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Lobby war complicates US Gulf mediation; DOJ tells AJ+ to register as foreign agent; Saudi lobby firm cuts fees: Tuesday’s daily digest

While Pompeo presses for reconciliation, Gulf rivals still spend millions lobbying against each other

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Doha, Qatar, on Sept. 11, 2020 / State Department photo by Ron Przysucha

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue on Monday by declaring that it was “past time” for the Arab Gulf rivals to bury the hatchet and renew diplomatic ties.

$100 million says he’ll probably have to wait a little longer.

That’s about how much money the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have spent lobbying in Washington since the two countries broke diplomatic ties three years ago. Much of that spending has been focused on battling each other, with Abu Dhabi seeking to paint Qatar as a terror-supporting rogue state while Doha has defended itself as a trusted western ally.

Read our deep dive into the current state of the UAE-Qatar lobbying battle here.

Justice Department labels Al Jazeera an agent of Qatar

The US Department of Justice determined this week that Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera is an agent of Qatar and demanded that its US social media affiliate, AJ+, register as under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Mother Jones reports.

“Despite assertions of editorial independence and freedom of expression, Al Jazeera Media Network and its affiliates are controlled and funded by the Government of Qatar,” Jay Bratt, chief of the department’s counterintelligence and export control section, wrote in a September 14 letter obtained by the news outlet. The letter also reportedly takes issue with the content, noting that it invites its audience to question “what conduct constitutes terrorism; demonstrate a disdain for the term ‘Islamist Terror;’ adopt a positive view of Iran; show support for the Palestinian cause and question US support for Israel; reflect a critical position on the war in Yemen [where the UAE and Saudi Arabia have bombed forces backed by Iran to assist their own proxies on the ground]; and [promote] a Qatari-sympathetic view of the Saudi Arabian-led embargo against Qatar.”

A spokesman for Al Jazeera told Mother Jones that the determination would hurt the outlet’s ability to report on the news.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Department’s decision, which runs counter to the extensive factual record we provided demonstrating that FARA registration is not applicable to AJ+,” the spokesman told Mother Jones. “The legal structure, editorial structure, editorial policies, budgeting process and content of AJ+ clearly demonstrate its independence. We are reviewing the determination and considering our options.”

The determination follows a series of letter to the department from hawkish Republicans in Congress and a furious lobbying campaign by the Qatar’s regional rival, the United Arab Emirates, over the past three years.

“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” the spokesman reportedly said.

Former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), now a lobbyist for UAE agent Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Felddistributed a report on Capitol Hill aimed at fueling congressional pressure on the Department of Justice to require the channel’s designation as a foreign agent of Qatar. Al Jazeera in turn has responded to the mounting attacks by paying DLA Piper $1.66 million since hiring the law firm last June, lobbying records show.

The determination is but the latest blow to Qatar from the Department of Justice. Back in March, the department required the Qatar-America Institute think tank to register as a Qatari agent, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported here.

New foreign lobbying filings (FARA)


Democratic Republic of the Congo: Pamoja USA has belatedly informed the Department of Justice that it terminated its pro bono representation of then-presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi in January 2019 after creating a web site sharing his reform agenda. Tshisekedi was elected president that month. The president of the country’s parliament, who is from a rival party, recently hired her own lobbying firm, Foreign Lobby Report first reported last month.

Nigeria: Mercury Public Affairs Senior Vice President Jennifer Kaufmann Russell is no longer lobbying for Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the “Independent People of Biafra.”

Middle East

Palestine: Associate Kathryn Strohmaier has left Squire Patton Boggs. She had been registered as a foreign agent for the Palestinian Authority.

Saudi Arabia: Iowa public relations firm LS2 Group has reduced the fees it pays to several foreign agents working for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, according to new lobbying filings. Consultants Dan Lederman and Kathleen Summers-Grice will now be paid $5,000 and $4,000 per month, respectively, down from $10,000 previously. Consultant Crystal Canney will be paid $1,000 per month (her previous fees were undisclosed). The firm did not respond to a request for comment about the fee cuts.