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In a part of the world better known for towering skyscrapers and oil than for its startup scene, Gulf Arab entrepreneurs might be seeing bright times ahead. That’s according to Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman of Wanda Group, whose venture capital fund invests in tech companies all over the Middle East and North Africa.

“For years we’ve said there is an inverse relationship between how change happens on the regulatory environment and the price of oil — the lower the price of oil, the faster the change process happens,” Ghandour told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Thursday, pointing to Arab Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates whose economies have historically been dependent on hydrocarbon revenues.

Now that oil prices are dramatically down from their October highs, the veteran Middle East investor says the market moves “will definitely be a blessing in disguise” and in that it will force the development of sustainable, knowledge-based economies and jobs. He believes that startups founded five or more years ago are now reaching their maturity stage, meaning there will be more businesses scaling up in the next several years — if they can get the necessary support.

“These companies born somewhere around 2011, 2012, have raised much more money, they are growing much faster, the region is adopting mobile smartphone technology much faster, they are interacting much faster and at a much larger scale, specifically in Saudi Arabia,” Ghandour said.

“This is the time when there is size, there is scale, and the big funds globally who don’t want to take the risk early on, are going to be looking for entry into a market that they don’t have much presence in.” He pointed to New York-based global equity firm General Atlantic’s investment of $120 million in Dubai-based website Property Finder last November. The Middle East real estate platform was founded in 2007 and has been profitable since 2013.

Investments in Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-based startups went up by 31 percent between 2017 and 2018 to $893 million, with 366 deals made, according to Magnitt, a regional data platform for investors. The database also found that more than 155 institutions invested in MENA startups in 2018, 30 percent of which were from outside the region and 47 percent of which had not previously invested in the region.

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Tim Cook reportedly met with an vice premier in China

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Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual session of China Development Forum (CDF) 2018 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China March 26, 2018.

Jason Lee | Reuters

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual session of China Development Forum (CDF) 2018 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China March 26, 2018.

Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly met with a top official in China Friday as he tours the country ahead of the China Development Forum and Apple’s own event on Monday.

State-run news agency Xinhua reported that Cook met with Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan on Friday. Apple did not immediately return a request for comment on the topic of the meeting or other reasons for Cook’s trip to China, but Xinhua said Sun “made positive remarks” about Apple’s role in relations between the U.S. and China.

According to local reports, Cook also visited an online education company that is incorporating augmented reality into its product and met with a Chinese musician as he touted Apple’s streaming service. Cook has been in the country since Thursday and has posted about the trip on Weibo, 9to5Mac reported.

It’s unclear if Cook will be in attendance at this weekend’s Chinese Economic Forum, though Apple is listed as a participating group on the event’s website. Cook attended the forum last year, where he had called for data privacy regulation following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal that revealed the agency exploited millions of user data without their explicit consent.

Cook’s trip follows a turbulent year for commerce between the U.S. and China due to ongoing trade tensions between the two countries. Apple’s revenue in the region was hit hard in its first quarter 2019, dropping nearly $5 billion from the previous year. Cook had cited economic slowdowns in China as a chief cause for its disappointing revenue in the quarter, but still expressed optimism in an interview with CNBC following the report.

“I’m encouraged by the comments coming out of both countries,” Cook told CNBC’s Josh Lipton at the time. But the path forward between the two countries still remains unsettled.

Cook is expected back in the U.S. by Monday, when Apple is hosting its own event where analysts anticipate it will unveil a new streaming service.

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Watch: CNBC’s full interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook



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Putin’s missile with ‘unlimited’ range is too expensive and hasn’t flown more than 22 miles

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Putin’s push to develop weapons of this caliber has sparked concerns of a budding arms race among China, the U.S. and Russia.

What’s more, the latest revelations come a little more than a year after the Russian leader touted his nation’s growing hypersonic arsenal. Of the six new weapons Putin unveiled last March, CNBC learned that two of them, a hypersonic glide vehicle and air-launched cruise missile, will be ready for war by 2020.

The hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed Avangard, is designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. Once launched, it uses aerodynamic forces to sail on top of the atmosphere.

One U.S. intelligence report, according to a source, noted that the hypersonic glide vehicles were mounted to Russian-made SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles — and one test featured a mock warhead.

Previous intelligence reports, which were curated last spring, calculate that Avangard is likely to achieve initial operational capability by 2020, a significant step that would enable the Kremlin to surpass the U.S. and China in this regard.

The hypersonic cruise missile dubbed “Kinzhal,” which means “dagger” in Russian, has been tested at least three times and was mounted and launched 12 times from a Russian MiG-31 fighter jet.

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US slaps sanctions on Venezuela bank Bandes after Guaido aide’s arrest

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro meets with UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York on July 28, 2015.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro meets with UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York on July 28, 2015.

The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s development bank Bandes, a day after the Trump administration warned there would be consequences for the arrest of opposition leader Juan Guaido’s top aide.

The U.S. Treasury said it was slapping the sanctions on the Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela, including its subsidiaries in Uruguay and Bolivia.

“(President Nicolas) Maduro and his enablers have distorted the original purpose of the bank … as part of a desperate attempt to hold onto power,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the action.

Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, has accused Bandes of being used by officials of Maduro’s government to steal funds.

The U.S. Treasury said Maduro tried to move $1 billion out of Venezuela through Banco Bandes Uruguay in early 2019.

Bandes has received billions of dollars over the past decade from the China Development Bank, in exchange for oil, which the Venezuelan government used to fund infrastructure projects.

The sanctions freeze assets belonging to the bank and its subsidiaries, and prevent U.S. citizens from any dealings with Bandes.

The announcement comes after Venezuelan authorities detained Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, on Thursday in a pre-dawn raid, sparking vows of reprisals from the United States, which backs Guaido.

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