Heads of state from around the world will gather in New York next week for the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. All eyes will be on Donald Trump as he gives the Assembly’s second of 193 speeches on Tuesday morning, and his first.
President Trump has variously threatened to withdraw funding and membership from UN bodies and the institution itself over the past 12 months. The speech is likely to focus on North Korea, Syria, terrorism, and his vision for the United Nations. His team will perhaps also be relieved that Emmanuel Macron is speaking shortly after his American counterpart, rather than shortly before. The French President is expected to receive a much warmer reception.
After Tuesday morning’s grand opening, attention will quickly turn (or be forced to turn) to one of the most intriguing elements of this year’s gathering: Qatar’s lobbying firework display. Gulf states already spend well on political consultants in Washington, but this summer things have escalated to unprecedented levels as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and especially Qatar, have responded to the three-month-old boycott of the latter by ramping up public relations and lobbying efforts in the US and Europe. It is quite likely that no issue has ever been more lucrative for K Street in a single quarter. Qatar is unsurprisingly spending the most, with estimates of monthly outlay in the US alone now reaching several millions of euros: the cost of a small war.
These efforts are expected to come to the boil in New York next week, as the tiny resource-rich Gulf state prepares to parade its virtues around town in front of the world’s diplomatic and media elite. Already announced initiatives include a conference on the human rights impact of the boycott and a session on cybersecurity’s role at the outset of the crisis. However, most of its stunts will be kept secret until the final moments and the majority of its lobbying will happen away from the cameras.
The most eye-catching news on this subject was that Qatar is splurging over 400,000 euros a year to seduce the Jewish community, with a particular focus on the UN General Assembly, presumably anticipating criticism from the international community generally and the Arab Quartet particularly about its role as the principal funder of Hamas. This move is astonishingly brazen, given Hamas is essentially at war with Israel, and demonstrates very vividly Qatar’s foreign strategy of making tactical investments in controversial groups regionally while expensively placating the international community. The news has been met with widespread condemnation by the Jewish community, with many Rabbis slamming Qatar for its assumption that cash is a suitable sweetener for funding terrorism against Jews.
The anti-Qatar Quartet is also expected to be active next week, though it is less clear what they have planned. At the very least, they will be lobbying as many foreign dignitaries as they can to take a tougher stance on their neighbour, which they accuse of using its vast reserves of cash to support internationally designated terrorist groups as a means of extending its influence in the region. As well as Hamas, a US-designated terror group, Qatar has been accused of channelling money into Al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, and other terror groups in Libya and Yemen. It is also the main backer of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has come close to being designated as a terrorist entity in various EU jurisdictions on multiple occasions in the past.
Many expect Qatar to loudly trumpet its free press credentials during UNGA, knowing that US audiences are more receptive than any to the idea of low press regulation. The four boycotting states made the closure of state-owned Al Jazeera one of the 13 demands presented at the outset of the crisis. This is a controversial issue because it is widely accepted that Al Jazeera Arabic has crossed the threshold to incitement of terror and violence, with hosts calling for Muslims to commit the next holocaust and ethnic cleansing. However, although European audiences are much more receptive to the idea of press regulation for hate speech, Americans are generally more willing to defend the right to broadcast highly offensive and even dangerous material.