Qatar: Background and U. S. Relations
Qatar, a small peninsular country in the Persian Gulf, emerged as a partner of the United States in the mid-1990s and currently serves as host to major U.S. military facilities. Qatar holds the third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world, and its small citizenry enjoys the world's highest per capita income. The emir of Qatar, Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has managed a course of major economic growth and very limited political liberalization since replacing his father in a bloodless palace coup in 1995. The emir has undertaken several projects to capitalize on Qatar's hydrocarbon resources, improve educational opportunities for Qatari citizens, and pursue economic diversification. As part of Qatar's liberalization experiment, the Qatari monarchy founded Al Jazeera, the first all-news Arabic language satellite television network, in 1995. The network has proven influential and controversial since its establishment, including during recent unrest in the Arab world. In an April 2003 referendum, Qatari voters approved a new constitution that officially granted women the right to vote and run for national office. Long-delayed elections for two-thirds of the seats in a national Advisory Council outlined by the new constitution are planned for 2013. Central Municipal Council elections were held in May 2011. Qatari officials have taken an increasingly active diplomatic role in recent years, seeking to position themselves as mediators and interlocutors in a number of regional conflicts. Qatar's deployment of fighter jets and transport planes to support NATO-led military operations in Libya signaled a new assertiveness, as have Qatari leaders' calls for providing weapons to the Syrian opposition. Qatar's willingness to embrace Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban as part of its mediation and outreach initiatives has drawn scrutiny from some U.S. observers. Unrest in Syria and Hamas-Fatah reconciliation attempts have created challenging choices for Qatar, and Qatari leaders now host Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal following his split with the Asad regime. The Obama Administration has not voiced public concern about Qatar's multidirectional foreign policy and has sought to preserve and expand military and counterterrorism cooperation with the ambitious leaders of this wealthy, strategically located country.
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