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Iran, Other Nations Press Interests in U.S.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
The government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent $12,000 in the first half of 2010 for public relations help in the U.S.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decidedly frosty relations with the U.S. government, but he apparently still wants the scoop on hot policy issues here.

Iran paid Mark Edmond Clark of New York $12,000 in the first half of last year for public relations work that entailed providing “semi-monthly oral reports on U.S.-Iran relations,” according to filings with the Justice Department.

The filings also reveal that Clark was responsible for the “formulation of policy options and met with U.S. policy experts to discuss issues concerning U.S. policy on Iraq and Iran.”

The details about Clark, who reported to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations New York, were tucked into the recently released semiannual report by the Justice Department of filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The report documents lobbying, legal and public relations activities of 545 foreign entities for the first six months of 2010.

Predictably, the list is filled with lobbying efforts by high-profile governments in the world’s trouble spots, such as Africa and the Middle East, which have snapped up Washington, D.C.’s blue-chip firms to make their case on Capitol Hill and with the White House.

But the document also includes activities of smaller entities ranging from Caribbean resorts to foreign cultural offices and political activists seeking influence either in Washington or elsewhere in the country.

While weighty issues such as war and trade dominate international diplomacy, the French are endeavoring to woo Americans with movies.

The French Film Office spent more than $235,000 over the six-month period ending Jan. 31, 2010, promoting its pictures around the U.S., underwriting a flurry of viewings and receptions.

The office, part of uniFrance USA, described its activities in its Justice Department filings as “the promotion of French films in the United States and the gathering of commercial information concerning general interest in the market for French films in the United States.”

Last year the office supported films at venues across the country including the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema in New York, the Richmond (Va.) French Film Festival and French Cinema Now in San Francisco.

Officials in the Caribbean’s Cayman Islands want lobbyists to do more than just vacation there. The island government has retained public relations and law firms to improve its image with Members of Congress who have been critical of the islands’ reputation as an offshore tax haven.

Among those hired by the British territory is the law firm Sidley Austin, whose duties, according to the Justice Department filings, are “to correct any misinformation or misperceptions that may exist in order to improve the Cayman Islands’ relationship with the U.S. public and private sectors.”

The job has meant attractive travel for the firm’s staffers, who flew twice to the islands last year to meet with government representatives, according to Justice Department filings. During a two-day May session, the agenda included discussions of U.S. and regulatory developments while the September itinerary focused on U.S. and European Union legislative developments.

Other Caribbean governments also turned to K Street to polish their reputations on Capitol Hill. Barbados, for example, hired Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe to monitor legislation targeting tax havens, Internet gambling and tax evasions.

No country is too small to take an interest in what is going on in Washington. Take the principality of Liechtenstein, population 35,000. This pint-sized European country paid the firm Covington & Burling $375,000 during the six-month period ending Feb. 28, 2010. According to reports filed by the law firm, its role was to assist “the Government of Liechtenstein in relations with the United States Government and the United States private sector.”

That effort included requesting meetings with House Ways and Means and Foreign Affairs staff to discuss tax deals.

The Isle of Man, a self-governing British dependency in the Irish Sea and an offshore banking site, paid White & Case $323,000 in the six-month period ending March 31, 2010, for legal and other services related to the United States, according to the Justice Department report.

John Feehery, the director of government affairs at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, which has lobbied on behalf of Macedonia, Serbia and Cayman Islands, said it is often smaller countries that turn to K Street because they lack the large embassy staffs of large nations.

“Every one of these countries have issues that are extraordinarily important to them,” he said.

For example, he said, the Cayman Islands is worried about the U.S. government cracking down on companies that relocate to their country for tax reasons. 

“There are efforts to punish companies that locate there,” Feehery said.

Foreign city and state governments also have their own lobbying efforts here to safeguard local financial interests. Heidelberg, Germany, hired Patton Boggs to persuade lawmakers to keep the U.S. Army presence in the city. Political groups from other nations, such as Friends of Sinn Fein, an advocacy group for the Irish republican party, also lavished considerable attention on American lawmakers and donors.

The group reported spending $329,000 in the six-month period ending April 30, 2010, as its leaders toured U.S. cities, including Washington, looking for support.

The filings with the Justice Department include travel itineraries for Sinn Fein leaders, including Gerry Adams, who was honored at a $200-a-person fundraiser at Bobby Van’s Grill on March 16, 2010. The trip included meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), as well as the Speaker’s lunch celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Adams stayed at the Westin hotel downtown, according to the filings.

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