Qatar hires US lobbyists to curtail fallout from terrorism financing accusations
The hiring of Ashcroft’s firm shows Qatar “certainly dropped the ball” in recognising that opinion in Washington had swung away from it.
Guns for hire. Former US Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Reuters)
2017/06/18 Issue: 111 Page: 5
Washington- Qatar has hired a team of lobbyists, headed by a former US attorney general, to represent it in Washington to counter accusations of financing terrorism and to prevent possible sanctions.
Qatar paid $2.5 million to the law firm of John Ashcroft, who served as attorney general under former President George W. Bush, was a US senator and was governor of Missouri, to vouch for its efforts at curtailing terrorism funding at the same time it helps it rebut accusations by US President Donald Trump that it financed terrorist activities.
Qatar’s choice of Ashcroft, who was attorney general during the September 11, 2001, attacks and helped push through the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, appeared aimed at appeasing the Washington establishment.
The contract between Ashcroft’s firm and Qatar says “the firm understands the urgency of this matter and the need to communicate accurate information to both a broad constituency and certain domestic agencies and leaders.”
Bloomberg News reported that the contract “doesn’t specify any US legislation, executive orders or policy it will try to change.” Rather, the goal appears to be to prevent legislation or executive orders detrimental to Qatar.
Qatar has been the subject in recent months of criticism in the US Congress over its ties to Islamist groups Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Writing in the American news magazine Newsweek, Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, executive North America director for Quilliam International, and former US policy adviser Mohamed A. Fatah called on Congress to “pressure Qatar to change course and abandon Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood” by taking steps, including:
“Starting the process of relocating US military assets out of Al Udeid Airbase.
“Suspending sales of US weapons to Qatar until the state deports all members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban and Al- Shabab in Qatar and stops all financial and material support to these and other terrorist organisations.
“Suspending import and export bank financing of all Qatar’s state-owned businesses.”
Bloomberg News reported that other registered lobbyists for Qatar include Christopher Peele, a former special trial attorney in the fraud section of the US Department of Justice, and Michael Sullivan, a former director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The lump sum upfront payment of $2.5 million is rare for such lobbying efforts, likely signalling the urgency Qatar felt in getting its message heard in Washington as accusations and criticism mount. While US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged Gulf countries not to escalate the crisis, Trump has sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Speaking June 9 from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said Qatar “has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
More recently, Trump sounded even more aggressive about halting terrorism financing by Qatar. “We are stopping the funding of terrorism,” he said on June 12. “We are going to starve the beast.”
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt released a “terror list” that named 12 organisations and 59 individuals affiliated with Qatar who allegedly have terrorist ties. The fact that Qatar hosts about 10,000 US troops, as well as the forward headquarters of the US Central Command, creates a paradox for Washington as it is the first time that a military ally is accused of funding terrorism. The administration has not clarified how it intends to deal with this paradox. The situation has fuelled speculation about whether the United States should move its base from Qatar.
The hiring of Ashcroft’s firm shows Qatar “certainly dropped the ball” in recognising that government opinion in Washington had swung away from it, said Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East politics at Durham University in the United Kingdom. “That’s despite Qatar funding think-tanks, university programmes and the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite news network,” he told the Associated Press.