Sunday, March 24, 2019 09:56:11 AM
Reuters, Washington :
There was much bonhomie as a few dozen people, including members of Congress and U.S. administration officials, gathered last week for dinner in a posh Washington neighborhood in honor of Qatar's foreign minister.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sat next to the minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
"You have been a great friend to the United States," Mnuchin told Thani, praising Qatar for its cooperation on counter-terrorism financing efforts. The scene was a stark contrast from just a year ago.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of fomenting regional unrest, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran, all of which Doha denies.
At the time, a dinner with Qatari officials at a Washington steakhouse to garner support from members of Congress was a muted affair, without anyone with influence in the Trump administration at the event, according to a person who attended. President Donald Trump followed the boycott with tweets suggesting Qatar funded terrorism, even though other U.S. officials emphasized it was an ally.
"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 the boycott remains in force, as the rivals have failed to resolve their dispute. But Qatar has managed to persuade certain lawmakers and influential Americans that it is a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and victim of an unfair boycott, interviews with advisers on both sides show.
Several Qatari lobbyists said the aggressive strategy, which has cost the small OPEC member tens of millions of dollars, has been about reaching people close to Trump as well as lobbying on Capitol Hill.
The country has also hired some people seen as close to Trump, pledged billions of dollars in U.S. investments or business and sponsored Doha visits, according to its advisers and public filings.
Qatar's boycott followed long simmering tensions in the region, with countries such as Saudi and the UAE angry about the tiny but rich Gulf nation's outsized role in regional affairs, sponsoring factions in revolts and civil wars and brokering peace deals across the Middle East.
The United States, closely allied to countries on both sides, has found itself in the middle and tried unsuccessfully to mediate. Qatar hosts the Middle East headquarters for U.S. air forces. An administration official said the United States fears the rift could allow Iran to enhance its position in the Gulf if Tehran supported the Qataris.
Trump wants "the dispute eased and eventually resolved, as it only benefits Iran," a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.
Indeed, since the boycott Iran and Qatar ties have improved. Tehran opened its airspace to Qatar Airways when Saudis and others closed theirs, while Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran.
This boycott violates the "right of an independent country like Qatar to choose its allies," said an Iranian official, who previously served as ambassador to the UAE.
Iran's foreign ministry declined to comment.
Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, said: "Rather than hoping for Washington to enforce a solution to the crisis, Qatar should establish a dialogue directly with the UAE and its neighbors."
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
It has hired people close to Trump. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, said he worked for the Qataris on an investigation and visited Doha just weeks before becoming Trump's personal lawyer in April.
Giuliani declined to give details, telling Reuters that he has not spoken to Trump about his Qatar work.
Qatar's opponents have a formidable offensive of their own. The UAE and Saudi Arabia shelled out about $25 million each over the same period and had allies such as Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser also close to Trump.
In May last year, Broidy bankrolled a conference about Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that Egypt and other Doha rivals have accused of terrorism, according to Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think-tank that organized the conference.
It was at this conference that Ed Royce, chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, disclosed plans for a bill naming Qatar a sponsor of terrorism. Royce introduced the bill two days after the conference.
Royce's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Qatar "swarmed the Hill" to oppose the bill, including appealing to House Speaker Paul Ryan's office, two lobbyists said. The bill has stalled in Congress.
AP, London :Big and slick wins for France and England. Not even a goal for Portugal.Even with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the Portugal side for the first time since last year's World Cup, the European champions could only begin their title defense with a 0-0 home draw against Ukraine.The goals ...
AFP, Miami :Serena Williams survived an "irresponsible" second set lapse on Friday to see off Sweden's Rebecca Peterson 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in her second-round opener of the WTA and ATP Miami Open."I wasn't really happy with my performance," admitted the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who is playing in just her ...
An Abhishek Varman directorial, Kalank starring Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sonakshi Sinha, and Sanjay Dutt has been making headlines ever since its announcement. It was just yesterday when the makers of the film dropped in the first song, titled Gharore pardesiya, featuring Alia and Madhuri ...
Reuters, Vatican City :Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago and the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church in Chile, who has been caught up in the country's sex abuse scandal.A Vatican statement on Saturday said the pope had named Bishop Celestino ...
Prime Minister Theresa May returns to Britain on Friday vowing to make "every effort" to win over MPs opposed to her EU divorce deal, hours after securing a delay to Brexit from European leaders in Brussels.The embattled premier faces daunting odds to persuade recalcitrant British lawmakers to back a plan ...
BANGLADESH Railway has been showing less importance and interest to recover its grabbed lands though thousands of acres of land are now illegally possessed by a section of influential people and some organisations. It has also no visible plan to use many unused lands across the country too. An initiative ...
DEPARTMENT of Environment has revealed that waste from a housing estate and some factories are polluting the Halda river in Chattogram to the extent that it caused dying of fish. Currently, the pollution of the Halda is severely affecting the livelihood of adjacent people, in particular the fishermen. In June ...
AFP, Havana :Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will make the first royal visit to communist-run Cuba on Sunday at a time when ally Washington is seeking to ramp up sanctions against the island.The 70-year-old prince was asked by the British government to add Cuba to a long-planned tour ...
AP, Orlando :Gregg Berhalter's vision for the U.S. national team started to unfold as the Americans passed the ball from side to side, played diagonal balls long and short. Possession is his key to success.The style was more pleasing. But the only goal of night was pretty weird.Gyasi Zardes's shot ...
Sheikh Arif Bulbon :Five years ago, popular TV actress Homayra Himu produced a telefilm titled Bhalobashi Othoba Bashi Bhalo. But producing that telefilm she faced financial crisis during that time. She was sufferer for this and later decided not to produce any work. But she is interested to give direction ...
Bollywood’s leading lady Deepika Padukone has had an eventful last week as the actress unveiled her prestigious Statue of Purpose at Madame Tussauds and graced the Vogue International cover as the Global Talent. Both the events are key and one of the major highlights in the life of the actress. ...
Thousands of devotees on Thursday celebrated the Holi, a Hindu religious festival of colours, across the country with due religious fervour and much enthusiasm."Marking the festival, a large number of devotees thronged the Dhakeswari National Temple in the morning to offer abir, a pink colored powder, at the foot of ...