Asia, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Armenia hires ex-Sen. Dole for US talks amid flare-up with Azerbaijan

Armenia has hired former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and the Alston & Bird law firm to help the country prepare for bilateral talks to be held in Washington next month.

The contract, dated Sept. 15, is worth $10,000 and lasts one month. It was signed by Dole, a longtime friend of Armenia who is now a special counsel at Alston & Bird, and Armenian Ambassador to the United States Varuzhan Nersesyan.

“We will assist the Republic of Armenia in its efforts to build on the strategic partnership with the United States in advance of planned diplomatic talks in October of 2020,” Dole wrote. “During the course of this engagement, Alston & Bird will monitor current events relevant to US-Armenia relations and provide strategic counsel with respect to improvement of that relationship. These services may include outreach to United States Government officials as well as Members of Congress and their staffs.”

Dole, 97, added that he would be in charge of the representation but would have other attorneys assisting him. As of Friday no one from the firm had registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The hiring comes as the Donald Trump administration prepares to host a meeting of the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue next month. Virtual sessions began this week, with Nersesyan taking part along with USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia Alexander Sokolowski, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Kara McDonald and US Ambassador to Armenia  Lynne Tracy. The dialogue was first launched in Yerevan in May 2019.

This year’s talks have taken on heightened importance following weeks of increased tensions between Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave’s Armenian ethnic majority proclaimed much of the region a breakaway republic, Artsakh, in 1991, but it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July claimed more than a dozen lives in the worst violence since the two countries fought a four-day war in 2016, with each side blaming the other for starting the fighting.

The Alston & Bird contract marks the first time the embassy has had a US lobbyist since 1994, according to a review of lobbying records.

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Azerbaijan has also been beefing up its lobbying presence after this summer’s violence. Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and his Livingston Group informed the Justice Department in late July that they were in the process of negotiating a contract with Azerbaijan’s government, but have yet to file one under FARA. Also lobbying for Azerbaijan are BGR Public Affairs and Stellar Jay Communications, along with BGR subcontractor Baker Donelson.

Meanwhile Armenia can count on a politically powerful Armenian-American lobby centered around California. In the first half of 2020 the Armenian National Committee of America spent $60,000 lobbying and the Armenian Assembly of America another $40,000 on several issues including rethinking US security assistance to the two countries.

In addition, the self-proclaimed government of Artsakh has had a Washington mission since 1999 that also lobbies the US government. The mission receives about $150,000 a year from Artsakh.

Dole’s ties to Armenia go back many decades, starting with his friendship with the late Hampar Kelikian, an Armenian-American orthopedic surgeon who helped save Dole’s right arm after it was injured in combat during World War II. Dole later played a lead role in getting Congress to recognize the Ottoman-era massacre of more than a million Armenians as a genocide. Ambassador Nersesyan presented Dole with the country’ Order of Honor in December in recognition of his contributions to US-Armenian ties.