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Hook’s staunch message echoed that of senior administration officials Pompeo and national security advisor John Bolton, who have long held a hard line on Iran and until December had pledged a long-term U.S. presence in Syria with the aim of both countering the Islamic State and pushing back on Iranian military activity there.

The policymakers have had to change tack since Trump’s surprise announcement on December 19 to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria. Now, diplomats insist that while they plan to carry through Trump’s decision, the mission to expel Iran from Syria remains unchanged.

Critics of the withdrawal move warn that IS is not fully defeated, and that leaving so abruptly would mean abandoning local allies, namely Syrian Kurdish fighters, that have carried the brunt of the ground fight against IS alongside U.S. forces. Allies have been left confused as to the administration’s policy goals in the region.

At the same time, many senior officials in the Middle East and regional experts alike say that despite Washington’s promises, the idea of Iran its proxy forces leaving Syria is inconceivable.

To that notion, Hook was defiant.

“Well, we don’t listen to the council of defeatism,” he said. “If we always listened to our critics, we wouldn’t be getting very far in foreign policy.”

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DAMAC chairman calls bottom for Dubai property market, sees value in Brexit

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A major Emirati property developer believes Dubai’s property market has bottomed out — but says there remain at least two more tough years ahead before a full rebound.

“2018 has been a difficult year, prices have come down, sales have come down, and I think ’19 and ’20 are going to be also not easy years,” Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai real estate heavyweight DAMAC Properties told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Wednesday. “I think we are at the bottom, from a price point of view, but it will take at least two years to absorb the supply.”

The UAE’s commercial hub has suffered a bruising year, with Dubai’s stock market the worst-performing in the Middle East, a fall in tourism and record drops in property sales. Property sector analysts say the city has been overbuilding, and with weak demand for all the newly built homes and apartments, property prices have been tanking. Residential prices in the emirate of 3 million have fallen by some 15 percent since 2014.

A report by real estate platform PropertyFinder published last November predicted a continued slide for the sector in 2019, as supply is expected to double or even triple while demand remains subdued.

Sajwani described a “beautiful five years of growth” at the start of the decade that saw prices going up, and emphasized his belief that the city would stage a comeback.

“Dubai is very resilient, from the long-term growth. It’s always going to go through the cycle,” he said. “As a free capital economy, you know, people are going to overbuild, and then going to catch up. And the leader is very open-minded,” Sajwani added, referencing the leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

“He doesn’t want to restrict the supply or the demand. He says, ‘Let the supply-demand naturally take its place. No point of control(ling) the supply — let everybody manage as a normal economy’.”

DAMAC, with an annual turnover of some $2 billion, was the first Middle Eastern real estate company to list on the London Stock Exchange. The company reported its worst quarter of booked sales last April-June with a 46 percent fall in profits. Still, the company’s leadership predicts a cyclical recovery and has plans to continue expansion in the Middle East, Africa, the U.S. and in Europe in particular.

Sajwani predicted similar levels for profits in 2019 and 2020, but stressed that the company’s focus now is on streamlining costs and finding opportunities to grow in overseas markets. London is a bright spot on the chairman’s radar — and not in spite of Brexit, but because of it, thanks to a dramatic drop in the value of the pound.

“We like London, we have experience in London,” he said, describing a 50-storey tower slated to be completed at the end of next year. “We see, in Brexit issues, a great opportunity, as (the) price is going to correct, the pound has come down really drastically, and we’re waiting for an opportunity to invest in London, and we want to go in a big way in London.”

And Sajwani described interest in a number of real estate sub-sectors, pointing to mixed-use property, luxury apartments, office buildings, and retail. “So we’re looking at property from all the angles, and we’re willing to write a big check and go in a big way in London. We believe in London,” he added.

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Bill Gates turns $10 billion into $200 billion worth of economic benefit

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Investing in global health organizations aimed at increasing access to vaccines created a 20-to-1 return in economic benefit, billionaire Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates told CNBC on Wednesday.

Over the past two decades, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated “a bit more than $10 billion” into mainly three groups: the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

“We feel there’s been over a 20-to-1 return,” yielding $200 billion over those 20 or so years, Gates told CNBC’s Becky Quick on “Squawk Box” from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Helping young children live, get the right nutrition, contribute to their countries — that has a payback that goes beyond any typical financial return.”

As a comparison, Gates echoed what he wrote in an essay in The Wall Street Journal last week under the banner “The Best Investment I’ve Ever Made,” saying that same $10 billion put into the S&P 500 would have grown only to $17 billion over 18 years, factoring in reinvested dividends.

On vaccines, Gates also had a message for parents who fear side effects as a reason not to get their kids their shots. “It is wild that just because you get misinformation, thinking you’re protecting your kid, you’re actually putting your kid at risk, as well as all the other kids around them.”

Using measles as an example of a once-dangerous disease that’s easily preventable by a vaccine, Gates warned against complacency.

“As you get a disease down to small numbers, people forget. So they back off. They think, ‘Gosh, I heard from rumor. Maybe I’ll just avoid doing it,'” he said. “As you accumulate more and more people saying that for whatever reason, eventually measles does show up. Kids get sick. And sometimes they die.”

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Hedge fund manager Einhorn explains why he lost more than 30% last year: ‘Nothing went right’

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“Nothing went right for the entire year,” Einhorn said in the letter to investors. “In 2018, the losses were a mile wide and a yard deep. It’s much easier to explain results when they are driven by large moves in a few names. It’s much harder when the answer is a lot of everything. But today, it feels more like a combination of a few where we were wrong, a difficult environment for value investing, and a lot of adverse variance.”

Einhorn’s collapse came in a dismal year when stocks and other risk assets took a hit from the ongoing trade battles and slowing global growth. However, Einhorn’s hedge funds underperformed the market drastically — the S&P 500 ended 2018 down just 6 percent. His funds have been lackluster since 2015 when they lost more than 20 percent. They returned 7 percent in 2016 and 1.5 percent in 2017.

The underperformance in 2018 has inevitably led to “substantial redemptions,” which forced Einhorn to reopen the funds to gain additional capital. Einhorn had not allowed new investments in four years.

“At this point, we no longer believe there is risk of our assets growing too quickly (other than through improved performance), so for those interested in investing, the answer will now be yes,” Einhorn said.

The downturn sharply contrasted Einhorn’s early years, when he scored some of Wall Street’s best returns including 24 percent in 2006 and 32 percent in 2009. Einhorn also made the most prescient call of the entire financial crisis — the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In the letter, Einhorn also reviewed his current positions that are 5 percent or larger, saying “they should all do better in 2019.”

Greenlight’s current long positions include General Motors, insurer Brighthouse Financial and homebuilder Green Brick Partners, which all struggled in 2018, bleeding as much as 47 percent. Einhorn is also shorting Tesla, saying the electric car maker is in “such a bizarre situation,” and its estimates are optimistic.

The hedge fund manager is also using gold as a hedge against “imprudent” global fiscal and monetary policies as the national debt ballooned to over $2 trillion under the current administration.

“When the economy eventually slows, the deficit is sure to expand rapidly, possibly catastrophically. The politicians say deficits don’t matter. History says otherwise,” Einhorn said.

His firm also has “a bit of a macro hedge in case the politicians and central bankers continue to act irresponsibly — which seems like a safe bet,” he added. He did not disclose what the hedge was.

— With reporting by CNBC’s
Scott Wapner

WATCH: Greelight’s David Einhorn compares Tesla to Lehman Brothers

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