DATAPOINTS

For Syrian opposition and US pressure groups

$545,000

LOBBYING SPEND (2018)

3

LOBBYING/PR FIRMS

9

REGISTERED AGENTS

AL-MONITOR
LOBBYING RANK

#20 (tie)

US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council
(for Syrian Democratic Council)

Registered: Jan. 2018
2018 receipts: Approximately $96,000-$120,000

NEW Informational materials

The US mission of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Council is promoting a provision in the Senate version of the pending annual defense authorization bill that would authorize funding for the detention and repatriation of Islamic State fighters held in Syria. The House version of the bill does not contain the language.

Syrian opposition gives up on Trump

Editor

Julian Pecquet

@JPecquet_ALM

jpecquet@al-monitor.com
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Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor.

Posted: September 11, 2019

The Syrian opposition has all but given up on Washington lobbying as President Donald Trump heads to the exits following eight years of war.

The Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee umbrella group cut ties with the New York-based Independent Diplomat at the end of December after more than five years of collaboration. The nonprofit advisory group disclosed only $195,000 in payments from the British government on behalf of the Syrian opposition last year, down from $1.58 million in 2017, and no political activity since July 2018.

Meanwhile, Squire Patton Boggs, which has represented the opposition since 2016, reported no Syria-related payments or activities in all of 2018. (The firm was paid $94,000 in 2017 to advise the opposition “in connection with legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy on foreign policy and related issues in the US government.”)

The drawdown comes as the US government has made clear its disinterest in the Syria file beyond defeating the Islamic State (IS). Trump ordered the withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops in the country in December 2018, but agreed to keep about 400 Americans in February amid misgivings from the State and Defense departments.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s budget request for the coming fiscal year zeroes out last year’s $174.5 million investment in economic and development aid and explosives removal in areas liberated from both the Bashar al-Assad regime and IS and other extremist groups. The Defense Department for its part continues to seek $300 million in train-and-equip funding for what it calls the “Vetted Syrian Opposition” in its fiscal year 2020 budget request.

The bulk of that is expected to go to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the US-led coalition battling IS, warned that US military support would end if the Kurdish fighters partner with Assad.

Even as the Arab-dominated opposition has pulled back, the Syrian Kurds have stepped up their lobbying.

The US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) — the political wing of the SDF alliance that rules the autonomous region of Rojava in northeast Syria — set up shop in Washington in January 2018 with the mission to ”better equip” its army, “improve the region's counter-terrorism apparatus,” “end the Turkish occupation of Syria,” allow Rojava to operate an international airport and increase humanitarian aid to the region. The group reports receiving $8,000-$10,000 a month from “various Syrian and Kurdish grassroots supporters in the United States” and scored a public relations coup in February when it got Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, to invite visiting Syrian Kurdish leader Ilham Ahmed to the State of the Union as her guest.

One of the SDC’s key asks is US support for the group’s detention of captured IS fighters. The Senate version of pending defense authorization legislation includes such a provision, while the House version does not.

Meanwhile, several US groups continue to support a tough line against Assad’s regime despite the lack of US interest in forcing him out.

The nonprofit Americans for a Free Syria, which advocates for a “free, democratic, and secular Syria,” spent $22,000 last year — and $20,000 in the first half of this year — lobbying Congress and the State, Treasury and Homeland Security departments. The group notably supports sanctions legislation against those responsible for war crimes in Syria that has passed both the House and Senate this year, sanctions against Iranian proxies, legislation barring US reconstruction assistance in areas under Assad’s control and the extension of Temporary Protected Status for Syrians.

Another nonprofit, Citizens for a Secure and Safe America, hired former Trump Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard and his Ballard Partners firm last year to promote “democratic change” in Syria. The firm receives $60,000 per quarter to lobby Congress and the Trump administration on policies to democracy and the return of refugees and displaced people.

HIGHLIGHTS

Main lobbying firm:
Squire Patton Boggs

 

 

$545,000

Total lobbying and PR spending for 2018

 

 

WINS
  • Pentagon maintains $300 million request for ‘vetted Syrian opposition’
  • Senate urges US support for detention of IS detainees in Syria
  • US warns Turkey against anti-Kurdish intervention in Syria
LOSSES
  • Trump orders US withdrawal from Syria
  • State Department ends reconstruction funding
  • Pentagon says Syrian Kurds must choose between US and Assad

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