Obama to host emir of Qatar for talks on Mideast stability

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will discuss Mideast security next week with the leader of Qatar, a partner in the US coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will be at the White House on Tuesday. The White House says they’ll discuss shared concerns over stability and prosperity in the Middle East and seek to further a longstanding partnership between Qatar and the US.

Obama has refused to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of the US’s main Middle East ally Israel, when he visits Washington in early March, citing the trip’s proximity to Israel’s March 17 elections. Netanyahu is to speak to Congress against what he says is an imminent deal, pushed by US-led negotiators, that could legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state.

Qatar plays a supporting role in the US-led military coalition conducting airstrikes against IS by allowing forces to use its vast al-Udeid air base. The country has provided substantial arms and aid to Syrian rebels.

Al Thani became the crown prince a decade ago at age 23 when his older brother gave up his position as emir-in-waiting.

Calls have circulated in the US Congress to isolate Qatar — a state that has polished its pro-Western image in recent years, welcoming in foreign universities, backing the global news channel Al-Jazeera and prepping to host the 2022 World Cup — for its championing of the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas.

Since Hamas assumed control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the territory and backed Hamas diplomatically.

Once cordial ties between Israel and Qatar — the first Persian Gulf state to establish ties with the Jewish state in 1996 — became tense in 2007 when Doha became one of the only countries to back Hamas, after the group booted the more moderate Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup. In 2012, its then-emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to visit Gaza under Hamas rule, pledging to raise $400 million toward reconstruction. Following this summer’s bloody war between Israel and Hamas, Qatar pledged $150 million to the Palestinian Authority in debt relief and additional funds to help the people of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has labeled Qatar a terrorist haven, in part because its harboring of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

In July, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) wrote to the US secretaries of state and the treasury expressing “grave concerns” about the State Department’s cooperation with Qatar in its bid to end the fighting, noting the emirate’s past support for Hamas.

Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser, told The Times of Israel that same month that Hamas considers Qatar one of its closest allies, alongside Turkey and — to a lesser extent — Iran. While the US has blocked the transfer of Qatari money intended for Hamas salaries in Gaza, Qatar continues to fund the movement’s terror apparatus abroad, enabling tunnel digging and rocket launching, he said. Former president Shimon Peres also charged that Qatar had been helping turn Gaza into “a center of death.”

The Obama administration in December said it had received assurances from Qatar that its assistance to the Palestinians will not reach Hamas.