DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two of U.S. President Donald Trump's sons ceremonially opened a Trump-branded golf club in Dubai on Saturday, meeting privately with Emirati elites as questions remain about how separated their father is from the empire bearing his name.
Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who now lead the Trump Organization, watched as fireworks lit the sky over the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, on the outskirts of the city-state home to the world's tallest building and other architectural marvels.
The course's opening comes after Donald Trump tried for years to enter the Arab market as a real estate mogul who later earned millions licensing his name to projects. The course's opening now, as well as long-standing plans to open a second Trump-branded course in Dubai, could raise security and ethical issues for America's 45th president going forward.
Though bars at the club eventually will serve alcohol, only soft drinks were dispensed at the windy gala Saturday night.
Billionaire Hussain Sajwani's DAMAC Properties partnered with the Trump Organization to build the golf course at the heart of a development of villas and apartment blocks called DAMAC Hills. Among them are some 100 Trump-branded villas selling from 5 million dirhams ($1.3 million) to over 15 million dirhams ($4 million).
A string octet played classical music on the edge of the course designed by American golf architect Gil Hanse.
A pro shop inside the clubhouse sold Trump International Golf Club baseball caps for 150 dirhams ($40) and Trump-branded golf balls for ($5.50). Absent were the red "Make America Great Again" caps made famous by Trump's campaign.
Both sons gave brief remarks at the opening, neither touching on their father's new job. Donald Jr. instead applauded Dubai's hereditary ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
"It's truly awe inspiring," he said. "In Dubai, if you can envision it, you can build it."
Earlier Saturday, Eric and Donald Jr. attended a private luncheon at Sajwani's mansion on Dubai's man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, speaking underneath an ornamental clock whose face spelled "SAJWANI VILLA."
"It's rare in the world where you can be such great friends with a partner and that's what we have right here," Eric Trump said. "Hussain, he is an amazing person and DAMAC is an amazing company."
The two Trump brothers met with the over 80 people gathered at the event, attendee Niraj Masand told The Associated Press.
They were "expressing their gratitude to Mr. Sajwani, who is the chairman of DAMAC, and sort of expressing their happiness to meet with all the partners," said Masand, a director of the real estate firm Banke International.
Ties between the Trumps and Sajwani remain strong. One of the Trump Organization's subsidiaries received from $1 million to $5 million from DAMAC for running the golf club, according to a U.S. Federal Election Committee report submitted in May.
Sajwani and his family also attended a New Year's Eve celebration at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where Trump referred to them as "the most beautiful people from Dubai."
Trump days later told journalists that DAMAC had offered the Trump Organization $2 billion in deals after his election, something DAMAC also confirmed.
"I must say, working with the Trump family and the Trump Organization was and continues to be a pleasure," said Sajwani, who made some of his fortune supplying U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Over the past decade, his companies have been awarded at least $1 million in contracting work, according to U.S. government records reviewed by the AP.
The Trump Organization has said it won't make new foreign deals while its namesake is president. A previously planned Trump-branded golf course designed by Tiger Woods is still being built by DAMAC further down the road.
However, Kuwait and Bahrain both have scheduled events at a Trump-branded hotel in Washington. Experts also have raised concerns that existing Trump business abroad could run afoul of the so-called "emoluments clause" of the U.S. constitution.
That clause bars public officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments and companies controlled by them without the consent of Congress. Already, a liberal-funded watchdog group has filed a lawsuit citing the clause.
Trump's sons attended the Dubai events as private businessmen, but still traveled with a Secret Service detail as they are immediate family to the president. Guests went through a metal detector and had their bags X-rayed before attending the gala, though Dubai police kept a low profile.
Experts already have warned the Trump brand abroad now faces a global terror risk . However, the United Arab Emirates, a staunch U.S. ally in the war against the Islamic State group and host to some 5,000 American military personnel, remains a peaceful corner of the Middle East.
Gulf Arab leaders largely have been positive so far about Trump, hoping to see a harder line from America on Iran following the nuclear deal with world powers negotiated in part by the Obama administration.
The UAE's foreign minister even backed Trump's travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations earlier this month, which didn't include the UAE or neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Dubai golf course marks Trump's first successful venture in the Arab world. But it has raised questions about how the Trump Organization's many international business interests will affect Trump's administration.
Meanwhile, trips abroad by Trump's two sons are expected to continue. Before Trump's inauguration, his son Eric visited the Trump Tower Punta del Este in Uruguay to check on the tower's progress and personally greet buyers. A Trump hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, is also expected to soon host Trump's sons.
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