Trump’s dealings in the Middle East have put one of his key allies in a potentially awkward position

Thomas Barrack
Thomas Barrack. Stephen Shugerman / Stringer

President Donald Trump’s denunciations of a key Mideast ally might have put one of his close friends in a potentially awkward spot.

Thomas Barrack, a real-estate billionaire and close ally of Trump, has several business ties to Qatar, the Gulf nation that has found itself in a dispute with its neighbours following Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

After Trump’s trip, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf nation of sponsoring terrorism and allying with Iran. Qatar has denied those charges.

Qatar hosts a large US military base. But Trump has taken an aggressive approach with the nation, earlier this month taking credit for the pressure being put on Qatar. Trump’s position has contrasted at points with the State Department, which has urged mediation among the nations.

The bloc announced Monday that it would extend the deadline for Qatar to accept its demands — which includes shutting down Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV — until late on Tuesday. Qatar effectively refused the demands.

Trump tweeted Monday that he had talked with Saudi Arabia’s leader over the holiday weekend about “peace in the Middle East.” On Wednesday, Trump spoke with Egypt’s president and called for an end to the dispute with Qatar.

Barrack, a close friend who chaired the Presidential Inaugural Committee, has several ties to Qatar:

  • He is reportedly helping organise a Bel Air mansion that is being built for the Qatari royal family.
  • Barrack’s investment firm, Colony Capital, led a consortium that sold Hollywood studio Miramax to a Qatari media group in 2016. Colony had owned Miramax in partnership with the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund.
  • Barrack’s Colony Capital sold luxury Sardinian properties to Qatar’s royal family via its sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Holding LLC, The Telegraph reported in 2012. Earlier this year, Barrack was sued by Italian prosecutors for allegedly evading $US190 million in taxes in that transaction.

President Trump. Getty Images/Pool

In a statement sent via Barrack’s spokesperson, he said: “The friendships and alliances with these major Gulf States sometimes bend in the wind like the date palm trees in their oasis but the roots remain unshaken! And the inspired and progressive young leaders of all these nations are currently redefining the Middle East!”

The statement went on: “I have confidence that the great countries of the Gulf (and their amazingly wise leaders) will soon find a consensus which works for the values and betterment of all involved.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Barrack was one of Trump’s key fundraisers during the election and is a longtime friend and business associate of the president. Barrack orchestrated the sale of New York’s Plaza hotel to Trump in 1988, for instance.

He has also shown support for Trump’s foreign dealings in recent months. In May, Barrack told an audience of Wall Street execs that Trump’s unpredictability in the Middle East has “gained respect” from foreign leaders. Barrack made the comments at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa contributed to this report.

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