Qatar copies Saudi's 'in­vest­ment diplo­macy'

Na­tion buy­ing sub­stan­tial US shares as po­lit­i­cal bul­wark

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may ac­cuse Qatar of spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ism, but that did not stop the wealthy emi­rate this week from light­ing up the Em­pire State build­ing in the na­tional col­ors of his Mid­dle Eastern na­tion. Trump-who him­self once tried to ac­quire the Man­hat­tan skyscraper-has sided with Saudi Ara­bia in its in­creas­ingly bit­ter dis­pute with Qatar, but Doha has adopted a tac­tic long used by its more pow­er­ful Saudi neigh­bor to get its own way, buy­ing up sub­stan­tial shares in the US econ­omy as a bul­wark against shift­ing po­lit­i­cal sands.

The iconic 102-story Em­pire State build­ing was bathed in the bur­gundy and white of Qatar Air­ways, the state flag car­rier of Qatar, os­ten­si­bly to cel­e­brate 10 years of flights into the United States. Less ob­vi­ous was the fact that al­most a year ago, the oil and gas-rich emi­rate pur­chased a 10-per­cent, $622 mil­lion stake in the all-Amer­i­can build­ing.

Trump once tried un­suc­cess­fully to seize con­trol of the build­ing dur­ing his hey­day as a New York prop­erty mogul, when he still owned the land that the skyscraper stands on. Last month, Qatar stunned Amer­i­can Air­lines with plans to ac­quire a 10 per­cent stake in the world's largest com­mer­cial air car­rier. At the same time, it signed a $12 bil­lion con­tract to buy 36 F-15 fighter jets from Boe­ing: A frac­tion of the $110bil­lion arms deal inked when Mr Trump vis­ited Riyadh in May, but still enough to make US business lead­ers sit up and lis­ten. "They have ten­ta­cles ev­ery­where, they are amaz­ing," said Randa Slim, a scholar at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute.

'A lis­ten­ing ear'

Qatar's great­est in­ter­na­tional as­set, of course, is host­ing the for­ward head­quar­ters of US Cen­tral Com­mand on its soil, putting the coun­try squarely at the heart of the global US mil­i­tary foot­print. Doha is also home to shiny out­posts of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity and the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, among Wash­ing­ton's most pres­ti­gious think tanks, which Qatari of­fi­cials said should pro­mote the "bright im­age" of Qatar to the in­ter­na­tional me­dia, "es­pe­cially the Amer­i­can ones." Like Trump, a prop­erty ty­coon turned pres­i­dent, Qatari in­vestors have dived into real estate on four con­ti­nents, bankrolling and buy­ing into ma­jor de­vel­op­ments in Wash­ing­ton, Chicago and Lon­don, where they bought a stake in Heathrow Air­port.

Slim said that US con­cern for Qatar's Al-Udeid Air Base­which the Amer­i­cans use to stage op­er­a­tions in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ye­men-guar­an­teed that Wash­ing­ton would give Qatar's po­si­tion in the cri­sis con­sid­er­able weight. While the pres­i­dent Tweeted about al­leged Qatari back­ing for Syr­ian ji­hadists, his own De­fense Depart­ment as­sured Qatar of con­tin­u­ing US sup­port, while the State Depart­ment re­buked the Saudi coali­tion for its treatment of the coun­try, seen by other Gulf states as too close to Iran.

"Def­i­nitely, the White House does not seem to be on their side but you have other pow­er­ful agen­cies that are stand­ing on their side, at least un­til now," Slim said. "Even if you have groups who are ar­gu­ing for a bal­anced po­si­tion in this ad­min­is­tra­tion, I don't see any­one sid­ing with Qatar 100 per­cent," she added. "Qatar does not have 100 per­cent sup­port. Qatar has a lis­ten­ing ear."

Saudi's heavy­weight check­book

What­ever in­roads Doha may have made, Saudi Ara­bia, their larger and richer ad­ver­sary in the cri­sis, re­tains a for­mi­da­ble po­si­tion. That king­dom is the sec­ond-largest foreign sup­plier of crude oil to the United States, a long­stand­ing linch­pin of US foreign pol­icy and a ma­jor backer of large US cor­po­ra­tions.

As Trump pre­pared to tour the Mid­dle East in May, Riyadh pledged to pour $20 bil­lion into an in­fra­struc­ture fund man­aged by the in­vest­ment firm Black­stone, whose bil­lion­aire chair­man Stephen Sch­warz­man is a prom­i­nent Trump backer. This came on the heels of $110 bil­lion in arms sales as well as bil­lions more in deals for Gen­eral Elec­tric and Lock­heed Martin.

On the cam­paign trail, Trump also praised Saudi in­vestors for buy­ing his apart­ments, and he has re­port­edly in­cor­po­rated com­pa­nies in the king­dom. Mean­while, the Qataris have few es­tab­lished business links with the Trump clan if any-but not for want of effort by the real estate mogul.

"By virtue of their rel­a­tive size (both ge­o­graphic and fi­nan­cial), Qatar will al­ways be weaker," said Robert Blecher, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Mid­dle East pro­gram at the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group. "But not weak enough to make fi­nances and business deals the de­ci­sive fac­tor in this con­tretemps." Ac­cord­ing to James Jef­frey of the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances in­vest­ments would not fac­tor into geopo­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

"When you have a huge strate­gic prob­lem such as this, the Amer­i­can po­si­tion is tra­di­tion­ally, 'We don't care who's bought shares,'" Jef­frey, a long serv­ing US diplo­mat in the Mid­dle East and a for­mer deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush, told AFP. But he said this par­tic­u­lar White House may be send­ing the sig­nal that business ties do count for a great deal. "This ad­min­is­tra­tion has given plenty of in­di­ca­tions that that's the way it works," he said. — AFP

DOHA: In this Thurs­day Jan 6, 2011 file photo, a tra­di­tional dhow floats in the Cor­niche Bay of Doha, Qatar, with tall build­ings of the fi­nan­cial district in the back­ground. — AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.