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Biden’s Yemen rethink sparks lobbying fight over next steps; Tunisia loses US representation; Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan presses Blinken on self-determination: Wednesday’s Daily Digest

Biden’s Yemen rethink sparks lobbying fight over next steps

Feb. 9, 2017 – A girl lives outdoors with her family in a camp for displaced people outside Taiz, Yemen / photo by akramalrasny / Shutterstock

The war in Yemen is fueling a lobbying and public relations battle in Washington as opposing sides press their arguments with a Joe Biden administration that is moving quickly to assert a different kind of US leadership in the six-year-old conflict that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Yemeni government and its Gulf Arab allies want to make sure that Biden’s new diplomatic push doesn’t empower the Iran-backed Houthi rebels with whom they went to war in 2014. Meanwhile US and international advocacy groups are pressing the new administration to push Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into negotiations with the Houthis and out of the country.

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LATEST IN LOBBYING

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has hired veteran diplomat Samantha Carl-Yoder as a policy director. Politico reports: “At the State Department, Carl-Yoder held senior roles in both the Obama and Trump administrations and served in Indonesia, Peru, Burma and Brazil over two decades. She plans to register to lobby for both domestic and foreign clients.” The firm notably represents the governments of Cambodia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, as well as Chinese microchip giant Fujian Jinhua. The news comes as Brownstein has been ramping up its foreign lobbying for the Joe Biden administration, with former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) joining new contracts with Egypt and South Korea.

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Washington consulting firm Park Road Trade is lobbying for trade group Coalition for GSP, effective Jan. 12. Daniel Anthony is lobbying on renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences program, which expired on Dec. 31, 2020. Anthony previously lobbied for the coalition via The Trade Partnership until Dec. 31, 2020.

Americas

El Salvador: The firm founded by former Bill Clinton White House aide Patrick Dorton is helping El Salvador lobby on US immigration policy following the Joe Biden administration’s termination of asylum cooperative agreements championed by President Donald Trump. In its first lobbying filing since signing a $65,000-a-month contract with President Nayib Bukele‘s government in October, Rational 360 disclosed that it tweeted at reporters covering immigration and Latin America policy to share Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco‘s response to the announcement and inviting them to interview her. Dorton is registered as a foreign agent on the account along with Senior Director for Public Relations Nicholas Fitzgerald and Director of Digital Media Andrew Ryan Homan.

Bukele, a young populist who has been accused of running roughshod over the country’s democratic institutions, got along well with Trump and signed a pact with the previous administration that aimed to stop asylum-seekers traveling through the region from entering the United States. The lobbying contract with Rational 360 was negotiated with help from Trump-connected lobbyist Robert Stryk, whose Sonoran Policy Group (now renamed Stryk Global Diplomacy) continued to be paid through the end of last year by the Salvadoran government despite earlier assurances from Bukele’s office that the firm’s $75,000-a-month contract with the country’s State Intelligence Agency had been cancelled.

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Meanwhile Invest El Salvador, a non-profit organization in Washington established in October 2020 to promote US investment in the country, has belatedly disclosed that it received $61,000 from the government of El Salvador on Oct. 13 to fund “prospective activities on behalf of the foreign principal.” The nonprofit also distributed an op-ed from Foreign Minister Hill Tinoco that flatly rejects allegations that Bukele is a dictator-in-waiting.

“The Bukele administration is emphasizing democracy and the rule of law as we seek to align our reform agenda with the Central America plan outlined by the Biden administration,” she wrote. “In the meantime, my government’s message for the U.S. is simple: We support the growth and free exercise of democracy in our country and our region, and we stand ready to work with the Biden Administration on areas of mutual interest for the benefit of our nations and our people.”

Invest El Salvador Chairman and President David Metzner, the head of American Continental Group‘s analytical consultancy ACG Analytics, is registered as a foreign agent on the account along with Executive Director Brian Dean and Treasurer Damian Merlo (Merlo recently registered as a lobbyist for the Haitian Embassy in Washington via his Miami-based Latin America Advisory Group). Invest El Salvador in turn signed a one-year, $7,500-per-month contract with Washington public affairs firm Foreign Advisory Services on Nov. 25 to “work to improve bilateral United States-El Salvador communications, promote foreign direct investment into El Salvador, and work with the Salvadorian diaspora.” Foreign Advisory Services was recently incorporated by Christopher Czerwinski, who also serves as director of International Policy for ACG Analytics.

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Asia

Armenia/Azerbaijan: Lobbying over Nagorno-Karabakh continues apace, with the self-declared Republic of Artsakh sending a letter from Foreign Minister David Babayan to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Feb. 3 urging him to continue pressing Azerbaijan to recognize the ethnically Armenian enclave’s right to self-determination and release fighters and civilians captured during fighting last year. Backed by Turkey, Azerbaijan recaptured part of the enclave in six weeks of fighting last year that ended with a Russian-brokered truce.

“Mr. Secretary, the people of Artsakh are also grateful to the American nation for the annual assistance, which helps overcome the most acute humanitarian challenges in the Republic, and improve the daily life of our citizens,” Babayan wrote. “The assistance of the United States is even more demanded
today in view of the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the recent aggression.”

The letter was disclosed by the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the USA, which has been registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) since 1999.

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China: The China National Tourist Office in New York received $510,000 from the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism to promote travel to the country in the second half of 2020.0

Europe

Middle East

Iraq (Kurdistan): The Kurdistan Regional Government’s US office is helping push for a sister-city partnership between Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, and Nashville, which has been home to the largest Kurdish refugee population in the United States since the 1970s, a new lobbying disclosure indicates. The idea was first broached in September 2020 by the US Consul General in Erbil, Rob Waller, Kurdish media reported at the time. Erbil’s then-governor, Firsat Sofi, welcomed the idea as “a great step in advancing friendship and consolidating relations between the Kurdistan Region and America” (Sofi died of the coronavirus in November). Kurdish ties to Nashville extend beyond Tennessee, producing KRG champions on Capitol Hill such as Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, who represents Nashville and co-chaired the Kurdish-American Congressional Caucus in the last Congress. Lobbying disclosures show the US office participated in a virtual call on Nov. 13 with Kurdish-American community members in Nashville, with follows ups with such groups as the Tennessee Kurdish Community Council; the Salahaddin Center in Nashville; and the nonprofit Effendi Foundation.

“This is a community-led project involving the Kurdish-American community in Nashville. Our office is happy to support their initiative,” KRG representative to the US Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman told Foreign Lobby Report in an email. “Of course, we as the Kurdistan Regional Government would be pleased if the sister-city arrangement went ahead. The people of Kurdistan value their partnership with the United States and look forward to expanding ties based on common interests.”

Saudi Arabia: BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) ended its work for Saudi megacity Neom on July 13, according to a new lobbying filing. The Neom Company hired the firm in April 2020 for just under $1.1 million to design and institute an international media strategy for the project amid tepid investor support marked by continuing fall-out from the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chicago PR giant Edelman, New York PR firm Ruder Finn and CEO advisory firm Teneo are all still registered as foreign agents for Neom.

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Syria: The anti-Assad advocacy group Syrian American Council is taking solace from the State Department’s statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that under the Joe Biden administration “no leniency will be shown in enforcing the Caesar Act” sanctioning the Bashar al-Assad regime. Sign up for the council’s free weekly roundup of Syria news and analysis from ground, Washington, the UN and the world’s capitals here.

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Tunisia: BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) stopped working for Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party on Dec. 31, according to a new lobbying filing, leaving the Arab Spring’s sole success story without any registered agents in the US. BCW — formerly Burson-Marsteller — had helped the party with “media and stakeholder outreach” since 2014, helping to assuage US concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired party and its role in Tunisian politics. But BCW’s representation also benefited the Tunisian government more broadly by encouraging US support for the fledgling democracy.

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