Doha, Dec 7 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Qatar on Thursday for a one-day trip to the small Gulf country as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors.
Macron landed and immediately traveled to the vast al-Udeid air base, home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command. France also has a contingent of soldiers at the base, which is crucial to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and to the war in Afghanistan.
Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base's top commanders.
Speaking to coalition soldiers, he said the next few months of battle will determine the outcome of the war against the IS group in Iraq in Syria.
"This military win does not signify the end of the operations and the end of our battle because first we need to stabilize and win peace in Iraq and Syria," he told troops. "Next spring is decisive in the situation in Iraq."
Macron also stressed in his remarks at the air base that France wants to avoid partition in Syria and "avoid the domination of certain international elements whose interests contradict peace."
The French president later will hold talks with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a multibillion dollar deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. Qatar may announce during Macron's visit that it will purchase up to 12 more of the French-made Dassault Rafale jets.
Macron's visit comes just days after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Kuwait failed to bring the standoff any closer to a resolution in the dispute engulfing Qatar. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut relations with Qatar over allegations it supports extremists and has too-close relations with Iran.
Qatar has long denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Also likely to come up during Macron's visit is President Donald Trump's announcement that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim the city's eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state.
Before Macron's arrival, Qatar's ruler held calls with Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Qatar has, in the past, provided crucial aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant Hamas group, and has helped pay public sector wages in the besieged Palestinian territory.