In Qatar Airways, American Airlines May Have an Unwanted Suitor

The timing of the Qatar Airways approach also adds a complication to the United States government’s increasingly troubled relationship with Qatar, the tiny but wealthy Persian Gulf Arab emirate that borders Saudi Arabia and is home to the largest American military air base in the Middle East. Qatar is in the midst of a crisis provoked by Saudi Arabia, which cut ties with the country a few weeks ago and imposed an economic embargo over what the Saudis called Qatar’s support for terrorism.

American said in the securities filing that the proposed transaction “does not alter” its conviction that the federal government must enforce its Open Skies deal with the Qatari government to “ensure fair competition.” Matt Miller, a spokesman at American Airlines, declined to comment beyond the securities filing.

The gulf carrier described the potential purchase as a “strong investment opportunity” and promised not to involve itself in operations. “Qatar Airways believes in American Airlines’ fundamentals and intends to build a passive position in the company with no involvement in management, operations or governance,” the statement said.

Shares of American Airlines were up 3 percent on Thursday.

Qatar Airways said it planned to initially buy 4.75 percent on the public market, a stake worth about $1.2 billion based on American’s current share price. A Department of Justice review of the investment will begin once the carrier acquires about $81 million of American’s stock.

To buy more, the gulf carrier will need the approval of the American Airlines board. Any move could set up a standoff at a time when Qatar Airways is already under pressure.

Several United States carriers, including American Airlines, have complained to the Trump administration about the subsidies that the Persian Gulf airlines receive from their government backers. The money, the American companies wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, has allowed such companies “to operate without concern for turning a profit” and “therefore focus entirely on stripping market share and driving out competition.”

The American companies are playing to Mr. Trump’s “America first” agenda, saying the subsidies hurt the country’s job market. “For every long-haul route lost or foregone as a result of subsidized gulf carrier competition, more than 1,500 American jobs are lost,” the letter in February said.

Qatar Airways has also been ensnared in an international dispute, after Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states recently cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. President Trump added further fuel to the crisis by emphatically siding with the Saudis on Twitter — even as his own diplomats appeared to disagree.

The embargo on Qatar has severely affected Qatar Airways, one of the country’s most recognized global brands. The airline can no longer fly to Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Travel to the United States has been slumping in recent months for a range of reasons, including Mr. Trump’s attempts to enact a travel ban for citizens from some predominantly Muslim countries. Adding to the difficulties, the United States government has barred passengers on American-bound flights from carrying onboard any electronic devices larger than a cellphone.

A strengthened partnership with American Airlines presumably could increase Qatar’s influence with policy makers in the Trump administration. But it also risks irritating the Saudis, who view Mr. Trump as one of their strongest allies.

The complexities of the Qatar crisis were reflected in an unusual critique issued on Tuesday by the State Department, which chided the Saudis and their embargo partners for not giving Qatar some specific ways to resolve their differences.

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