Will Trump's Muslim ban remarks mar US-Gulf business links?

Political ties between the US and the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, have been strained by President Obama's pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.

November 13, 2016 11:11
2 minute read.
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US real-estate magnate Donald Trump is seen playing golf on a billboard at the Trump International Golf Club Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on August 12, 2015. (photo credit: KARIM SAHIB/AFP)

DUBAI - Gulf executives who were upset by Donald Trump's campaign trail comments about Muslims took a conciliatory tone following his election victory and said they were open for business with the United States.

In Dubai, boards displaying the President-elect's name and his support for a DAMAC project to build a gated community, spa and Trump-branded golf course can be seen from a road on the edge of the city.

Gulf business links with Trump and other US firms are strong. The United States imported $32.4 billion of goods including oil from the six Gulf countries in 2015 and the region is the most important client base for Boeing and a number of US defense firms.

The Gulf's sovereign wealth funds also have hundreds of billions of dollars of US investments.

Nevertheless, Arab business figures were angry about Trump's campaign calls for Muslims to be banned from entering the United States, following the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, by a Muslim couple in December 2015.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, head of investment firm Kingdom Holding which has stakes in US firms including Citigroup and Twitter, called him a "disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America."

However, the billionaire was among those wishing him well on Wednesday, tweeting: "President elect @realDonaldTrump whatever the past differences, America has spoken, congratulations & best wishes for your presidency."

Another billionaire businessman, Khalaf al-Habtoor, who worked with Trump on a construction project that was halted in 2008, wrote an op-ed in a local newspaper in August last year backing Trump for the presidency.

But Habtoor backtracked after Trump's Muslim comments and said Gulf money would quit the US if he won.

Speaking to Arabian Business on Wednesday, Habtoor insisted Trump's comments on Muslims "were for the election only" and he would now tone down his rhetoric, something that would open the door to re-establishing good relations with the Gulf.

Political ties between the United States and the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, have been strained by President Barack Obama's pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, which has led to opinions that America has abandoned its long-term allies in favor of their regional rival.

Relations were also damaged by the US Congress's approval in September of legislation which paves the way for families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, whose citizens accounted for 15 of the 19 hijackers.

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