Qatar seeks to take advantage of European gas fears over Ukraine

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will provide some form of assistance, however, as he seeks a bigger share of the European market for Qatar’s booming offshore gas production and score valuable points over its neighbors by becoming the main American ally in the Gulf.

The sheikh, whose small country has increased its diplomatic initiatives to match its status as an energy colossus, has the Ukraine crisis, efforts to engage the hardline Taliban administration in Afghanistan and behind-the-scenes talks on reviving a deal nuclear deal with Iran on the agenda for his White House meeting with President Joe Biden, officials said.

Gas supply is one of the key areas that Europe fears will be cut off if Russia decides to take military action in Ukraine.

The United States is also in contact with Australia to provide alternative supplies and may send more of its own production, diplomats said.

Australia, Qatar and the United States are the largest gas exporters in the world.

“Discussions are ongoing” about diverting some liquefied natural gas from Asian markets to Europe if President Vladimir Putin cuts supplies to Western Europe, a Qatari official told AFP ahead of the meeting. meeting.

There are precedents where Qatar has helped friends in need.

It sent supplies to Japan after the 2011 tsunami and four special shipments to Britain in October to deal with sudden shortages.

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But since Qatar has long-term contracts with huge customers in South Korea, Japan and China, there is little it can do to replace all Russian gas supplies to Western Europe.

The Gulf state has “maximised” supply to existing customers, Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi said in October, as gas shortages were already beginning to be felt in Europe.

– Higher price –

“Qatar doesn’t have a magic wand to address European gas shortages,” said Bill Farren-Price, director of intelligence for energy consultancy Enverus.

“It does not have spare capacity to provide additional LNG. It is not the same as Saudi Arabia, which maintains spare capacity in oil,” he added.

Qatar, which is also in talks with the European Union and Britain, could redirect a number of shipments.

“Any shortage of European gas will ripple through and impact the Asian LNG market as well,” Farren-Price said.

And European consumers – already facing record gas bills – are expected to pay an even higher cost. “In terms of price, it could be quite difficult,” he predicted.

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Andreas Krieg, a Middle East security specialist at King’s College London, said Qatar would consider business first and politics second in any decision to help Europe.

But it has embarked on a massive production expansion, aiming to increase gas production from 77 million tonnes to 127 million tonnes per year by 2027 and is seeking markets for that additional gas.

Krieg said Europe could become a prime target for any move by Qatar, which was infuriated by an EU antitrust probe into its gas sales set up in 2018.

“That could mean gaining credit in Europe and using that as a negotiating point to start talking about long-term contracts, which the country is interested in.”

A central role in any emergency gas plan would make Qatar even more popular with the United States, which has operated a major military base in the emirate for two decades.

“They want to position themselves in this niche as the most important strategic ally of the United States in the Gulf,” Krieg said.

“They gain influence by creating networks in Washington that are institutional rather than tied to individuals or parties.

“They want to be seen as an essential strategic ally”, ahead of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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Christi C. Elwood