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Trump lauds Qatar emir for 'investing very heavily' in the US

Meeting centred on economic ties between US and Qatar comes as tensions have skyrocketed in the Gulf
Donald Trump met with Qatar's Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Tuesday at the White House (Reuters)

Donald Trump has praised the emir of Qatar for "investing very heavily" in the United States, pointing to a series of major weapons and aircraft purchases Doha has signed with US companies over the last year.

The US president met with Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the White House on Tuesday.

"We're going to be signing a document today - a very large transaction," Trump said, according to a White House readout ahead of the meeting.

"It's a transaction that will be purchasing a lot of Boeing jets and a lot of money spent in our country, and that means a lot of jobs," Trump said.

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He did not go into specifics about what the deal entails, or how much it will cost.

However, a joint statement put out by the White House on behalf of the two leaders listed several recent agreements that they said point to an "extensive and increasing economic partnership" between the US and Qatar.

Those include Qatar Airways' previously announced $1.8bn purchase of five Boeing 777 freighters, and the Qatar Ministry of Defence's plan to buy NASAM and Patriot systems from US arms company Raytheon.

Trump and Al Thani also hailed an agreement between Chevron-Phillips Chemical Company, a company co-owned by US oil giant Chevron, and Qatar Petroleum to develop, build and operate a petrochemicals complex in Qatar.

"We enjoy a very great relationship," Al Thani said ahead of the meeting.

"We're doing a lot together ... and our economic partnership has been more than $185bn, and we're planning to double this number. We have a lot of investments in the US."

Regional tensions

The meeting comes at a time of increasing hostility and tensions in the Gulf.

As part of its "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, Washington has been increasingly imposing sanctions on Iranian industries and individuals. 

The US has also accused the Iranian government of planning to target American troops and Washington's allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Those same countries are part of a coalition that has blockaded Qatar since June 2017.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi - as well as leaders in Manama and Cairo - accused Doha of supporting terrorism and meddling in their internal affairs, charges that the Qatari government has repeatedly denied.

The Trump administration has repeatedly urged the countries to reconcile, but has so far failed to apply enough pressure to help end the diplomatic spat.

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Meanwhile, Qatar, home to one of the largest US military bases in the world, has sought to find new economic partners to offset the economic pressure of the blockade.

Experts told MEE last week that the meeting between Trump and Al Thani would likely centre on economic deals, rather than addressing the blockade.

"Working with Qatar to solve the crises in the Gulf is not something Trump is interested in," said Birol Baskan, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, a think-tank in the US capital.

"It is much more likely that the US is going to sell Al Thani more American weapons during his visit, and Qatar will buy those weapons to keep the United States happy," he said.

Trump initially sided with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi when the crisis began in 2017, accusing Qatar of being a "funder of terrorism at a very high level". 

But the White House has since reversed its stance, and last year Trump thanked Doha for its actions "to counter-terrorism and extremism in all forms".

On Tuesday, Trump also hailed Qatar for hosting the US's Al Udeid Air Base. "I will say the base is incredible," the US president said.

"What they've done there is absolutely - and a great place to have it, right in the middle of the Middle East... Obviously, it's a very important location."

Al Thani said Trump had an open invitation to visit Qatar - and the US base - "at any time".