US lobbyists for Middle East faced with Catch-22 scenario-to pitch or not to pitch
Washington, Mar. 2 (ANI): With the situation in the Arab region continuing to unfold, an elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped these Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters in Washington on delicate issues such as arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions, is placed in Catch-22 scenario.
Washington lobbyists for Arab nations such as former House of Representatives Speaker Robert L. Livingston, who is currently one of Egypt's Washington lobbyists, Tony Podesta and Toby Moffett now find themselves in a precarious spot, as they try to stay a step ahead of the fast-changing events without being seen as aiding despots and dictators.
In the past, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and other countries in the region, have relied increasingly on Washington's top lobbyists and lawyers, paying them tens of millions of dollars.
Take for example, the Washington Media Group, a public relations and communications firm. In January this year, it ended its 420,000 dollar image-building contract with Tunisia following reports emerged of violent government crackdowns on demonstrators.
"We basically decided on principle that we couldn't work for a country that was using snipers on rooftops to pick off its citizens," said Gregory L. Vistica, the firm's president.
Others, according to the New York Times, have stayed the course, at least for now.
Moffett, Livingston and Podesta, who have a joint multimillion-dollar contract with Egypt, have stepped up the pace of their meetings and phone conferences with Egyptian Embassy officials after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
They say their aim is to help the military officials now running the country move toward elections that will be regarded as free and fair outside Egypt.
"What we have done for them in the past is what we will continue to do for them in the future - everything in our power to build good relations between the Egypt of today and the United States," said Livingston, a former Louisiana congressman.
Livingston, however, acknowledged that he was closely watching the evolving situation in the region.
At Qorvis, a global public relations firm that has represented numerous countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen and Cyprus, executives from the firm's Washington office were visiting the Middle East this week with a business-as-usual attitude.
Seth Thomas Pietras, senior vice president of Qorvis Geopolitical Solutions, said in a telephone interview from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates that the firm's long-term goals - to bridge the differences between our clients and the United States - haven't changed.
As a rule, leaders in the Middle East have paid consultants generously, even by Washington lobbying standards, with monthly retainers commonly reaching 50,000 dollars or more, according to federal filings.
The United Arab Emirates spent 5.3 million dollars in 2009 for lobbying American officials - second only to the Cayman Islands, which has lobbied to retain its status as a tax haven, according to an analysis by Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit research group.
Morocco spent over three million dollars on Washington lobbyists.
Turkey, which shares some interests with the Middle East countries, spent nearly 1.7 million dollars in 2009 to lobby American officials on Turkish and Middle Eastern policy through the firms of Richard A. Gephardt, a former House leader; Livingston and other prominent lobbyists.
Saudi Arabia spent about 1.5 million dollars in 2009 on Washington firms, and it has a 600, 000 dollars annual contract with Hogan Lovells aimed partly at fighting legislation and litigation that would challenge OPEC's influence over oil prices.
Other major Washington firms, including White and Case and Blank Rome, a legal and lobbying shop, have also ended their work for Libya, which spent about 850,000 dollars on United States lobbying in 2009. (ANI)
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