US defence secretary visits key ally Qatar
DOHA // US defence secretary Jim Mattis met Qatar’s emir on Saturday during a visit to the country he said aimed to “reinforce relationships” between Doha and Washington.
The visit was part of a regional tour which has also included stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Mr Mattis is scheduled to visit Djibouti on Sunday.
“Relationships get better or weaker, and I’m committed to making it better from our side,” Mr Mattis told Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during their meeting.
Their talks were expected to focus on the fight against ISIL, the conflict in Syria and the regional role of Iran, which Mr Mattis has described as “destabilising”.
The official Qatar News Agency said the two men “reviewed the relations between the two friendly countries in various fields, including political, strategic and military, and means to strengthening them so as to achieve more cooperation and serve the interests of both sides”.
It said the talks “also covered the latest regional and international developments, mainly the Palestinian and the Syrian issues, as well as the situation in Yemen and Libya”, along with “international efforts to combat terrorism, violence and extremism”.
The US defence secretary was also due to hold talks with defence minister Khaled Al Attiya during his visit.
Washington’s relations with Gulf Arab states became increasingly frayed during the presidency of Barack Obama, whom leaders saw as too reluctant to intervene in the civil war in Syria and overly friendly with Iran.
Mr Mattis, who commanded troops during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said in Israel on Friday that there was “no doubt” Syria has kept some chemical weapons and warned president Bashar Al Assad’s regime not to use them.
Mr Al Assad has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.
During a news conference in Tel Aviv, Mr Mattis also confirmed that the Syrian air force had dispersed its combat aircraft in recent days.
Washington has previously accused Doha of not doing enough to fight extremist organisations in Syria, something Qatar has denied.
The two countries have close economic ties, with national Qatari carrier Qatar Airways announcing in October the acquisition of up to 100 Boeing aircraft worth US$18.6 billion (Dh68.3bn).
Doha is also home to the largest US air base in the Middle East, which houses around 10,000 American troops.
* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by Associated Press
Updated: April 22, 2017 04:00 AM