Qatar - Foreign policy



As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar maintains close ties with its neighbors. Through the GCC, Qatar also has defense ties to Egypt and Syria. Shortly after taking power, Sheikh Hamad dispatched personal envoys to the GCC countries to assure them of continued cooperation and friendly relations. Membership in GCC, however, has not prevented Qatar from following a more or less independent course. Unlike other GCC members, Qatar has cordial relations with both Iran and Iraq and continues to maintain contacts with both governments at very high levels. Nor has membership in GCC prevented Qatar from asserting its position within the GCC. In December 1995, the Qatari emir boycotted the last session of the GCC summit to protest the choice of a Saudi Arabian citizen as the new secretary general of the organization. Additionally straining relations with Saudi Arabia is a border dispute that resulted in violent clashes between the two countries in October 1992. Both countries have chosen to resolve their differences through negotiations.

A second border dispute with Bahrain existed over a number of islands, including the potentially oil-rich Hawar chain in the Persian Gulf. In April 1986, after Bahrain tried to build a coast guard station on the artificially constructed Fasht al-Dibal island in the Persian Gulf, Qatari forces raided the island, taking the Bahrain workers as prisoners. Although the workers were freed shortly afterwards, sovereignty of the island and nearby Hawar islands continued to cloud relations between the two countries. In November 1994, Sheikh Hamad submitted the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. The Hague issued a ruling in June 2001, which both sides accepted. In the agreement, Bahrain kept the main Hawar Island but dropped claims to parts of mainland Qatar, while Qatar retained significant maritime areas and their resources.

Sheikh Hamad is generally viewed as an advocate of close relations with the United States and the West in general. Qatar supported the allied effort in the Gulf War, where Qatari troops distinguished themselves in the defense of the town of Khafji against the Iraqi forces. In 1992, Qatar signed a defense pact with the United States. Qatar also has signed various forms of defense understandings with the United Kingdom and France. Sheikh Hamad's close ties to the United States won him quick recognition after the 1995 coup and helped overcome any reservations that neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia might have had.

Although Qatar favored a diplomatic rather than a military outcome to the 2002–03 crisis in Iraq, it played a key strategic role in the U.S.-led war that began on 19 March 2003. Qatar was home to Camp As Sayliyah, the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command ("CentCom"), staffed by approximately 1,600 U.S. and U.K. personnel. Combat aircraft and aerial tankers flew out of Qatar's Al Budded air base. Its Al Udeid air base, home to the longest runway in the Persian Gulf (15,000 ft), will house the 5,000U.S. troops to be relocated from Saudi Arabia when the U.S. leaves the Prince Sultan air base. The U.S. decision to move its troops from Saudi Arabia to Qatar following the war was seen as a way to improve Qatar's security and strengthen its ties to the U.S. Desiring a more secular and Western future, Qatar does not share the hostility to an American presence within its borders that Saudi Arabia harbors.

Qatar is a member of the League of Arab States, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the United Nations (UN), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Non-Aligned Movement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as other regional and international organizations.

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