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Updated December 23rd, 2023 at 13:41 IST

Israel-Hamas war: Biden urged to get tough on Qatar to secure new hostage deal

The senators urged Biden to warn Qatar that its failure to secure a new hostage release could "significantly impact bilateral relations" with the U.S.

Sagar Kar
AP
US President Joe Biden | Image:AP
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Republican Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen (Nev.) urged President Biden on Thursday to increase pressure on Qatar to push Hamas back to the negotiating table for a new hostage deal. Their call comes amid intensifying scrutiny of Qatar's relationship with the Palestinian militant group following a recent attack on Israel. The letter was accessed by Axios yesterday. 

Qatar, a U.S. ally in the Middle East, played a role in mediating the recent prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Venezuela. However, since Hamas's attack on Israel in October, Doha has faced pressure from Congress to clarify its ties with the group, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and other countries.

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The Biden administration's stance

The Biden administration has signaled its intention to hold Qatar accountable on this issue after the war. CIA Director Bill Burns met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Israeli spy chief David Barnea in Warsaw earlier this week to discuss the possibility of a new hostage deal.

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Obstacles to negotiations

Israel has presented a new proposal to restart talks, but Hamas has publicly refused to return to the table unless Israel ends the war first. President Biden acknowledged on Wednesday that he doesn't expect a new hostage deal to be reached soon, but he stressed that the U.S. continues to push for one.

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Bipartisan call for action

Senators Ernst and Rosen, in their letter to Biden, highlighted Qatar's close ties with Hamas and argued that these ties give Doha "outsized access and influence" with the group, including during hostage negotiations.

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"We appreciate Qatar's efforts so far to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and their commitment to continue coordinating efforts to release all remaining hostages," the senators wrote. "However, we are concerned that Qatar is not fully utilizing its leverage to seek further concessions from Hamas."

Potential consequences for U.S.-Qatar relations

The senators urged Biden to warn Qatar that its failure to secure a new hostage release could "significantly impact bilateral relations" with the U.S.

"Time is of the essence to free the hostages — and every diplomatic option must be on the table to secure their release," they emphasized. "Given Qatar's unique ability to influence Hamas, it is imperative that Doha understands our expectation that negotiations result in the release of all remaining hostages."

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White House's response

The White House responded to the senators' letter, stating that "the Biden administration has no higher priority than securing the release" of the hostages.

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It remains to be seen whether Qatar will heed the calls from the U.S. government and lawmakers to exert greater pressure on Hamas to return to the negotiating table. The success of future hostage negotiations could hinge on Doha's willingness and ability to play a more proactive role in mediating between the two sides.

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Published December 23rd, 2023 at 13:24 IST

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