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

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DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday rejected criticisms that his World Cup look in Qatar contributed to indifference about human rights, as some activists denounced the Persian Gulf state’s remedy of migrant staff and LGBTQ individuals.

Blinken, an avowed soccer fan, mentioned his go to meant the alternative. It resulted, he mentioned, in deeper U.S. cooperation with Qatar on human rights, labor requirements and counter-human trafficking efforts whereas serving as a possibility to root for the U.S. nationwide staff, whose opening match in opposition to Wales resulted in a 1-1 draw.

“I make no bones about having the pleasure to actually come and cheer on Team USA,” Blinken mentioned throughout a information convention, when requested by reporters how he justified the journey. Members of Congress, together with Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), additionally attended.

Blinken’s go to represents the Biden administration’s tough balancing act with regard to Qatar, which is quick rising as one in all Washington’s most beneficial companions within the Center East regardless of its insurance policies towards migrant laborers and LGBTQ individuals. The secretary made pointed statements about each points.

For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-stakes take a look at and a present of clout

The gas-rich state within the Persian Gulf has reworked itself to develop into the primary Center Japanese nation to host the World Cup, spending $220 billion to construct seven stadiums, renovate an eighth, and erect a community of roads and railways to attach followers to the matches.

To finish the transformation, it employed a whole lot of 1000’s of staff from poor international locations similar to Pakistan and India however confronted criticism for hazardous working circumstances that resulted in an unknown variety of migrant deaths.

In response, Qatar carried out labor reforms that some impartial analysts have praised and Blinken pointed to on Tuesday. “We appreciate the work that Qatar has done to improve labor practices,” he mentioned, noting efforts to research, prosecute and convict human traffickers. “Our hope and expectation [is] that some of the progress that’s been made continues and expands after the World Cup is over.”

Throughout Qatar’s mad-dash improvement, it has additionally supplied essential help to the US throughout probably the most difficult chapters of President Biden’s tenure.

Its large Al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts a number of thousand U.S. troops, was a central node within the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, evacuating extra People and Afghan civilians than every other base on this planet. Qatar’s ambassador to Afghanistan personally rode in buses carrying fleeing People, negotiating their passage throughout Taliban checkpoints.

“The U.S. owes Qatar a lot and that trumps widespread criticism of its mistreatment of foreign workers right now,” mentioned David Ottaway, a gulf professional on the Wilson Middle.

Biden’s ‘consequences’ for Saudi Arabia are reaping quiet outcomes

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it supported the U.S. push to isolate Russia diplomatically and helped stabilize the liquefied pure fuel market in Europe.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel, “Qatar has taken a clear political stance on Ukraine and, while this has not translated into actively working to weaken Russia in the gas market, it has translated into giving high-profile platforms to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for example,” mentioned Cinzia Bianco, a fellow on the European Council on Overseas Relations.

“Blinken’s presence in Qatar is an acknowledgment of these efforts and his high-level presence is very important as this World Cup has been marred by controversy,” she mentioned.

Qatar’s steadfast assist for U.S. pursuits within the Biden period stands in stark distinction with relations with different Center East allies.

Saudi Arabia, for one, enraged U.S. officers in October by saying a choice to chop its oil manufacturing weeks forward of the midterm elections. Israel has overtly defied Biden’s want to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, and relations are anticipated to dip additional with the return of right-wing firebrand Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. The UAE, in the meantime, has meddled in U.S. politics lately, sparking fears among the many U.S. intelligence neighborhood about its clout in Washington.

“Qatar stands out as the most reliable Arab partner the U.S. has today and remained relatively free of congressional criticism even though it has refused to establish diplomatic ties to Israel as the UAE and Bahrain have,” Ottaway mentioned.

U.S. intelligence report says key gulf ally meddled in American politics

However Blinken’s go to hasn’t been all compliments.

The diplomat sharply criticized a choice by FIFA, soccer’s governing physique, to punish World Cup gamers with yellow playing cards in the event that they put on “OneLove” armbands in assist of range and inclusion.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; it’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken mentioned at a information convention alongside Qatari Overseas Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. “No one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Most of the scores of followers who poured into the Qatari capital to look at the video games mentioned financial and social points ought to take a again seat to the sports activities on show.

Chris Wixson, who alongside along with his spouse and son flew from Colorado to Qatar for the World Cup, mentioned he was glad the secretary got here to assist the U.S. staff regardless of the controversy.

“It’s the type of thing you’d hope to see, right? A team like this should bring everyone together, but everything’s so damn divisive,” he mentioned.

Not everybody felt the identical.

Michael Web page, a Center East professional at Human Rights Watch, mentioned he wished Blinken would have used his public remarks to advocate extra forcefully for migrant staff. “It’s disappointing Secretary of State Blinken has chosen to ignore widespread demands from migrant workers and their families as well as soccer players and fans to publicly call for FIFA and Qatari authorities to establish a compensation fund for workers who faced serious abuses.”

World Cup in Qatar

Stay updates: The World Cup continues in Qatar on Tuesday with 4 video games that embody one in all historical past’s best gamers and the reigning champion starting its title protection. Observe our stay protection, evaluation and highlights.

USMNT: Of their return to the World Cup, the younger People settled for a 1-1 draw in opposition to Wales of their Group B opener. The U.S. males’s nationwide staff will face a taller job Friday in opposition to Group B favourite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer followers carrying the rainbow, a logo of LGBTQ inclusivity, have mentioned they had been refused entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the general public to take away the symbol, regardless of assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing physique, that guests could be allowed to freely specific their identities throughout the event in Qatar. Qatari officers have arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT individuals, in some circumstances as not too long ago as final month, based on Human Rights Watch.

Teams information: The U.S. males’s nationwide soccer staff, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star ahead Christian Pulisic, certified for the 2022 World Cup, an enchancment from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 marketing campaign. Right here’s a detailed take a look at how all the groups in every group stack up.

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