Middle East, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Qatar picks up ex-AIPAC liaison as Gulf lobby fight shows little sign of letting up

The Embassy of Qatar has added a veteran Middle East policy hand with deep ties to Congress and the incoming Joe Biden administration to its roster of lobbyists as it looks to continue pressing for regional policies at odds with those of its neighbors.

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Ralph Nurnberger / Gray Global Advisors

Ralph Nurnberger, a 40-year veteran of the Washington political scene who served under both Democrats and Republicans, has signed a $10,000-a-month agreement with Qatar lobby shop Nelson Mullins to provide “strategic advice and tactical support … on outreach and engagement with key policy makers.” The contract was effective Jan. 11 and runs for an indefinite length of time.

Nurnberger served as an aide to former Sen. James Pearson (R-Kansas) and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before leading the “Builders for Peace” initiative established under the Bill Clinton administration to assist the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He was also the legislative liaison for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for more than eight years and lobbied for Morocco from 2009 to 2017.

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Nurnberger did not respond to a request for comment. But former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who leads Qatar lobbying for Nelson Mullins and signed the contract on the firm’s behalf, said Nurnberger had expressed support for Qatari policies that have put Doha at odds with some of its Gulf neighbors, such as its support for the Arab Spring protests in the region.

“Ralph is a big supporter of democracy, human rights, and the empowerment of women,” Moran told Foreign Lobby Report. “He could choose to work for anybody that he wants, but in our conversations he has expressed how impressed he has been with the efforts that Qatar has made in the area of democracy.”

The new hire belies the notion that Qatar has any intention of abandoning its geopolitical priorities under Biden despite the recent easing of tensions with its Arab Gulf rivals. Earlier this month Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt dropped their three-year blockade that they imposed against the emirate in June 2017 over its ties to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Qatar isn’t going to change its basic ideology …There’s going to be continuing friction [with its Gulf neighbors].”

Qatar lobbyist Jim Moran

With regional relations deteriorating over the past three years, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates spent more than $100 million lobbying against each other on a range of issues in Washington. Doha, Moran said, will continue to advocate on the opposite side of its Gulf rivals on a range of issues including support for the UN-backed government in Libya, US re-engagement with Iran and opposition to normalization with Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

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“Qatar is pleased to see the blockade lifted, because it was harming a lot of people,” Moran said. “But Qatar isn’t going to change its basic ideology, which is more in tune with Europe and the United States [under Biden] particularly than its neighbors’. There’s going to be continuing friction in that way.”

In addition to his own personal lobbying via Nurnberger Associates, Nurnberger is also a principal at Gray Global Advisors. He registered as a foreign agent for the Dominican Republic via that firm shortly after Biden’s win in November along with ex-Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), a former leader of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus.