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U.S. hopes to name Qatar as major non-NATO ally, official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States hopes to move forward with naming Qatar as a major non-NATO ally, a status that provides foreign nations with benefits in defense trade and security cooperation, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

“We’re going to move ahead, we hope, with designating Qatar a major non-NATO ally,” Timothy Lenderking, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, told reporters in a conference call.

U.S. and Qatari officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, met in Washington earlier this week.

“Major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) status gives a country preferential access to U.S. military equipment and technology, including free surplus material, expedited export processing and prioritized cooperation on training.

Qatar’s Government Communications Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Currently 17 countries have MNNA status, including Gulf Arab states Kuwait and Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Qatar, host of the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, has been locked in a dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt since 2017.

Washington has strong ties with all the states involved and sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran. It has pushed for a united Gulf front.

U.S. officials have recently expressed a desire to sell the F-35 stealth war plane to the UAE after it agreed last month to normalise ties with Israel. However, Israeli officials have objected, citing U.S. policy for Israel to maintain a military advantage in the region.

Reporting By Daphne Psaledakis and Arshad Mohammed; Additional Reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky

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