Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Qatar for football and talks amid Iranian tensions

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — America’s top diplomat landed in Qatar on Monday to take a world Cup correspond and hold talks as regional tensions remain high amid Iran’s rapid advancement of its nuclear program and nationwide protests rocking the Islamic Republic.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, himself an acknowledged “great mediocre” soccer player, watched America takes on Wales Monday night at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.

Blinken will also hold crucial diplomatic talks with authorities in Qatar, one of the United States’ trusted interlocutors with Iran. Doha shares a huge offshore natural gas field with Tehran.

Iran has also provided airspace routes for Qatar Airways flights and provided food shipments to Qatar amid a years-long boycott of Doha by four Arab countries.

Blinken’s visit is part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts some 8,000 U.S. troops at its massive Al-Udeid air base, which serves as the forward headquarters of NATO’s central command. US army. The base was a key node in America’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and the evacuation of Afghan civilians.

“Qatar is a steadfast and important partner of the United States, and U.S.-Qatari relations continue to grow,” Daniel Benaim, deputy assistant secretary for Arabian Peninsula affairs at the State Department, said ahead of the trip. from Blinken.

“Together, we have made significant progress on a range of issues, including making it easier for at-risk Afghans to travel to the United States for a fresh start, strengthening regional security, and expanding commercial investment ties between our country,” he said.

One of the main topics to be discussed is Iran. Non-proliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched up to 60% – steps away from weapons-grade levels – to reprocess it into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so. TO DO.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, although it has expanded it considerably since the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Meanwhile, Iran is rocked by months-long protests following the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman who was previously arrested by the country’s vice squad.

The authorities’ crackdown and violence surrounding the protests have killed at least 419 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the protests. Iran is also participating in the World Cup and will face the United States on November 29.

Blinken did not immediately discuss regional politics after landing in Qatar. He traveled to Oxygen Park near the National Library of Qatar to visit the Generation Amazing football project involving local students.

“What’s so powerful is everywhere I go in the world, I find other people who love the game and love to play it,” Blinken told the assembled students. “They like watching it enough to discuss it. They love supporting a team with all the joy and heartbreak that brings.

“It’s an incredibly powerful way to bring people together,” he added. “It’s just a powerful reminder of what sport brings us together across geography, across horizons and across groups of one type or another.”

But several students displayed the Palestinian flag as a way to remind Blinken of Israel’s occupation of territory the Palestinians seek for their own independent state.

Palestinian flags were seen flying and around supporters’ shoulders, in part due to Qatar’s support for the Palestinians. Doha opened up the Israelis’ trip to the tournament despite not officially recognizing the country.

“Palestinian identity itself is an act of resistance because there are people who wish to deny our history and minimize our suffering,” said 17-year-old Palestinian student Hasan Zubaidi, standing next to a flag Palestinian.

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