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‘Independent’ think tank that got $5 million from Qatar made to register as foreign agent

A Washington nonprofit that describes itself as an “independent research institute” has registered as a foreign agent of Qatar after coming under scrutiny from the Department of Justice.

The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in late May, according to a lobbying filing made public this afternoon. In the 51-page filing, the institute reveals that it received a $5.2 million pledge from the Qatari Embassy in Washington, plus another $1 million from the embassy, the Qatar National Tourism Council and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy through March 2019.

The filing includes the institute’s Oct. 1, 2017 “gift and pledge agreement” with the embassy, which promised to spend $1,742,500 per year on the effort. Also attached are legal contracts with the tourism council and the Supreme Committee from 2019.

“At the time the agreements submitted with this registration were signed, QAI did not believe these activities constituted political activities under FARA,” reads the registration, which was signed by institute Chairwoman Peggy Loar. “In response to a March 12, 2020, letter from the US Department of Justice, QAI has made the decision to register.”

In addition, the institute’s chairman from 2017 to 2019, former US Ambassador to Qatar Charles Untermeyer, has also belatedly registered as a foreign agent of the institute during his time at its helm, when he was paid $10,000 per month. Untermeyer is now a lobbyist for Qatar based in Texas.

The agreement with the embassy notably encourages open debate. It specifies for example that “appearances by Qatari officials at US forums across the country “should specifically and unhesitatingly address the issues often raised against Qatar, such as the broadcasts of Al Jazeera, relations with Iran, terrorist finance, and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Sunni groups in opposition to the Assad regime in Syria.”

According to its most recent publicly available tax return, the institute received $2.2 million in contributions and grants in 2018 and spent about the same amount, about half of it on salaries and other compensation.

The institute was formed in September 2017 to promote US ties with Qatar after rival Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Doha and launched multi-million-dollar US public relations campaigns against the country. Those countries’ attempts to influence US policy via think-tanks have also come under scrutiny.

The Qatar-America Institute and the Qatari Embassy in Washington did not reply to requests for comment.

Update: This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. on June 3 with additional information.