At Qatar’s world cup, Blinken balances firmness and flattery


DOHA, Qatar – Prime Minister Antony Blinken on Tuesday rejected criticism that his World Cup event in Qatar has led to complaints about human rights, according to some an activist against the Persian Gulf states’ treatment of immigrants and LGBTQ.

Blinken, a football fan, said his visit meant the opposite. It happened, he said, deeper America’s cooperation with Qatar on human rights, labor standards and the fight against terrorism while serving as a base for the American team, whose opening match against Wales in the final 1-1 draw.

Blinken said during a press conference, when asked by reporters that “I have no bones about being really proud to come and cheer for Team USA,” Members of Congress , including Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), also attended.

Blinken’s visit represents the Biden administration’s tough measures against Qatar, which has quickly emerged as Washington’s most important ally in the Middle East despite its policies on officials. immigration and LGBTQ. The secretary pointed out the comments on two issues.

For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-profile test and a show of courage

The oil-rich state in the Persian Gulf turned itself into the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup, spending $220 billion to build seven stadiums, renovate an eighth, and improve road and rail connections to connect fans to matches.

To complete the transformation, he employed hundreds of thousands of workers from poor countries such as Pakistan and India but faced criticism for the dangerous work that led to ignorance about dead migrants.

In response, Qatar has implemented operational reforms that some independent analysts praised and Blinken pointed out on Tuesday. “We appreciate the work that Qatar has done to improve operations,” he said, noting the investigation, prosecution and prosecution of businessmen. “Our hope and hope [is] that some of the progress that has been made continues and expands after the World Cup is over. “

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At the time of Qatar’s development frenzy, it also provided important assistance to the United States during the most difficult period of President Biden’s career.

Its huge Al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts thousands of American troops, is the center of pressure to leave Afghanistan in 2021, evacuating more Americans and Afghans than any other base in world. Qatar’s ambassador to Afghanistan personally boarded the bus transporting the American refugees, negotiating their passage through Taliban checkpoints.

“The U.S. owes Qatar a lot and that has led to a lot of criticism of its aggression against foreign workers now,” said David Ottaway, a Gulf expert at the Wilson Center.

Biden’s ‘revelation’ for Saudi Arabia is picking up quiet results

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he supported the US push to isolate Russia and help stabilize the liquefied natural gas market in Europe.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel, “Qatar has taken a clear policy towards Ukraine and, while this has not been translated into working to weaken Russia in the oil market, it has been translated made high platforms for Ukrainian. President Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, “said Cinzia Bianco, partner of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Blinken’s presence in Qatar is a confirmation of these efforts and his presence is very important because the World Cup has caused controversy,” he said. .

Qatar’s steadfast support for American interests in the Biden era is inconsistent with relations with other Middle East institutions.

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Saudi Arabia, for one, angered US officials in October by announcing a decision to cut its oil supply weeks before midterm elections. Israel has opposed Biden’s desire to reopen the embassy in Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and relations are expected to further deteriorate with the return of the firebrand Benjamin Netanyahu as president. . Meanwhile, the UAE has intervened in American politics in recent years, raising fears among American intellectuals about its influence in Washington.

Ottaway said that “Qatar stands out as the most reliable Arab partner that the United States has today and remains free of criticism from the government despite its refusal to establish relations with Israel according to the UAE and Bahrain has,” Ottaway said.

The US government reports that important gulf friends influence in US politics

But Blinken’s visit wasn’t all praise.

The expert has criticized the decision by FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to punish World Cup players with yellow cards if they wear “OneLove” armbands in support of various nations. people and inclusive.

“It’s always concerning in my opinion when we see restrictions on freedom of expression; It’s especially important when the message is for diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said. in a press conference with Qatar Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. “No one in football should be forced to choose between supporting these values ​​and playing for their team.”

Scores of fans who have poured into the Qatari capital to watch the games say economic and social problems must be brought back to the sport.

Chris Wixson, who with his wife and son flew from Colorado to Qatar for the World Cup, said he was happy that the secretary came to support the American team despite the controversy.

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“It’s what you want to see, right? A team like this should bring everyone together, but everything is very fragmented,” he said.

Not everyone thinks so.

Michael Page, Middle East specialist at Human Rights Watch, said he hopes Blinken will use his public statements to fight more aggressively against migrant workers. “It’s disappointing Minister Blinken has chosen to ignore the widespread demand from migrant workers and their families as well as footballers and fans to put the news on FIFA and the Qatari authorities to establish a compensation fund for the officials who faced severe abuse.”

World Cup in Qatar

Key points: Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina in an opening day that also included defending champions France rolling to victory and two draws from Denmark-Tunisia and Mexico-Poland. Here are seven more matches in World Cup history when the underdogs beat the odds for a memorable and upset match.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans were held to a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team will face a higher task on Friday against Group B favorite England, which destroyed Iran, 6-2, earlier on Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, have said they are refusing to enter World Cup stadiums and have been challenged by members of the public to remove the symbol.

Group guide: The American football team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group stack up.


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