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Erdogan is spending more to lobby in the US

Featured Erdogan is spending more to lobby in the US

by Alexandros Moutzouridis (originally published in Greek on slpress.gr)

Ankara's systematic efforts to influence the Trump administration through lobbying are being documented by the Ahval network, with the aim of allowing the sale of American weapons to Turkey. At a time when Erdogan is escalating his aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean and receiving verbal interventions, even from Washington, the Turkish lobby in the United States is working non-stop.

The problem for the Turks, of course, is not only their exclusion from the program of F-35 fighters, but also the upgrade of its own F-16 fighters and the delay in issuing the license for the purchase by Pakistan of Turkish attack helicopters, worth 1.5 billions of dollars. According to data available under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, state-owned airline TUSAŞ has hired law firm Greenberg Traurig to influence key members of Congress and White House officials.

As for the sale of Turkish T129 ATAK helicopters in Pakistan, because they have an American engine, the US has the right to block their export. The sale, which is important for Turkey's economy which is strained - along with any other Turkish defense deals, has been in the crosshairs of the relevant congressional committees since the Turks took over the Russian S-400s.

Thus, the informal but de facto arms embargo against Turkey that American lawmakers and senators are seeking to consolidate is irritating Erdogan's staff. That's why they hired Greenberg Traurig for $ 1.53 million just to allow the contract with Pakistan to be completed. In fact, the assignment envisions not only the attempt to influence elected officials in Congress, but also members of the US government.

Lobbying since 2015
The timing of the Turks' choice to step up US lobbying is, in Ahval's view, a testament to their skepticism about whether Erdogan can now rely on his personal relationship with the US president. They are equally concerned about the upgrade of 35 of Turkey's F-16 fighter jets by Lockheed Martin, the contract for which expires in autumn.

The Turkish rationale is twofold: on the one hand, to raise the issue of financial losses for the US defense industry, in the event that Congress continues to block Turkish moves, on the other hand, these pressures push Trump to openly intervene in favor of Turkey, as he did with Saudi Arabia.

After all, it is known that since 2015 Turkey has been systematically investing in strengthening its lobbying interests in the US, for example by funding institutions and organizations. One key reason was the revelation, in 2014, of talks involving Erdogan's entourage in transactions that violated the embargo on Iran, and in connection with the infamous Halkbank case.

In recent years, Erdogan has mobilized the Turkish lobby and his personal relationship with President Trump precisely to prevent the trial from progressing. According to the US Department of Justice, in the period 2014-2018, a number of law firms and lobbies received, directly or indirectly, money of Turkish origin, amounting to at least $ 20 million.

Which lobbying companies have entered into contracts?
While in 2014 the amount came to 1.7 million dollars, in 2018 it had exceeded 7.3 million. The recipients include, for example, the former pro-Democrat Gephardt group, but also more prominent pro-Turkish organizations such as the Turken Foundation, whose board includes people - or even relatives - of Erdogan.

An example was the case of Ballard Partners, which is considered one of the strongest lobbying companies. According to a survey by the American network Courthouse News, in 2017, the firm received two million dollars from the Turkish embassy and at least as much from the "sinful" bank Halkbank.

Also, a report by Turkish journalists mentioned a more specific distribution of lobbying costs. In 2018, the amounts spent by the Turkish government itself amounted to 6.59 million dollars and those spent by non-governmental organizations to 2.3 million. In the context of the legislation on the registration of foreign stakeholders, reference was made to 14 companies operating at the time on behalf of Turkey.