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Saudis And The UAE Will Donate $100 Million To A Fund Inspired By Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump participates in a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal to President Trump at the Royal Court Palace on Saturday in Riyadh.
Evan Vucci
Ivanka Trump participates in a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal to President Trump at the Royal Court Palace on Saturday in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate a combined $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs that was the brainchild of Ivanka Trump.

The announcement by World Bank President Jim Young Kim came during a visit to Saudi Arabia by President Trump, who was accompanied by his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

"We thought it was a fantastic idea," Kim said. "But we had no idea how quickly this would build. This is really a stunning achievement. I've never seen anything come together so quickly, and I really have to say that Ivanka's leadership has been tremendous." The money will help kick off a $1 billion women's empowerment fund that the World Bank will announce in July, he said.

The UAE's U.S. ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, said in a statement that the promised donation reflects "our commitment to empowering women in our region and builds on the progress we have made in our country, where women play a role in every segment of society."

Trump often excoriated the Clinton Foundation

The donation raised some eyebrows, since candidate Trump regularly excoriated the Clinton Foundation for accepting donations from repressive Middle East regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

USA Today quoted a June 2016 Facebook posting in which Trump said, "Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!"

During an October debate, Trump also told Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, "Saudi Arabia giving $25 million, Qatar, all of these countries. You talk about women and women's rights? So these are people that push gays off business - off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money."

The World Bank fund, which provides technical help and investment funding for women business owners, differs from the Clinton Foundation in some significant ways. While Ivanka Trump proposed the idea along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she is not involved with its operation.

Donations need to be strictly vetted

Norm Eisen, former ethics official for the Obama Administration and a regular critic of the Trump family's conflicts of interest, noted in an email to NPR, "In my view foreign government donations to a fund run by a reputable international organization like the World Bank for a good cause are generally acceptable."

But Eisen said the donations need to be strictly vetted and must be transparent.

"Based on what we know, there's no reason to believe that those two things did not happen. That said, the hypocrisy is concerning, and the general miasma of corruption that surrounds all things Trump suggests some extra scrutiny here," he added.

"I don't see this fund as a big problem if she does not solicit [donations] and it is entirely World Bank run," said Richard Painter, former ethics adviser to the George W. Bush administration.

"But the Saudis could try letting women drive cars too. That would be good for entrepreneurship," he said.

Earlier in the day, Ivanka Trump met with a group of elite Saudi women at Tuwaiq Palace in Riyadh, where she largely avoided sharp criticism of the country's treatment of women.

"There's still a lot of work to be done" to empower women in both Saudi Arabia and the United States, she said.

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Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.