WASHINGTON, Jan 31, (Agencies): Secretary of Defense James Mattis praised the US defense partnership with Qatar, calling it “a longtime friend in the region,” during bilateral talks on Tuesday with senior Qatari officials. Mattis praised his counterpart, Qatari Defense Minister Khaled Al-Atiyah, and the senior members of the delegation for Qatar’s “strong” military partnership at the inaugural US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue meeting hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“Even in the midst of its own current challenges, Qatar and the US maintain excellent military- to-military relations, hosting Al-Udeid Air Base, home to our Combined Air Operations Center, the US Air Force Central Command Forward Headquarters, and US Central Command’s Forward Headquarters, providing critical counterterrorism support to the Defeat the Islamic State, Defeat DAESH coalition and President Trump’s South Asia strategy,” Mattis said.
Mattis expressed gratitude to Qatar’s “longstanding support of America’s present and continuing commitment to regional security,” highlighting that Qatar Air Force completed its first two C-17 round trip fl ights from Afghanistan last week to support NATOs counter terrorism campaign.
The Secretary of Defense urged for a solution to the ongoing Gulf dispute, saying “It is critical that the GCC recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution that provides for enhanced regional stability and prosperity,” he noted. “A united Gulf Cooperation Council bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on counterterrorism, defeating ISIS DAESH, and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence,” said Mattis.
During the meeting, Defense Minister Al-Atiyah affirmed the “special relations” between the two nations as demonstrated by military-to-military partnership, highlighting Qatar’s recent purchase of F-15 fighter jets from the US. “The recent purchase of the F- 15s fighter jets signals a new era of cooperation,” Al-Atiyah said.
“This strategic bird will assure our readiness to protect our own border and aid our allies further in our collective fight toward peace and stability.” He also announced a cooperative military initiative “to ensure the safety of the forces serving in Al-Udeid and facilitate future capacity building by alleviating the classification of al- Udeid to permanent US military base.” The initiative will include the exchange of military personnel and the expansion of al Udeid airbase, and include on-base housing for the American service member and their families, new state-of-the-art schools, as well as building quality recreational entertainment and service facility,” Al-Atiyah said.
The initiative is set to be completed by 2040. Meanwhile, Tillerson stressed Tuesday that Qatar has made “significant progress to improve efforts to combat terrorism,” following President Donald Trump’s “challenge to all of our Gulf partners” during the Riyadh summit last year. Speaking at the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, Tillerson said that as a result of the memorandum of understanding the two countries signed in July, the US and Qatar have “increased information sharing on terrorists and terrorist financiers,” and that they have participated in “counterterrorism technical training and taken steps to improve aviation security.” He indicated other “critical” regional security issues will be discussed, including the ongoing battle to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS), “DAESH, the Gulf dispute, the situation in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Iran’s role in the region.”
On the Gulf dispute, the US top diplomat said “as the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark, the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset. This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States. “We are concerned by the rhetoric and propaganda employed in the region, playing out daily in Arab mainstream and social media,” he remarked. He stressed that “it is critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation, and work toward a resolution.”