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Progressive groups press Biden on Iran deal as tensions mount; advocacy groups target $360 billion Saudi fund for sanctions; former HuffPo editor reps Congo: Wednesday’s Daily Digest

Progressive groups press Biden on Iran deal as tensions mount

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends an election rally in Tehran on May 13, 2017 / photo by saeediex via Shutterstock

Thirty-two progressive groups wrote to President Joe Biden today to fulfill a key electoral promise and quickly rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran as escalating tensions in the region threaten to derail talks before they even start.

The letter was sent on the same day that a US contractor died of a heart attack during a rocket barrage against an Iraqi military base housing US, Iraqi and coalition troops. Biden said his administration was trying to ascertain who was responsible for the attack, which came a week after the US bombed Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria in response to rocket attacks on American forces in the region over the past few weeks.

“The longer the elements of ‘maximum pressure’ remain in effect, the more it will continue to embolden hardliners and make US-Iran diplomacy more difficult,” states the letter, whose signatories include Win Without War, J Street and the Open Society Foundations. “The recent escalation in military activity
between the United States and reported Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq only shows how urgently needed a new course of action is.”

Read the story here.

New in lobbying


Congo: A former top Huffington Post editor who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations in 2014 is now working for the Congolese government. Abhineet “Jimmy” Soni, a senior vice president with Austin-based Clout Public Affairs, will provide “communications services including strategic planning, messaging and media placement” for the African nation as a subcontractor to the Ashcroft Law Firm. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft‘s firm has been registered to lobby for the government of President Denis Sassou Nguesso since October 2019 and also represents the Congolese government in a decades-old legal fight that features corruption allegations against Nguesso’s family. The non-legal portion of the firm’s Congolese work amounts to $75,000 per month.

Soni previously served as a top communications adviser to then-Gov. Eric Greitens from Ashcroft’s home state of Missouri. He is the second Clout employee to join the Congolese account since the beginning of the year following fellow senior vice president Catherine Frazier, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Clout itself however hasn’t registered as a subcontractor to the Ashcroft law firm. Clout is a division of Kansas City-based Republican consulting outfit Axiom Strategies. Donald Trump 2016 campaign adviser Barry Bennett is also registered as an Ashcroft law firm subcontractor, even though just as with Soni and Frazier, his firm Avenue Strategies isn’t.

Ex-Cruz aide joins Trump campaign adviser on former AG Ashcroft’s Congo account


Armenia/Azerbaijan: The US office of the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic wrote to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh this week to protest the city’s proclamation of Feb. 26 as “Khojaly Commemoration Day.” The initiative commemorated the 1992 massacre of hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians during the 1988-1994 war between the majority-Armenian population and Azerbaijani forces for control of the Nagorno Karabakh enclave. “The regime continues to use Khojaly for domestic and international political purposes: to instigate hatred among its own society against everything Armenian, as well as to manipulate international opinion,” reads a fact sheet shared by Nagorno Karabakh Republic Representative Robert Avetisyan. “Such strategy contradicts the US-mediated efforts to strengthen regional stability and confidence between the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples, and postpones positive settlement of the
existing regional challenges.” The letter comes as Armenia and Azerbaijan are lobbying for US support following last year’s conflict that saw Azerbaijan recapture much of the territory it had lost in Nagorno Karabakh.

Warring Caucasus parties take their fight to Washington

Middle East

Saudi Arabia: A coalition of 42 liberal groups released a statement calling for sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) as well as the country’s sovereign wealth fund following Friday’s release of the US intelligence assessment into the October 2018 murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Prince Mohammad is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund, which has $360 billion in assets and is the cornerstone investor in the $500 billion Neom futuristic megacity project anchoring the crown prince’s Vision 2030 project to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on oil exports. PIF owned the two jets used by the team that killed Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, CNN reported last month based on Canadian court records.

“President Biden should use his power to impose the full range of sanctions available under the Global Magnitsky Act – including asset freezes and visa bans – on MBS as well as any other Saudi national implicated in the murder,” wrote the groups, which include Win Without War, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization that Khashoggi had dreamed up before his death. “Global Magnitsky Act sanctions should also be imposed on the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which owns the airline and airplanes used to transport Jamal Khashoggi’s assassins between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

Release of Khashoggi report sparks new push to punish Saudi crown prince
Saudis hire world’s largest PR firm for help with megacity project


Media wars: The pro-Israel Lawfare Project is pressing the Justice Department to enforce its determination that Al Jazeera’s online news channel AJ+ should register as a foreign agent of Qatar, Axios reports. The Donald Trump administration made the determination in September following a massive lobbying campaign by the United Arab Emirates but Al Jazeera is challenging the decision, which it argues was politically motivated.

Al Jazeera builds case against order to register as foreign agent

Hezbollah: A prominent PR and lobbying agency in Germany has accused its former chairman of concealing alleged evidence of terror funding and arms deliveries from Qatar to Hezbollah, Business Insider reports. WMP made the allegations against Michael Inacker in a complaint filed to the Public Prosecutor of Berlin. Inacker is accused of keeping the information from Saudi Arabia, WMP’s client at the time, in exchange for payments from Qatar. He denies the allegations and says WMP is trying to tarnish his reputation after he started his own competing firm.

Europe tackles foreign influence: The EU Observer has a fascinating piece on Europe’s own struggles with reining in foreign influence. French European Parliament member Raphael Glucksman, who is chairing the committee on foreign interference that was created in June, briefed reporters this week on the panel’s first months. Bottom line: “The problem we face is that the people who perpetrate these attacks, who order these attacks, think they can get away with it, that there will be no consequences,” Glucksman said. “As long as that remains the case, these attacks will continue whatever legislation we put forward.” The panel is reportedly looking into “rules on the financing of political parties, additional resources for EU institutions, disinformation, the role of online platforms, education, and quality journalism.”

Meanwhile French daily Le Monde has a new investigative report into Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei‘s “intense lobbying” of French officials, including plans for a $240 million, 430,000-square-foot factory near the German border.