Qataris embark on new lobbying push for influence in Washington

According to Politico, Empire Consulting is the fourth new firm to sign with the embassy this year.
Wednesday 31/03/2021
Qatar is out to win influence in Washington by hiring various new lobbyists (Reuters).
Qatar is out to win influence in Washington by hiring various new lobbyists (Reuters).

WASHINGTON – US publication Politico has recently revealed new details about Qatar’s ongoing hiring spree of former US foreign policy and military officials, in a push that began earlier this year with the arrival of the Democratic President Joe Biden to The White House.

Politico reported earlier in March that the Qatari Embassy in Washington hired Empire Consulting Group’s Mike McKay and Eulice Brandon Garrett to represent the Gulf country in Washington for $40,000 per month, according to a contract filed with the US Justice Department.

McKay is a former senior adviser to new House Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), while Garrett previously worked for Representative Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), new HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and as a policy director and political adviser to then-Vice President  Biden during the 2012 re-election.

According to Politico, Empire Consulting is the fourth new firm to sign with the embassy this year, after Integrated Strategy Group, Ogilvy Government Relations and Nurnberger & Associates (as a subcontractor of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, which has represented Qatar for more than a decade).

Last month, the Qatari government also hired Robert Crowe after he left the Nelson Mullins firm, while the Qatari Defence Ministry recently hired retired Vice-Admiral John Miller, who led the US Naval Forces Central Command and US Fifth Fleet, according to DOJ filings.

Washington-based Arab diplomatic sources say Qatar is seeking access to the White House advisers so as to try to influence the Biden administration’s policies in the Middle East.

According to these sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, Qatar wants to convince Washington to task it with regional missions allowing Doha to play the role of mediator and so project wider influence in the Middle East.

Qatar, according to the sources, wants to be recognised as an intermediary with Islamist groups in the region, a self-serving role which it lost during the tenure of the former administration of President Donald Trump.

Arab affairs analysts previously indicated that Qataris are currently trying to politically exploit the divergences between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia.

By doing so, Qatar hopes to appear as the only reliable ally of the US in the Middle East, especially in light of uncertainty about future relations between the Biden administration and countries such as Egypt and Turkey. In recent months, this uncertainty, experts say, has been further increased by the Democratic administration’s reluctance to start dialogue with key countries in the Middle East.

Doha does not hide its desire to play the role of mediator between the United States and Islamist groups in the region, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots and leaders, who have welcomed the arrival of Democrats to the White House and expressed their desire to restore strong relations with Washington, as was the case during the presidency of former President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration had endeavoured to integrate the Muslim Brotherhood into the transformations brought about the so-called Arab Spring, with Qatar playing a key role in this strategy before the American enthusiasm for regime change in the Middle East dwindled.

Now, it appears that Doha is assembling a lobby of advisers around Biden with the aim of boosting its chances of playing a role of mediator between Washington and Tehran, in a way that allows the Islamic Republic to join the nuclear negotiations without preconditions, even though Tehran has been adamant about the lifting of all US sanctions before any talks with Washington .

Qatar, observers say, wants return the favour to Iran, which stood with Doha when four Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — severed diplomatic and economic relations with the Gulf country, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Qatar also wants to show its ability to compete with Saudi Arabia over influence in the region, hoping to secure the status of an influential player in the Gulf, Arab and Islamic countries.

In this regard, Arab diplomatic sources said that Qatar’s latest lobbying push builds on the country’s previous successes in influencing key US institutions and departments. Among these, US Department of State, has been a main target of Qatari lobbying.

Since Biden’s rise to power, the Qataris have worked to open communication channels with personalities close to the US president, attempting to draw their support for Doha in its lobbying campaigns.

Lobbyists have played a crucial role for Qatar in recent years, particularly during the boycott period, when diplomatic rivalry triggered a vigorous race for influence between Doha and Riyadh.

Despite the tense relationship between the Gulf countries and the former US administration, Qatar had sought to tempt a number of Trump’s close associates, including Elliott Broidy, who was responsible for collecting donations for the Trump campaign.

By doing so, Qatar was hoping to influence Trump’s policies in the Middle East. The former US president, however, did not yield to pressure and took a strong position against Doha over its suspected ties with extremist groups. Influence peddling played a role however in Trump’s wavering and the conflicting signals he occasionally send about Qatar and the situation in the Gulf.

A report published by The Arab Weekly at the time revealed that Qatar had used the services of 35 American lobbying companies, at a cost of $ 19.5 million, since 2017. The report also showed that the lobbying companies had contacted hundreds of Congress members and many journalists, as well as a number of senior employees in the Trump administration. Among the other findings was that Doha had spent millions of dollars to finance campaigns that aimed to promote Qatar as an ally of the United States.

Qatar hosts the largest US base in the Middle East accommodating some 10 000 troops is at the “Al Udeid” Air Base close to the capital Doha.