US-Morocco: Rabat plays the Washington DC influence game

By Fahd Iraqi
Posted on Friday, 15 November 2019 10:28

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (l.) with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 17, 2018, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP/SIPA

To adapt to new US regulations, the Moroccan authorities have restructured their lobbying networks in the federal capital. Their objective: to plead their case in the Western Sahara issue and to promote their regional role.

On Capitol Hill, as well as behind the scenes in the West Wing of the White House, lobbyists proliferate.

At the heart of world’s leading power, lobbying — or what is politely termed “institutional communication” — is a lucrative business, whether on behalf of large corporations or foreign governments.

Morocco, not the least active in the sector, is a client of one of the major K-Street’s consulting firms — the avenue on which the top lobbyists are to be found.

The main objective of the Moroccan lobbying is to defend its territorial sovereignty over the Western Sahara and to garner support from members of Congress and the American administration.

Lobbying contracts

The database of the US Department of Justice, registers some 85 contracts between personalities or institutions of the kingdom with lobbying firms. Some contracts are older than the modern independent Moroccan state, some dating back to 1947, and which were signed by the Istiqlal Party on behalf of the North African Independence Movement.

Historical Moroccan political figures, such as Allal El Fassi or Abdelkhalek Torres were signatories to deals registered in the 1950s and 1960s. There are also agreements regarding organisations such as the Moroccan Society for the New York World Expo (Somarex NY), which was held in 1964.

The outbreak of the Sahara territorial conflict saw the use of Washington lobbyists increase. Among the archived contracts, is one signed by Ahmed Réda Guédira in 1978 and the reference to the Sahara is blatant.

For some $300,000 per year, DGA International Inc. undertook at the time to “assist Morocco in obtaining the approval of the United States government for Moroccan requests to purchase arms in order to defend Morocco’s territorial interests and borders, and to protect its territory against external forces”.

This contract, initially signed for four years, remained in force until 1995. Throughout this period, the Kingdom entered into contracts with more than 20 similar firms, whose mission was to plead its national cause in the United States under the guise of promoting political and economic relations between the two countries.

Parallel diplomacy

However, a significant turnaround took place at the beginning of the millennium. In 2001, Edward Gabriel left his position as the American ambassador in Rabat. In his suitcases, was not only an Order of Ouissam Alaouite, awarded by King Mohammed VI, but also a contract to represent the kingdom in the American capital. The official US ambassador in Rabat became an unofficial Moroccan representative in Washington DC.

A few months after returning to the banks of the Potomac, the ambassador formed The Gabriel Company LLC, which, as agreed, obtained a first representation contract with the Kingdom.

A year later, Edward Gabriel established the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MAPC), an organisation that very quickly became the bridgehead of parallel diplomacy from Rabat to Washington.

Edward Gabriel, long the kingdom’s number one influencer in Washington. MAP © MAP

“On the Kingdom’s recommendation, the United Arab Emirates had also signed a lobbying contract with The Gabriel Company, but it lasted less than two years,” said a former diplomat. “He had so much to do with Morocco, which pays him so generously, that he has no need for petrodollars.”

Since the MAPC registered in 2004 with the Department of Justice as an agent working for Morocco, it has operated with an annual budget exceeding $2m, much of which is recorded as “consultant fees”. Gabriel also arranged many of the other lobbying contracts between Morocco and other firms. MAPC has directly signed a dozen contracts with various K-Street brands for an amount also close to $2 million per year.

De facto recognition

Among the most famous MAPC subcontractors is Toby Moffett. This former congressman played an important role in the presentation of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Sahara in 2007 to members of Congress and during in King Mohammed VI’s visit to the US in 2013. There are also contracts with the family of the late Pastor William Herbert Gray, who worked in the office of the former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, John Kerry.

Another MAPC sub-contractor is Hemisphere Strategies, based in Miami, run by Lincoln Díaz-Balart, a former congressman from Florida who gave up his elected seat to his brother Mario before embarking on a lobbying career.

He played a crucial role in the adoption of an important amendment for the 2014 US budget, allowing US aid to be spent in the southern provinces. A recognition, if not de jure at least de facto, of the Kingdom’s sovereignty over this territory.

Mohammed VI (c.) and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan (r.) receive Jared Kushner (l.), the son-in-law of the American President, on May 29 in Rabat © Moroccan Royal Palace/AFP

A new guide

Edward Gabriel’s efficiency allowed him to keep the Moroccan contract until the advent of the Donald Trump administration and the tightening of lobbying regulations. In 2017, the American President signed a decree prohibiting former public servants from lobbying foreign governments for life.

The former ambassador, who had also bet everything on the election of Hillary Clinton, can no longer represent Morocco.

But Rabat did not let go of such a loyal servant. MAPC is no longer registered with the Department of Justice but continues to thrive. Its website “Morocco on the Move”, is used to deliver promotional messages for the kingdom to the American public and decision-makers.

Gabriel’s forced withdrawal coincided with Nasser Bourita’s appointment as the head of Foreign Affairs.

The new minister now signs agreements with his new guide in his dealings with the Trump administration. His choice was Republican James Christoferson of JPC Strategies. Christoferson is the former right-hand man of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who joined Trump after being his challenger in the primaries.

K-Street’s well-established brands

JPC Strategies, created in the fall of 2017, filed its declaration with the US Department of Justice at the same time as it initialled its contract with Morocco, its only client. This change inevitably affected the subcontractors. Like the MAPC before it, the new representative of the kingdom’s interests in Washington relied on the well-established K-Street brands as soon as he took over.

On K-Street, in Washington, there are many lobbying firms. SGR LLC, Government Relations Lobbying, Iron Bridge Strategies and Glover Park Group frequently work for African or Arab governments, including Ethiopia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, and Egypt.

SGR promoted the Salvadoran candidate Carlos Calleja, Nayib Bukele’s rival, who went on to be elected President of the Central American country. Bukele, of Palestinian origin, nevertheless withdrew his support of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) during a visit by Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to San Salvador on 15 June.

The ineffectiveness of the Minurso

Since January 2018, JPC Strategies and its three subcontractors between them have submitted invoices of nearly $75,000 per month. This amount seems reasonable compared to those disbursed by other countries on the continent, most notably Egypt and its $3 million contract with Glover Park every six months. Glover works for Morocco for only $20,000 a month.

Algeria signed a $30,000 a month contract with the former president of the almighty National Rifle Association David Keene to counter Morocco’s efforts in the Sahara case. Keene, a close friend of John Bolton, was reportedly behind the American National Security Advisor’s controversial remarks to the Heritage Foundation about the “ineffectiveness of the Minurso” (the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara).

The Carmen Group held the Algeria portfolio for ten years before Keene came on board.

Controversial contract

Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, Morocco’s ambassador to Washington since 2017, has not signed any of the lobbying contracts agreed by the Kingdom in recent years. On the deal between the Kingdom’s embassy and Third Circle in April 2018, neither her name nor her signature appear in the public archives of the Department of Justice.

However, the Moroccan diplomat is definitely behind this contract, which is worth to $40,000 a month.

The Washington Post revealed that Richard Smotkin, head of Third Circle, facilitated contact between the Ambassador and Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during a dinner in Washington that led to the organization of an official trip to Rabat for Pruitt.

The EPA did not declare the trip until afterwards, contrary to the regulations of the US Administration. Democratic representatives officially asked the Congress for clarification from Pruitt on the role played by his lobbyist friend, Smotkin, during the trip. It appears that the contract with Morocco was to promote the country as a golf and film shooting destination.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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