The Middle East Channel

Pakistani Ambassador hosted fundraiser for neocon think-tank

The Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. hosted a fundraiser at his residence for a neoconservative D.C. think-tank, which solicited donations of $5,000 for invitations to the event. But the think-tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), didn't bother to tell the Pakistani embassy that the event was a fundraiser or that it was sandwiched in the middle of a two-and-a-half day conference on "Countering the Iranian Threat" put on by the group.

"We didn't know at all that they have done this fundraising," Imran Gardezi, a spokesperson for the Pakistani embassy, told the Middle East Channel. "And neither did they share with us that they would be doing this conference. Very frankly, we didn't know about this conference."

Though the dinner appeared in the paper and online conference programs, FDD president Cliff May insisted that the two were unrelated: "The dinner was separate from the conference but it coincided with the conference. Why? Because many friends of FDD were in town for the conference," he wrote in an e-mail to the Middle East Channel. May conceded that his staff may have failed to notify the Pakistani embassy that the group was in the middle of hosting the conference.

At the "Washington Forum, "as the conference was called, fellows and scholars from FDD advocated for escalating measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran, ranging from "ratcheting up" sanctions and pressure to U.S. support for regime change and even military strikes against Iran. "Pakistan and Iran are brotherly countries and neighboring countries, brotherly Muslim countries," said Gardezi, citing cooperation between the two countries on a pipeline project. "Anything against Iran is unthinkable for us."

The location of the fundraiser -- billed on the program as only "dinner at the residence of one of Washington's noteworthy Ambassadors" -- was a closely guarded secret on the first full day of the event. FDD's communications director, Judy Mayka, told the Middle East Channel on Wednesday night before the dinner that even she didn't know where it would be held.

As the conference's second full day drew to a close, May confirmed that the dinner had been at the Pakistani ambassador's residence and said that between forty and fifty people were at the dinner. The press attache for the Pakistani embassy put the number between sixty and sixty-five people. Both May and the press attache confirmed that Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani delivered brief remarks at his S Street home in Washington.

But Gardezi, the embassy spokesperson, emphasized that Iran was not an issue during the dinner or Haqqani's informal greeting. "He made no remarks about iran and there was no mention of Iran," Gardezi said. "Anything prompting against Iran is, for Pakistan, unthinkable."

May disputed that the event was a fundraiser, telling the Middle East Channel that "friends and supporters" were invited, and that there was no "quid-pro-quo" relationship between a $5,000 donation and an invitation. "I invited FDD donors at or above the $5,000 level to the event," May wrote in a follow-up interview by e-mail. "Others friends of FDD were invited -- at my discretion. Several FDD staff members were invited as well."

But the online conference schedule, which didn't name the ambassador in question, left little room for equivocation:

7:00 pm 
Dinner at the residence of one
of Washington's noteworthy Ambassadors

(Closed to Media)
(Minimum $5,000 gift required. Contribute here, or for more information on becoming a donor, please contact [e-mail of FDD staffer removed])

The paper version of the schedule handed out to conference participants only said: "Dinner at the residence of one of Washington's ambassadors -- Will leave from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. See staff for more details."

The Pakistani press attache, Nadeem Hotiana, said the dinner "was in honor of (FDD), but the participants were donors." He added that no donations were collected on the premises.

May described Haqqani as an "old personal friend," a relationship corroborated by Shuja Nawaz, the director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "I think the ambassador had a personal relationshp with this group for quite some time," Nawaz said, "but I don't know if this would reflect official policy. It could well be that this is an unofficial action on his part."

Indeed, while Iran and Pakistan more or less waged a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1990s -- when Iran supported the Northern Alliance until the Pakistani-supported Taliban took power nationally -- the countries enjoy good relations. "I would characterize their relations as cordial -- not warm at all times, but for the most part cooperative on issues like building a pipeline through Pakistan," said Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation.

Nawaz of the Atlantic council said the issues between the countries revolve around Jundullah, a Baluchi rebel group on the border that says it fights for Iran's Sunni minority that Iran alleges seeks refuge in Pakistan, and Iran's collaboration with Pakistan's archrival India to build a road from Afghanistan to a port town in Iran that bypasses Pakistan.

"But they've always maintained good relations on the surface," said Columbia University professor and Iran expert Gary Sick. "They try to maintain good, business like relations. Each side will allow a certain amount of trouble from the other because they know they need each other."

Which makes it curious that a group hosting a conference very much focused on isolating Iran and pushing escalating measures against the Islamic Republic would take refuge in an embassy of a country -- Pakistan -- so opposed to such policies. Perhaps that's why both May and Gardezi, the embassy spokesperson, tried to explain away the events. May said the funding links on the conference program -- listed under the dinner, with a minimum to attend -- was merely a "reminder" for donors to give more, "routine among think tanks."

For his part, Gardezi chalked up the mix-up to chance: "We Pakistanis and we Muslims are very courteous people," he said, explaining why so few questions were asked. "It was just a coincidence that this happened like this because the Ambassador has his personal friends."

Some friends.

Ali Gharib is a New York- and Washington-based journalist on U.S.-Iran relations. His work appears at LobeLog.com and you can follow him on twitter @LobeLog. 

The Middle East Channel

Mr. President: Prove you weren't bluffing on Middle East peace

By snubbing the Obama administration's latest peace gambit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done more than simply renege on an agreement with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu has called President Obama's bluff. Netanyahu is telling the president: I don't take you seriously and I don't believe there will be any consequences.

This is a crucial test for President Obama. Obama came into office promising to deliver peace. He defined peace, correctly, as a U.S. national security interest. He said he would hold both sides accountable for their actions. 

It is now up to the president to prove he wasn't bluffing. 

If he fails this test, the implications are global. U.S. allies and adversaries are watching. So far, they see a U.S. president who for two years has been unable to achieve significant progress towards one of his key foreign policy objectives. They see a president who directly connected his Middle East foreign policy to U.S. national security interests, but then, faced with game-playing and delay tactics of the parties, has behaved as if the U.S. was politically impotent. Obama needs to recognize that after two years in office, good intentions and powerful speeches count for nothing; he has exhausted the goodwill and the benefit-of-the-doubt he enjoyed when he first entered office. Today his foreign policy is being judged solely on actions and results. 

If Obama fails this test, the conclusions that will be drawn -- in Tehran or Pyongyang, when negotiating over their nuclear programs, or in Moscow, when negotiating over arms control, or even Paris and London when considering NATO interests -- are worrying. Their potential impacts are far more devastating for U.S. national security than the WikiLeaks fiasco. The credibility of Obama's entire foreign policy is at stake.

With the current crisis in the Israeli-Arab arena, Obama today has an opportunity to turn his peace policy around -- to change course and start matching his policy to his rhetoric. The simple reality is this: Obama can deliver an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but only if the parties start taking him seriously. And at this point, that won't happen unless Obama makes clear that he is out of patience and ready to play hardball -- that there will be consequences for obstructing U.S. foreign policy and undermining U.S. interests. 

Let no one be deceived: There is no single magic formula for moving forward. Any "Plan B" will be as spectacularly unsuccessful as "Plan A" has been if the President fails to muster the political will to compel the parties to take him seriously. Whether we're talking about the U.S. laying down its own parameters, offering its own peace plan, engaging European and regional allies to build multilateral pressure on the parties, or some other option, the success or failure of the policy will lay first and foremost in the President's readiness to bring pressure to bear and hold the parties accountable.

That said, some ideas being bandied about are simply not options -- like adopting a "management" approach to the conflict. There is no "managing" a conflict that, with each new development on the ground, has the potential to inflame and destabilize the region and beyond.  

Likewise, there is no option of putting this policy in "park", awaiting more propitious circumstances. The two-state solution -- the only viable solution to this conflict and a solution that is vital both to Israel's survival and to U.S. national security interests -- is under daily attack. The absence of a credible peace process leaves the door open to violence, emboldening those who advocate the use of force over negotiations. It permits developments that are antithetical to the two-state solution. With these threats left unchecked, the two-state solution will not survive indefinitely. 

And let's be clear: while a settlement freeze need not be a precondition for peace negotiations, settlements still matter. Settlement construction creates new facts on the ground that make a two-state solution harder to implement, it discredits any peace process, and it sends a signal that Israel is not interested in resolving the conflict through negotiations, but prefers instead unilateral faits accomplis.

Finally, if President Obama acts with determination, he can ensure that Prime Minister Netanyahu -- who is today being praised for calling Obama's bluff -- faces his own test. For two years Netanyahu has blithely mouthed the rhetoric of peace and the two-state solution, but his actions have exposed his lies. With a resolute policy, Obama can demonstrate to Israelis that Netanyahu is taking Israel down a road that leads only to further collisions with Israel's best friend, the U.S., and to further isolation and de-legitimization. At that point, Netanyahu can either get with the program or face what is sure to be a wave of domestic opposition.

It is time for President Obama to get serious about Middle East peace, for the sake of U.S. national security and for the sake of the credibility of his foreign policy worldwide. The world is watching and waiting. And still hoping.

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now

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