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Biden push to restore funding for Palestinian refugees sparks lobbying fight; Armenian, Azerbaijan lobbies duel over who should get US aid for Nagorno-Karabakh; Haiti ramps up lobbying spend: Tuesday’s Daily Digest

Biden push to restore funding for Palestinian refugees sparks lobbying fight

Palestinians receive food aid from an UNRWA distribution center in the Khan Younis camp for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, on Oct. 15, 2020 / Abed Rahim Khatib via Shutterstock

A decades-long critic of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency has hired his first lobbying firm to try to put the brakes on the Joe Biden administration’s stated intention to restore funding for the beleaguered organization.

David Bedein of the Jerusalem-based Nahum Bedein Center for Near East Policy Research has retained Edward Kimball and his Maryland firm EJK to lobby on US assistance to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The contract was effective March 22.

Current law already requires the State Department to report on whether UNRWA is following a set of guidelines, including “taking steps to ensure the content of all educational materials currently taught in UNRWA-administered schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance and does not induce incitement.”

But some pro-Israel groups — including Bedein’s — are calling for further reforms, including paring down the definition of Palestinian refugees to only the surviving Palestinians who were displaced at the formation of Israel in 1948 instead of the current count of 5.3 million, most of whom are descendants of the original refugees.

Read the story here.

Armenian, Azerbaijan lobbies duel over who should get US aid for Nagorno-Karabakh

Soldiers killed in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are buried at Yerablur Military Memorial Cemetery in Yerevan, Armenia on Nov. 22, 2020 / By Gevorg Ghazaryan via Shutterstock

The Armenian diaspora and lobbyists for Azerbaijan are turning their attention to the congressional aid budget in their latest showdown over US policy in Nagorno Karabakh.

Following last year’s deadly conflict over the ethnically Armenian enclave, the victorious Azerbaijanis are lobbying lawmakers to send any reconstruction and refugee aid directly to them. Otherwise, they argue, aid risks falling in the hands of Russia, which brokered last year’s cease-fire after its Armenian ally was routed by the Turkish-backed Azerbaijanis.

Unsurprisingly, the Armenian diaspora has far different priorities. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is urging its members to call on Congress to appropriate $100 million to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-declared Republic of Artsakh, blaming Azerbaijan and Turkey for last year’s violence that killed thousands of troops and many civilians on both sides and displaced tens of thousands.

Read the story here.

New lobbying filings


Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s ambassador to the US, Fitsum Arega, sent a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and ranking committee member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on March 31 regarding their response to the crisis in the country’s northern Tigray region. The two lawmakers urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 30 to take further action against various parties involved in the conflict. In the letter Arega compares the attack on federal forces by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to the attack on Fort Sumter during the US Civil War and wrote that he was “dismayed” by the lawmakers’ call for “targeted sanctions to help bring an end to the crisis.”

“Your call for what appears to be blanket sanctions is not only counterproductive to the goal of providing support for those in need but also significantly undermines the two nations’ long cooperative relationship,” Arega wrote. “The US should be working to ensure that funds and supplies are going to those in need, not in threatening behavior that will diminish cooperative efforts to bring much needed help to those in need.”

In addition, Arega denounced claims made by Meeks and McCaul of “ethnic cleansing” in the region. He said he hopes to meet with the two lawmakers to discuss the conflict. The letter was shared with staff members of House Foreign Affairs Committee by Loren Aho, a policy advisor for Ethiopia lobbying firm Venable. The country hired the firm in February.

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Guatemala: Public affairs firm Rokk Solutions terminated its contract with Washington-based Guatemalan citizen Ramiro Maldonado on Sept. 1, 2020 after only one month of work. The firm was originally hired in a yearlong contract to pitch op-eds written by Manuel Espina, Guatemala’s ambassador to Washington from 2017 to 2020, to national media outlets. The firm was to be paid $1,500 per month to pitch op-eds written by Espina or $2,500 per month to draft them itself. According to the new filing with the US Justice Department, Rokk received $1,500 during the time its contract with Maldonado was active. Rokk partners Ron Bonjean and Rodell Mollineau were registered to work on the account.

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Haiti: The Miami-based Latin America Advisory Group has extended its contract with Haitian ambassador to the US Bocchit Edmond through Jan. 2022. The firm has also increased its monthly fee to $25,000, up from $8,000 per month previously. Led by Damian Merlo, a former US adviser to then-President Michel Martelly, the firm was hired by the embassy in November for outreach to Congress and the executive branch as President Jovenel Moise faces a backlash over the duration of his presidential term. The embassy hired Florida law firm Patino & Associates in March for $37,000 per month and has a pre-existing contract with Mercury Public Affairs that amounted to more than $500,000 in 2020. In addition, Johanna Leblanc, a former vice-chair of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s Commission on African Affairs, has been paid $5,000 a month to serve as an adviser to the Haitian government since March 2019.

Haiti lobby battles diaspora over support for embattled president


China: China Central Television (CCTVpaid its Washington news bureau MediaLinks more than $27 million in the six months through February to produce and distribute news programs and a 30-second video in celebration of the Chinese New Year.


Georgia: Erin Dunne is no longer lobbying for Georgian opposition leader Nikanor “Nika” Melia and his United National Movement (UNM) party after leaving Cogent Strategies to become an account supervisor with crisis communications firm Levick.

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Moldova: The Alexandria Group International has prematurely terminated its contract with Accent Electronic SA, Moldova’s largest distributor and integrator of information and communications technology products and services. Accent hired the firm on a one-year, $180,000 contract in November 2020 to help boost the company’s relationship with US government officials, media, trade groups and think tanks. During the six months through February, Alexandria Group received a total of $30,000 from the company for services provided in November and December.

Norway: Law firm DLA Piper terminated its contract with Innovation Norway on Feb. 28. The innovation and development arm of the Norwegian government hired the firm in December 2019 for $10,000 to draft a Fact Sheet/White Paper “aimed at c-level business executives that gives an overview of Norway’s
relationship to European institutions, including the European Union and the European Economic Area as well as legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation.”

Norway: Waxman Strategies terminated its registrations on behalf of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, the National Wildlife Federation and AidEnvironment on Dec. 31, 2020 and with the Center for International Policy on March 31. The PR and lobbying firm chaired by former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was registered as a foreign agent of Norway on all four accounts following the US Department of Justice’s conclusion that organizations that receive grants from foreign development agencies were “obligated” toward those countries.

Justice Department asks grant-funded NGOs to register as foreign agents

Middle East

Turkey: Mercury Public Affairs shared an April 2 letter to Katherine Tai from the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK) congratulating her on her confirmation as the next US trade representative. The letter from Mehmet Ali Yalcindag stressed the importance of bilateral trade between the US and Turkey and pointed to potential future endeavors, such as increasing liquified natural gas and agricultural imports from the US, while positioning Turkey as a business alternative to China.

“The significance of ensuring continued economic partnership between our two countries has only grown since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that Turkish and Turkish-American businesses have a significant role to play in the Biden administration’s innovative Build Back Better program,” Yalcindag wrote. “Turkish firms are ready to demonstrate themselves as reliable alternative partners for US companies diversifying their supply chains, with large US corporations like Walmart having already started shifting some of their supply from China to Turkey.”

TAIK has been sending similar letters to other officials recently confirmed US Congress, including to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. All letters have emphasized a willingness to work with the Joe Biden administration as an alternative partner for US companies looking to rely less on supply chains from China.

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