Qatar emir, US defence secretary hold talks

DOHA: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis met Qatar’s emir on Saturday during a visit to the state. The visit to Doha is part of a regional tour that has included stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Mattis is scheduled to visit Djibouti on Sunday. The Pentagon chief’s meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani aimed to “reinforce relationships” between the two countries, Mattis said. “Relationships get better or weaker, and I’m committed to making it better from our side,” Mattis told the Qatari leader. Their talks were expected to focus on the fight against the IS group, the conflict in Syria and the regional role of Iran.  Mattis was also due to hold talks with Defence Minister Khaled al Attiya.

Mattis, who commanded troops during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said in Israel on Friday that there was “no doubt” Syria has kept some chemical weapons and warned President Bashar al Assad’s regime not to use them. Assad has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action. Qatar is home to the Al Udeid air base which houses around 10,000 US troops. Qatar cosponsored a deal with Iran late last month that has seen the evacuation of thousands of civilians from two government-held towns in northern Syria under siege by the rebels. A mainly Qatari hunting party, who had been kidnapped in southern Iraq in December 2015, were also freed. — AFP