Qatar’s defense minister says Doha plans to expand US military’s al-Udeid airbase and to make the facility and US presence there “permanent.”
“We have a big plan to expand al-Udeid to make it permanent,” Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah made the remarks during an event held by the Heritage Foundation, a US-based think-thank, in Washington, on Monday.
“Colleagues in the US Department of Defense are reluctant to mention the word permanent, but we are working from our side to make it permanent,” he said.
“We are planning for a 2040 Vision in the military-to-military cooperation with the United States in all aspects whether it is in the Air Force, Navy or the land force,” he said.
Attiyah went on to say that the expansion of the American airbase, which currently houses about 10,000 US military personnel, will allow for 200 more housing units for officers and their families as well as a new school within the compound.
“It will very soon become family oriented place for our American friends there. We want more of the families to be stable and feel more comfortable in their stay,” Attiyah said.
Al-Udeid is already the largest US military base in the Middle East. It also houses military personnel from the United Kingdom and other allies.
Pointing to reports about Qatar’s possible purchase of Russian S-400 air defense missile system, the Qatari defense chief said it would have no effect on the “solid” relationship between Doha and Washington.
“I think our relation with the United States is much deeper than it will be affected by if we buy from here or there,” he said.
However, al-Attiyah said that his ministry had not announced the purchase of Russian S-400 systems yet.
Last week, Qatar’s Ambassador to Russia Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah said Doha was in talks with Russia on signing a contract for purchases of Russian-made air defense systems and other weaponry.
Persian Gulf Arab states have stepped up purchasing state-of-the-art weaponry from the world powers amid a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and a Saudi-led quartet of Arab countries.
According to Russian Presidential Aide on Military Cooperation Vladimir Kozhin, Moscow is negotiating a possible S-400 deal with Saudi Arabia as well.
Commenting on the ongoing dispute between Qatar and several other Persian Gulf states, the Qatari defense minister said Doha wants to end the crisis and the United States plays an important role in solving the conflict.
“We’re open to dialogue. We can discuss anything. The only thing we don’t accept is imposing conditions on us or tampering with our sovereignty,” he said.
Back in June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE imposed a trade and diplomatic embargo on Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, an allegation strongly denied by Doha.
The Saudi-led quartet presented Qatar with a list of demands and gave it an ultimatum to comply with them or face consequences.
The demands included closing the Al Jazeera broadcaster, removing Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, scaling back cooperation with Iran, and ending ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Doha, however, refused to meet the demands and denounced them as unreasonable.