years with current U.S. holdings of about $30 billion and with was plans to increase this to $45 billion.
Qatar and the U.S. enjoy a very strong trade relationship as well. Qatar has imported over $23 billion of goods and services from the U.S. over the last five years. And U.S. companies have billions of dollars invested in the Qatari economy, showcased by the U.S. energy sector’s partnership with QatarEnergy in new LNG projects, including development of the world’s largest natural gas field, South Pars, and large petrochemical manufacturing facilities.
I’m going to stop right there and turn the mic over to [senior administration official] to add a few details on Afghanistan in particular.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you. As you’ve just heard, we are incredibly grateful to Qatar for its support for Afghanistan. As [senior administration official] mentioned, of course, Qatar has been involved in assisting in the relocation of tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan since August. But Qatar has been a partner, even before August, in supporting the peace process in Afghanistan, and since August, beyond its tremendous assistance with relocation flights, allowing the use of Camp As Sayliyah as a processing hub, and its support for repatriation flights.
It’s also staying aligned with the United States and the international community in diplomatic engagements with the Taliban to make clear what our expectations are, including seeing the Taliban upholding its public commitments with respect to counterterrorism, with respect to safe passage. Qatar is joining the United States and the international community in pressing on things like forming an inclusive government in Afghanistan and respecting basic human rights.
We’re also working with Qatar on ways to support the humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan, providing support directly to people without benefiting the Taliban.
And I’ll stop there.
MOERATOR: All right, everyone. Thank you very much again. Nick, if you don’t mind, can you please free up the instructions on asking a question and then take our first question, please?
Q Thank you all for doing this. Just wanted to ask, you know, first about Iran — whether these talks will include a discussion of possible prisoner exchange.
And then also wanted — I just wanted to see if you are expecting that a formal arrangement or agreement will come out of this as far as LNG supplies to Europe. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So, on the second question: First, you know, we’re consulting with all the leading gas suppliers around the world, and this is something we do regularly. But I would just say that, you know, the energy crisis in Europe has been with us for some six months. So, you know, I can’t — I can’t really offer you anything further on that one.
On Iran: Of course, Iran, like many other top-tier issues in the region, is likely to figure in their discussions. I’m not — you know, you asked about whether there would be — could you reframe that question for me, whether there would be anything on — you mean the detainees? Is that what you were asking about?
Q That they’ve played a role in discussions with Iran about dual citizens being held in prison and whether they’d be released in prisoner exchange and that sort of thing — you know, which may be, you know, a predicate to doing a deal with Iran. So just wanted to see if there would be some discussion on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I don’t really have anything specific for you on that. I would just say that they will, of course, review where things stand in terms of Vienna. Of course, Qatar, like many other of our partners in the region, are following events — following discussions quite closely.
But, you know, as for, you know, the particulars of the detainees and so forth, I mean, these are being handled in other channels.
Q Thanks. I just had a follow-up on the LNG issue. You know, Qatar, like much of the other major LNG suppliers, faces capacity issues. Considering that, is there sort of muted expectations of how much that they can participate in helping out in the situation if there is a Russian invasion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, I’m going to reinforce what I said just a moment ago, which is, you know, this is, you know, a set of topics that we discussed with energy — we’re discussing with all of our energy partners these days. But, you know, for further details on that, I’m going to have to refer you to State and to (inaudible).
Q Thank you for doing this interview. Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.
I just want to follow up again on the question of Iran. Do you know if the Amir of Qatar raised the release of U.S. hostages when he visited Iran?
And I know that (inaudible) has said recently, after two former U.S. hostages staged a hunger strike, and he said this issue is going to be a priority. So will this issue will be discussed with President Biden? And are you aware that the Amir has raised it with the Iranians when he visited? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I think it was a Qatari foreign minister who visited Tehran recently. I don’t have anything for you on detainees.
Q Hi, everybody. I had two quick questions. I’m going to try again on energy supplies. Can you at least give us a sense of how the White House is approaching requests by (inaudible) countries, as you say, for energy supplies — to identify energy supplies and, kind of, maybe just make us a little bit smarter about the approach? I know, there’s a lot of asks, but how are you approaching some of these countries like Qatar?
The second thing is: The Qatari government has been pretty vocal in that they are looking for some return from the U.S. in particularly arms, Predator sales, and whatnot. But it seems as if the administration has been slow to respond to their specific requests. Assuming that may come up, can you give us a sense of where the administration is on that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I’m not going to be able to give you anything further on LNG or the — you know, the complex of energy issues on this phone call. I just want to be clear on that. You know, it will figure in the mix, but I really can’t give you any details on that. The kind of details you’re looking for, you really need to — you know, to go to Amos or folks at State for.
On the issue of — you know, did you have specific arm sales or requests in mind? I mean, I know that these are the kinds of things that are — you know, the complex of issues that are likely to figure in Sheikh Tamim’s discussions with Secretary of Defense Austin. You know, I don’t know that it will figure in the Oval Office.
Q But it is a central issue. And then, I think high-end drones is what they’re particularly after right now. And they’ve been — I think they’ve been waiting for a while as there’s been some reports, including from our own on that. So I think they’re looking for a firm “yes,” “no,” or something.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I mean, I’m quite certain those issues will be discussed at Defense. I don’t — I don’t think they’re kind of, you know, likely to come up in the Oval Office. And, you know, there will be a number of side conversations through the time of the visit, and we’ll refine with them, you know, what they’re looking for and where things stand in terms of those requests.
Q Hello, thanks for taking my question. My question is on that energy supply. What are we really expecting since the Qataris (inaudible) to their full capacity? And they have long-term contact with Asia. And we know — we all know this is a political step. What are you willing to give in exchange? Any guarantees for them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, again, I mean, I’m familiar with all of those elements of the energy picture, but that’s not something that I can go into in this conversation.
Like I said, the President will lay out for Sheikh Tamim, sort of, where things stand in terms of the very robust diplomatic effort that the U.S. and its European partners are making collectively and bilaterally to bring a diplomatic resolution to this current crisis. But I’m not going to get into details about the — you know, where things stand on potential responses should Russia proceed with a military incursion or invasion.
Q Yes, hello. I wanted to ask if basing and posture was going to be on the agenda in any talk. Last year, there was some basing capacities that were moved from As Sayliyah up to Jordan. And with the Global Posture Review and additional analysis on enduring posture requirements, I wanted to know if that was on the table as far as discussions, like the basing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’m not aware of that being on the table, but that’s something you’d really want to pursue with (inaudible). But I’m not aware if that’s on the table for this week.
MODERATOR: Again, everyone, I truly appreciate you all jumping in on a Sunday afternoon to participate in this phone call.
Again, as a reminder, this call is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning, and the contents are attributable to senior administration officials. With that, we’ll conclude this phone call. Thank you.
2:24 P.M. EST