Before he was even sworn in, questions began to circulate about how President Trump was going to handle his numerous foreign business interests. After nearly six months in office, the questions haven’t stopped. In fact, they seem to have only increased, especially in light of Trump’s recent decision to throw his support behind Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — two countries where he happens to have multiple business ties — in their feud with Qatar.
According to Trump, he is not backing Qatar because the country is “a funder of terror at a very high level.” His position on the matter differs greatly from the secretaries of defense and state, though, who have both stated that they are remaining neutral in the matter.
Trump has had a relationship with Saudi Arabia since at least 1995, when he sold the Plaza Hotel for $325 million to a partnership that was formed by a Saudi prince and an investor from Singapore.
Trump has also not made any efforts to keep his relationship with Saudi Arabia a secret; in 2015, during a rally in Mobile, Alabama, he told his supporters that the Saudis “buy apartments” from him. He then added:
‘They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.’
The president has also earned millions of dollars off of a golf course in the United Arab Emirates that bears his name.
From a business standpoint, it would make sense for Trump to want to remain on good terms with the leaders of these two countries, especially since he has no business relationship with Qatar, despite efforts to create one.
Brian Egan, a former State Department legal adviser, told The New York Times on Saturday that Trump is sending a message to other countries in the Middle East with his decision to back the countries that he has previously done business with.
‘Other countries in the Middle East see what is happening and may think, “We should be opening golf courses” or “We should be buying rooms at the Trump International.” Even if there is no nefarious intent on behalf of the president or the Trumps, for a president to be making money from business holdings in sensitive places around the world is likely to have an impact.’
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab allies all broke off trade, travel, and diplomatic relationships with Qatar.
In response to this decision, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson first called on Qatar to “be responsible to the concerns of its neighbors.” However, he then issued a message to the countries that initiated the blockade:
‘We call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar.’
A few hours after this statement, Trump contradicted Tillerson and endorsed the blockade, saying that “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding [of terrorism].”
Despite this explanation, people in Qatar are questioning whether Trump’s actions were actually motivated by the fact that he was turned down when he wanted to establish businesses in the country.
Clayton Swisher, a journalist who works for the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network, recently wrote:
‘Could anyone have imagined that five or 10 years ago, when businessmen turned down a New York mogul and reality TV host auditioning for its investment, that they were JEOPARDIzING the security of their country?’
When questioned about the potential conflict of interest, a White House spokesman only said that Trump has “formally extracted himself” from his businesses.
Featured image via Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images.