On January 5, 2010, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy hosted a policy luncheon discussion with His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Qatar. The discussion touched on a range of issues of concern to Washington and Doha, including the Israeli-Arab peace process, United States-Qatar relations, terrorism, and Iran.
The luncheon began with discussion of Qatar’s role in the Arab-Israeli peace process, with an emphasis of the point that both sides to the conflict—the Arabs and Israelis—must themselves take difficult steps and make compromises in order to attain peace. It was stated that while the Obama Administration has shown a commitment to working on ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, more must be done to accomplish that goal. Specifically, the United States should offer detailed proposals, but the Palestinians and Israelis must also work to mend internal divisions and avoid domestic discord. It is important that all factions accept internationally-agreed-upon principles; Hamas must recognize the agreements made by the PLO and work towards accepting Israel.
In terms of United States-Qatar relations, although the countries are allies, they face different challenges and sometimes disagree on how best to approach problems in the Middle East. For this reason, cross-cultural dialogues, policy meetings, and official visits are vital to ensure the partnership remains strong and both sides address issues of common concern, such as terrorism. In addressing these shared challenges, it is critical to examine what has worked and what has not worked in the past, as well as to identify the necessary resources for solving the problems.
On the issue of security and terrorism, specifically in places like Yemen, there is a need to identify the enemies and work with allies to combat threats, but also a broader need to increase efforts at fighting corruption. The problems of corruption, hereditary ruling, and a lack of democracy are present and entrenched throughout the Middle East, and should be addressed as critical elements of an overall security policy. In addition, some view the United States as devoting too many resources to Iraq rather than to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and see the presence of Taliban elements in Pakistan’s security services as only adding to the complexity of the challenge in Pakistan.
One of the most critical challenges to both countries—Iran—was discussed at length. There is a strong desire among many in the region to see a diplomatic, rather than military, approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Nonetheless, there is pessimism that Iran will agree to a deal on Washington’s terms and that the internationally community can truly be united—many see China’s interests in the region as fully dependent on their energy needs. In terms of the recent protest movement in Iran, there are doubts that Iran’s internal unrest will amount to a significant change in the nature of the government because the regime is strong.