In start contrast to U.S. Qatar relations a year ago, there was much bonhomie on display as members of the U.S. Congress and officials from the U.S. Administration met last week for dinner in a posh Washington neighborhood to honor of Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
“You have been a great friend to the United States,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who sat next to him and praised Qatar for it’s cooperation in its efforts to combat counter-terrorism financing.
In June 2017, several countries in the Gulf including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar accusing it of supporting terrorism, formenting regional unrest and getting too comfortable with Iran. Doha had denied all of the above-mentioned charges, U.S. Qatar took a downward turn.
“When the blockade happened they (Qatar) had no presence on the Hill,” said Joey Allaham, a former adviser to Qatar who was paid $1.45 million, including costs, for his advocacy work.
A year later, despite the boycott remaining in force Qatar has managed to persuade influential Americans and select lawmakers that it continues to remain a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism thus boosting U.S. Qatar relations.
Qatar’s aggressive efforts has cost it tens of millions of dollars since its lobbyists has had to reach people who are close to Trump. Lobbying on Capitol Hill is an expensive affair.
According to information available in public filings and as per its advisers, so as to further U.S.-Qatar relations, Doha has also pledged billions in U.S. businesses, or investments and sponsored visits to its capital.
The boycott has placed the U.S. in an awkward situation: being a close ally of Saudi Arabia and of Qatar, Washington tried to mediate unsuccessfully.
For Washington, maintaining U.S. Qatar relations on a steady note is key since Doha plays host to the biggest air force base in the Middle East.
According to an official from the Trump Administration, the boycott only benefits Iran.
Trump wants “the dispute eased and eventually resolved, as it only benefits Iran,” said a spokeswoman from the U.S. State Department.
From the beginning of 2017, Qatar has spent almost $24 million in lobbying efforts in Washington. In comparison, in 2015 and in 2016 Qatar spent a total of $8.5 million.
In efforts aimed at downgrading U.S. Qatar relations, Qatar’s opponents have positioned themselves in a formidable offensive positions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have spent $50 million in total over the same period and have allied themselves with Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser considered close to Trump.
In May 2017, Broidy was instrumental in bankrolling a conference that focused on Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, unveiled plans for a bill which names Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism.
To preserve its standing as well as U.S. Qatar relations, Qatar “swarmed the [Capitol] Hill” to block the bill, said two lobbyists.
“Understandably, the Qataris called in all their lobbyists and favors to try to derail the bill, though the final chapter on these issues has yet to be written,” said Broidy.
The bill is now stalled in the U.S. Congress.
“It took time and resources to replace the blockading states’ lies with the truth, including inviting delegations to visit Qatar and investigate the blockade for themselves,” said Jassim al-Thani, spokesman for the Qatar embassy in Washington.