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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Trump administration reveals new US ambassador to UAE

John Rakolta, 70, is a business executive and Trump fundraiser who is new to foreign diplomacy 

John Rakolta, the new US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, speaks during a meeting addressing Detroit's education struggles at the Mackinac Policy Conference in 2015. Tanya Moutzalias / The Ann Arbor News via AP)
John Rakolta, the new US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, speaks during a meeting addressing Detroit's education struggles at the Mackinac Policy Conference in 2015. Tanya Moutzalias / The Ann Arbor News via AP)

The new American ambassador to the UAE was announced on Wednesday by President Donald Trump.

John Rakolta of Michigan is a business executive and civic leader who has served as chairman and chief executive of Detroit-based construction company Walbridge Aldinger since 1993.

The 102-year-old Walbridge, which builds manufacturing plants, hospitals and government facilities, reported $1.5 billion in revenue last year, according to Crain’s Business Detroit list of largest family-owned companies.

Mr Rakolta is also co-chairman of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children and of the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition.

Unlike predecessor Barbara Leaf, a long-standing foreign diplomat who served in the Balkans and during the reconstruction of Iraq, Mr Rakolta is new to diplomacy, only serving as honorary-consul general for Romania in the state of Michigan.

Mr Rakolta is a trustee of advocacy group New Detroit and a campaign cabinet member for United Way of south-east Michigan, a community volunteers organisation.

The 70-year-old was also a fundraiser for Mr Trump during the presidential campaign, with donations from him and his family to the Trump Victory Fund reaching more than $260,000.

Mr Rakolta served as finance chairman for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

In July, Mr Rakolta told The Detroit News that he travelled to Chicago, where he met Mr Trump at one of the president’s hotels before agreeing to be a fundraiser. He was said to have attended Mr Trump’s election night party in New York City when the property mogul became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988.

Mr Rakolta is said to have played a central role in lobbying the Republican-controlled legislature to relieve the Detroit public schools district of $617 million in debt piled up over seven years by state-appointed managers, according to Crain’s.

He has also recently been advocating for reforms in special education funding to make it more equitable for traditional school districts.

Mr Rakolta is the third Detroit businessman to be nominated by the Republican president for an ambassadorship.

In November, Mr Trump nominated the Suburban Collection chairman and chief executive David Fischer to be US ambassador in Morocco.

Last month, he nominated Ann Arbor, Michigan, property consultant Joseph Cella to be ambassador to Fiji.

In November 2016, Mr Rakolta spoke of Mr Trump to Politico, saying: “Right now, I’m undecided. I haven’t seen that ‘pivot’ that we’d need to see from someone who’s capable of being the next president of the United States.”