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Obama hails Qatar as 'strong partner' against Islamic State

White House confirms there are 'areas where we disagree with the Qataris'
US President Barack Obama (R) and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani (L) shake hands during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office on 24 February, 2015 (AFP)

US President Barack Obama praised Qatar as a "strong partner" in the fight against Islamic State militants on Tuesday, as he hosted Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office.

"Qatar is a strong partner in our coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL," said Obama, using another name for the jihadist group.

"We are both committed to making sure that ISIL is defeated, to making sure that in Iraq there is an opportunity for all people to live together in peace," Obama said.

Qatar is host to a large US military base, but the two countries are sometimes uneasy allies.

The White House played down allegations that Qatar has itself has abetted hardline Islamic groups and is a source of terror financing.

"There are areas where we disagree with the Qataris" said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, adding there were more areas where interests "overlap."

Speaking after the meeting, the Emir also praised the strong bilateral relationship, and urged efforts to advance the Middle East peace process.

"We have to find a solution for Palestine. And I'm happy to learn, to hear from you Mr President, that you're committed," he said.

Libya and Yemen were also discussed.

"The bottom line is that Washington and Doha share an exceptionally strong strategic partnership," said Lori Plotkin Boghardt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"Washington and Doha certainly have a number of important differences, but we've seen over and over again that the strategic partnership between the two allies ultimately trumps in importance almost all of those differences."

In his New York Times op-ed, published shortly prior to his meeting with Obama, Sheikh Tamim affirmed his commitment to fighting in the US-led anti-IS coalition and also firmly condemned acts of violence carried out by various militants groups across the region.

“We have joined the US-led international coalition against terrorism, and we are united with our partners in the Gulf to combat violent extremism in all its forms,” the Qatari ruler wrote, referring to the bombing campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria.

“Qatar has been forceful in its condemnation of the barbaric acts perpetrated by these extremist groups, and steadfast in its support for a whole host of regional and international counterterrorism initiatives.”

In the article published in the US on Tuesday Sheikh Tamim wrote that “we must avoid deepening the sectarian divisions that have weakened governments and nations, and fuelled the fires of violent extremism.”

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