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Thursday, June 2, 2016

I had missed this important interview in RealClearPolitics with Al-Monitor’s Congressional Correspondent Julian Pecquet about the Arab lobby in Washington. Excerpts:

Can you give us a brief overview of Mideast lobbying in Washington?

[Arab nations are] forced to rely on armies of former officials and assorted influence-peddlers and image-makers to get their way. Often times in the Middle East, those goals include preserving the status quo or trying to put some controversy or other to bed rather than seeking any positive development.

That’s what you’re seeing right now with Saudi Arabia’s massive $9 million a year campaign to kill legislation allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom. The Saudis are also working hard to preempt the inevitable negative media coverage from the pending release of a 2002 preliminary inquiry into the attacks.

The same is true of Egypt. Since late 2013, Cairo has been working with the Glover Park Group to shake off the pariah status that followed President Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow, and lift all remaining restrictions on military and economic aid.

The Lebanese, for their part, want to protect their banking industry from new sanctions on the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. And the United Arab Emirates has kept a close watch on the debate over the Export-Import Bank’s reauthorization, which the UAE has relied on extensively to help build its world-beating airline industry.

Other actors want a shot at political power, with interesting regional dynamics. These include the Iraqi Kurds’ bid for more autonomy (which Baghdad has lobbied against) and the Syrian opposition’s efforts to gain support against Bashar al-Assad (with an assist from the Saudi lobby).

Which Mideast country -- or countries -- might surprise the casual American observer for its outsize influence in our nation’s capital?
Morocco has to be one of the most interesting cases. The kingdom spends upwards of $3 million a year on more than a half-dozen lobbying and PR firms -- not to mention a seven-figure donation to the Clinton Foundation -- to project a friendly image. Mind you, we’re talking about a relatively poor country that’s still eligible for Millennium Challenge Corporation grants. All of that lobbying is directed at one main goal: obtaining U.S. approval -- or at least tacit acquiescence -- for its exploitation of the disputed Western Sahara, where Sahrawi activists have long demanded a vote on independence. The campaign has been largely successful, with neither the State Department nor Congress in any great rush to upset the apple cart and undermine a longtime Western ally by ushering in a potentially ungovernable new state on its borders.
Here's his story about the Clinton Foundation taking a million dollars from Morocco from April 2015:

Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton is endorsing the illegal exploitation of disputed lands and risks undermining four decades of UN diplomacy by taking money from Morocco, critics say.

Clinton, who's expected to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination April 12, has come under fire for accepting foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation, most recently a $1 million donation from OCP, a fertilizer giant owned by the Moroccan government. Left unsaid in the initial reports: OCP — the Office Chérifien des Phosphates — is a major player in the exploitation of mineral resources from the Western Sahara, a disputed territory known as the “last colony in Africa” that Morocco took over after colonial power Spain abandoned it in the 1970s.

“You’ve heard of blood diamonds, but in many ways you could say that OCP is shipping blood phosphate,” Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., told Al-Monitor. “Western Sahara was taken over by Morocco to exploit its resources and this is one of the principal companies involved in that effort.”

A co-chairman of the Western Sahara Caucus and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Pitts is one of a small handful of lawmakers willing to buck Morocco, a longtime US ally that runs a massive lobbying and PR operation in Washington. On April 10, he sent a letter to the Clinton Foundation, first obtained by Al-Monitor, along with House Foreign Affairs human rights panel Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., asking the foundation to refund the money and “discontinue its coordination with OCP.”

A spokesman for the foundation did not return an email request for comment.
Later reports say that OCP gave as much as $5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and Hilary Clinton has been an outspoken advocate for Morocco's position vis a vis the Western Sahara.

Segments of the Arab lobby seems to be quite effective in Washington. Funny how few people talk about it.

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