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FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Pentagon chief affirms Qatar, US defence ties
Agence France Presse
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted by Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) in Riyadh December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted by Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) in Riyadh December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool
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DOHA: Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel reaffirmed US military ties with Qatar on Tuesday, during a regional tour aimed at shoring up Gulf alliances amid disagreements over policy on Iran and Syria.

Hagel met Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and his minister of state for defence, Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, in Doha, following stops in Saudi Arabia on Monday and Bahrain last week.

They renewed the United States-Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) which "governs the interactions between US and Qatari forces including training, exercises and other cooperative activities," said a statement by assistant press secretary Carl Woog.

"The agreement promotes cooperation and is a testament to the longstanding security partnership enjoyed by the United States and Qatar," said the statement.

"It underscores the close partnership between the US and its (Gulf Cooperation Council) GCC partners."

Pentagon officials said the trip offered a chance for Hagel to reassure Gulf allies that Washington would maintain a major military presence in the region regardless of a diplomatic opening with Iran.

The Gulf Arab states worry the United States is pulling back from the Middle East and that diplomacy with Iran could embolden Shiite-led Tehran, which is seen as a regional rival.

Hagel on Saturday assured Gulf states that the breakthrough nuclear agreement struck between major powers and Iran on November 24 will not affect the presence of some 35,000 US troops in the region.

Qatar's support for Syrian rebels was also expected to top the agenda, amid concerns in Washington over the growing role of hardline Islamists in the opposition.

US officials have urged greater "coordination" among countries supplying arms and assistance to Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

Washington's reluctance to intervene against Assad, a staunch ally of Tehran, as well as budget pressures and a US "rebalance" to Asia, have added to doubts among Gulf governments over America's staying power in the region.

But Hagel argued Saturday that bonds with the Gulf were as strong as ever, citing as evidence the more than $75 billion in US arms sales to Gulf countries since 2007.

In Saudi Arabia on Monday, Hagel and the kingdom's crown prince and defence minister, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, "agreed that the United States and Saudi Arabia are firmly committed to their strong defence relationship," said a statement by Woog.

They discussed Iran and means of "achieving security and stability in the region", as Hagel stressed that Washington was "fully committed to its security partnership with Saudi Arabia and seeks to deepen its cooperation even further."

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