Qatar goes high on PR to win back US trust

Ahead of the diplomatic meet, between US president Donald Trump and Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday, Doha spent billions of dollars on setting the ground to rebuild a strong Qatari lobby in Washington. According to Centre for Responsive Politics, Qatar spent about $24 million on its lobbying efforts in US, since its regional blockade in June, 2017, and spent $16.3 million alone in 2017.

From paying US media for publishing pro-Qatar articles, providing free trips to US officials of interest, to trying to act as a mediator between US and Iran, Qatar is trying to play every card right to win back US trust, which is crucial for the Gulf nation suffering regional boycott.

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute, said, “Qatar remains very isolated in the Arab Gulf region until now. They’ve found a set of functional work-arounds that allow the country to endure, with some costs, but until something bigger changes, like a conflict with Iran, other major regional unrest, or a new U.S. policy, the isolation will continue.”

Qatar’s recent PR stunt came to light when an American news organization, Politico, published Qatar sponsored adverts ahead of Emir’s visit, promoting US-Qatar relationship. One of such ads read, “Qatar and the United States enjoy a strong counter-terrorism relationship, one that includes military and intelligence cooperation integral to achieving peace and stability to the region.”

Erick Erickson, a CNN and Fox News contributor, criticised Politico for promoting Doha’s propaganda. Erickson wrote in his blog, The Resurgent, that the Gulf nation is ‘willing to turn a blind eye to terror networks operating from within the country.’

He added, “While no disrespect is intended towards Politico’s Playbook, it is worth noting that Qatar is sponsoring it with a propaganda effort that denies its ties to terrorism.”

Qatar worked very had for the success of its recent public relation campaign as the country’s top officials kept shuttling between Washington and New York, meeting US officials, think tank scholars, and academics, for nearly three weeks, to set the tone of the dialogue between US and Qatar. As per some US officials, topics the campaign focused on included, the Pentagon’s attitude towards Tehran, Yemen crisis, and Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan. Qatar also participated in a conference in Bahrain, held last month, where the US discussed of its peace plan.

According to the Department of Justice, a Washington based firm Debevoise & Plimpton is handling the Gulf nation’s lobbying strategy in the US. Politico reported that members of the firm met National Security Adviser, John Bolton before he left for a trip to the Middle East.

The tiny rich Gulf nation is throwing in wads of money, to win the US on its side. During his recent visit, Qatari Emir announced that the nation is planning to increase its investments in the US to $45 billion in the next two years.

Tamim’s trip to the US could prove to be a turning point in US-Qatar relations, yet the nation needs to come up with a good explanation for its close alliance with Iran, America’s arch rival.

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