Qatar is suddenly investing heavily in the U.S., bankrolling D.C.’s City Center, other projects

There shouldn’t be much of a mystery as to why any country, including Qatar, is investing in the United States. Like any business that is poorly managed has a higher risk of being bought out. In other words, America is for sale and new management is being brought in.

Eight years after Washington’s biggest construction project in two decades was launched, City Center was just a sad expanse of parking lots on seven blocks of prime downtown real estate, a project paralyzed by the economic downturn, according to city officials.

Then came Qatar. A tiny nation of sand dunes and salt lakes jutting into the Persian Gulf, Qatar has only about 250,000 citizens, but it is also home to the world’s largest natural gas field and, therefore, unimaginable wealth.

Qatar had never invested in D.C. real estate before. And its spending spree didn’t stop there. The Qataris also invested in Chicago, where their Al Faisal Group last year bought the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel. The group has said it will seek other American properties.

This year, Qatar bought Current TV for $500 million, hired 800 journalists and launched Al Jazeera America, vastly expanding the TV news operation’s presence in the United States.

In recent weeks, Qatar Airways announced plans to expand its U.S. service in 2014 by adding Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia to a lineup of destinations that includes Houston, Washington, New York and Chicago. And last month, Qatar said it will spend $19 billion to buy 50 Boeing 777 aircraft, part of a larger deal between the U.S. aviation company and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The number of Qatari students at U.S. universities has jumped fivefold in the past decade, and the Qatari Foundation International is spending $5 million this year to encourage U.S. schools to teach Arabic.

The surge in interest and investment in the United States by one of the world’s smallest countries is raising eyebrows and questions, many of which boil down to, “Why?”

The Qataris aren’t saying — the government and three major institutions declined to discuss their U.S. operations — but those who work with the Qataris say the new spending reflects a growing emphasis on boosting return on investment, as well as a desire to diversify a U.S. relationship previously focused on energy and defense.

Reading Qatar’s motives is more art than science; analysts who study the country rarely have access to its ruling family. “Qatar is a family business with a seat at the United Nations,” said Chase Untermeyer, a business consultant who was U.S. ambassador to Qatar under President George W. Bush. “It doesn’t really matter who owns Al Jazeera or Qatari Diar [the state-owned real estate investment company] because it’s all part of the same family business.

Full article: Qatar is suddenly investing heavily in the U.S., bankrolling D.C.’s City Center, other projects (Washington Post)

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