by Eli Clifton
On Monday, MapLight’s Andrew Perez published an excellent investigation into Ed Rogers’ advocacy against the Iran nuclear agreement while working as an undisclosed lobbyist for Saud Arabia. Rogers’ behavior is particularly troubling since he registered as a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) seven months after signing a contract with the Saudis. In the time period between signing the contract and registering under FARA, Rogers published two columns in The Washington Post criticizing the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, neither of which identified him as a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.
Rogers’ actions may have violated the law due to the gap between the contract’s signing date and his registration under FARA. But other lobbyists for Sunni-Arab Gulf states have been slow to identify their paid roles when quoted as experts criticizing the White House’s Iran diplomacy.
One of the most prominent examples of this trend is J. Adam Ereli, U.S. ambassador to Bahrain from 2007 to 2011, a lobbyist for Qatar since January 2015, and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. He’s also the vice-chairman at Mercury Public Affairs where he, alongside former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN), are listed as “personally and substantially involved in the performance” of Mercury’s work on behalf of Qatar, according to January 2015 and January 2016 contracts between Qatar’s embassy in Washington and Mercury. Ereli and Weber’s services for Qatar earn Mercury $100,000 per month.
FARA filings submitted by Mercury reveal staff members networking regularly with think tanks, including seven calls with Center for American Progress (CAP) Fellow Brian Katulis, occurring between June and October 2015, described as part of discussions around “potential establishment of a fellowship program.”
“They contacted us to make this proposal, but we were not interested and nothing came of it,” Ken Gude, a senior fellow with the National Security Team at CAP, told LobeLog.
But Ereli’s most public activity, which wasn’t mentioned in the FARA filings, is making himself available as an expert on U.S.-Middle East policy.
A Google News search shows Ereli regularly warning of the regional threat posed by Iran, the ineffectiveness of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the dissatisfaction of Gulf Arab states over the White House’s Iran diplomacy.
Since signing the contract with Qatar in January 2015, Ereli was quoted criticizing the White House’s regional strategy three times by Voice of America, twice by Fox News, once by CNN, once by Fox Business Network, and once by The National. None of the publications identified Ereli as a lobbyist for Qatar.
Ereli wasn’t identified as a key player in Mercury’s $100,000-per-month arrangement with Qatar, but he certainly repeated the concerns of the Sunni-Gulf states to journalists.
An April 2016 VOA article cited Ereli:
“The fact of the matter is that, notwithstanding our reassuring rhetoric, U.S. actions have not tempered Iranian behavior in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia,” said Adam Ereli, a former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain.
An August 22, 2015, article in The National contained the following reference to Ereli:
Speaking in Dubai earlier this month, Adam Ereli, a former US ambassador to Bahrain who is now vice chairman of lobbying firm Mercury’s Washington office, said the length of the deal, 15 years, was a key problem. While the Obama administration acts as if 15 years is a long time, “it’s a blink of the eye,” he said.
In March, completely ignoring the role of Sunni Arab states in cultivating terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda, Ereli told Fox Business:
I think what Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the best thing they are doing, is they are on the front lines against Iran. The fact of the matter is, Iran is responsible for using religion for purposes of state terror.
And he offered his own analysis on U.S. regional strategy:
So, really, if you want to look at where the U.S. should be putting its political and technical capability and capital, it’s with friends like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and United Arab Emirates and the other countries of the Gulf – not Iran.
Ereli may have disclosed his role as a lobbyist to the Justice Department, but he either didn’t disclose it to the news publications he spoke to or they chose not to publish the fact.
Either way, valuable context about Ereli’s business ties was missing from media appearances that presented him consistently as an objective and unbiased regional expert who was highly critical of the Obama administration’s diplomacy with one of Qatar’s biggest regional rivals.
Photo: J. Adam Ereli