- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2019

President Trump beamed Tuesday as Qatar signed commercial and military deals worth billions with major U.S. firms at the White House, a tricky partnership that gives the president a potential opening with Iran and more jobs in the battleground state of Ohio.

The leaders of GE Aviation, Boeing, Chevron Phillips, Raytheon and Gulfstream Aerospace inked agreements with officials from Qatar in a brief White House ceremony as the president watched with a grin.

“Even those folders are so beautiful,” quipped Mr. Trump, who has called Qatar’s business ties with the U.S. among the largest in the world.

The deals are part of Qatar’s plans to double its business investment with the U.S. to about $370 billion, said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of the small oil-rich Arab nation.

“We trust the economy here,” the emir said.

The lucrative relationship and the warm statements belied Qatar’s delicate position in the Middle East. Traditional U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and three other Arab neighbors have imposed a land and air blockade of the tiny nation since 2017, claiming that Qatar funds extremist groups and is too friendly with Iran, accusations that Qatar denies.

Qatar has offered to mediate the increasingly tense situation between the U.S. and Iran, which escalated last month when Tehran shot down an unmanned Navy surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping channel. The tiny nation hosts the newly expanded al-Udeid air base, forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and about 10,000 U.S. troops.

Iran also announced this week it is exceeding international limits for enrichment of nuclear fuel, heightening concerns about Tehran’s plans to build nuclear weapons.

“Iran is doing a lot of bad things right now, and they better be very careful,” Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office with the emir by his side.

The White House said after Mr. Trump’s meetings with the emir that both sides are “reinforcing an increasingly close strategic and defense relationship focused on countering threats to our security, peace, and prosperity.”

Mr. Trump has been friendly with the emir before he was elected president. He hosted a dinner for the emir Monday night with dozens of U.S. corporate titans in the “Cash Room” at the Treasury Department, where gold, silver and currency once were delivered by wagon and stored in vaults.

The president could benefit politically from Qatar’s economic boost for the U.S. in general, and specifically in Ohio, where GE Aviation will fulfill a new contract with Qatar Airways for airline engines and service agreements from its Evendale plant near Cincinnati.

“This project will lead to increased investment in the region, which will help spur further economic growth, job creation and innovation, while enhancing Ohio’s reputation as a national leader in the aerospace industry,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, whose state is crucial to Mr. Trump’s reelection chances next year.

Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. of Texas also signed an agreement Tuesday with Qatar Petroleum to jointly build an $8 billion petrochemical plant on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Chevron said a “final investment decision” will come no later than 2021, with targeted startup of the new facility in 2024.

It said the project would support about 9,000 construction jobs and 600 full-time positions at the facility.

Qatar also is purchasing new aircraft from Boeing in what the president called a “large transaction.” Boeing has been facing a crisis over two fatal crashes last year of its 737 Super Max airliner.

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