Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Tom Barrack indictment could strain U.S.-UAE ties

 Tom Barrack.
Tom Barrack. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

The arrest on Tuesday of Tom Barrack, a business tycoon and close Trump ally, for allegedly acting as an unregistered Emirati agent could complicate relations between the Biden administration and the UAE.

Driving the news: The indictment against Barrack, a real estate investor who chaired Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, indicates he was in contact with the highest echelons of the Emirati leadership, without naming specific officials.

  • The only Emirati mentioned by name is one of the defendants, businessman Rashid Al-Malik, who facilitated Barrack's communications with senior UAE officials, per the indictment.
  • A 2019 story from The Intercept described Al-Malik as working for Emirati intelligence chief Ali Al-Shamsi as a paid intelligence source, reporting back to Abu Dhabi on the Trump administration's plans. Al-Malik left the U.S. in 2017 after he was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Between the lines: Barrack was not charged under the Foreign Agent Registration Act but under another foreign agent statute previously used to charge Russian agent Maria Butina and other alleged spies.

What they're saying: The White House, State Department and Emirati government still haven’t reacted to the indictment.

State of play: Unlike other countries in the region that had warm relations with Trump, the UAE managed to make the transition to Biden with almost no change in the relationship.

  • The White House will likely prioritize maintaining a close relationship with the UAE, but the indictment could create political complications, mainly inside the Democratic Party.
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