Lobbyists with ties to the Republican party in the US have made efforts to sway US foreign policy negatively against Turkey.

Lobbyists in Washington DC are working to influence US foreign policy against Turkey, documents obtained by TRT World show.

The DC nonprofit, In Defense of Christians, is one group lobbying for US legislators to “bring Turkey to account” for a range of issues since 2016, according to publicly available lobbying disclosures filed in both chambers of the US Congress.

Turkey has long faced opponents in the US capital, according to Talha Kose, chair of political science and international relations at the Ibn Haldun University, especially from think-tanks tied to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Lobbyists tied to Greek and Armenian interests, two countries with which Turkey has historical disputes, are also influential, Kose claimed.

“Turkey's opponents invest more [than Turkey] resources into lobbying,” Kose explains.

The detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey has arrested on charges of espionage and links to terror groups, is one major issue that the IDC has raised among US legislators.

IDC did not respond to TRT World's request for comment.

Lobbying efforts

Kose argues that recent lobbying efforts in the US have caused a negative impact on Turkey’s economy. 

IDC’s recommendations on how to handle US-Turkish relations, specifically economically, seem to have had an impact on US politicians.

North Carolina Republican Representative Robert Pittenger was a recipient of donations from a man who appears to be IDC President, Toufic Baaklini. Pittenger is a co-sponsor of the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act, legislation that attempts to harm Turkey’s economy over detaining a US citizen for “political leverage”.

The proposed legislation aims to cut Turkey’s access to loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Redevelopment.

According to an IDC policy brief, US legislators should target Turkish imports of handguns and take other retaliatory measures.

While handguns have yet to be targeted, Turkey has faced economic difficulties since US President Donald Trump sanctioned two Turkish ministers and tweeted in August that he would be doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum—important Turkish exports—continuing his use of US economic might to punish countries.

The tweet sent the lira’s value on a downward slope, putting increased pressure on the Turkish economy.

“Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”, Trump said in a tweet.

The dispute partly centres around Brunson, and the Trump administration and Republican politicians have repeatedly called for Brunson’s release.

The Turkish government has maintained its stance on this matter and asked the US to respect the country’s judicial process.

Who is the IDC?

IDC is staffed with DC insiders with ties to both sides of the political aisle. They work on a number of issues, including advocating for Christians across the globe.

TRT World was unable to ascertain exactly when the group was founded, but its website lists it as both a 501(C)3 and 501(C)4 organisation. The 501(C)3 status requires the group to file public tax forms, the first of which that is publicly available dates back to 2014.

As a 501(C)4, IDC can spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns under a landmark 2010 US Supreme Court ruling. 

Executive Director Philippe Nassif has recently been advocating for Christians in Myanmar, where the government is committing genocide against the largely Muslim Rohingya minority, according to a recent UN report.

The group’s staff has ties to both Republicans and Democrats. Nassif worked on campaigns for former US President Barack Obama, for example.

Republican ties

IDC is perhaps little known outside the US capital but judging by the politicians who attend IDC dinners and address the crowds at IDC events, as well as political donations from their staff, they are well connected to Republicans.

IDC is staffed with DC insiders with ties to both sides of the political aisle. However, the group’s lobbyists have deep ties to Republicans.

Vice President Mike Pence (pictured on the IDC’s homepage), Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other high-profile politicians are known to give speeches at their events.

There have been three lobbyists registered to IDC in the US Congress. Their only registered in-house lobbyist, Kristina Olney, was previously an employee of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a rightwing think tank whose primary founding funder was Republican hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer.

Singer closed FPI in early 2017 after Trump assumed office.

According to IDC’s website, Olney joined the organisation in 2014. She ended her tenure as a lobbyist for the group in 2017, according to filings.

Another lobbyist, Art Estopian, worked on behalf of IDC from July to October 2017. 

Estopian is an example of the “revolving door” between the lobbying industry and the US government. He was a former chief of staff for Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was the chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 2011 to 2013.

Estopian was paid at least $10,000 for his three-month efforts on “informing members of Congress the importance of protecting Christians in the Middle East,” according to disclosures.

The only lobbying firm still working for IDC, according to filings, is New World Group Public Affairs LLC. Their lobbyist is Gerald Weller, who served as Republican representative from Illinois from 1995 to 2008.

Weller began working for IDC in October 2017, shortly before Olney ended her tenure. New World Group Public Affairs LLC has been paid at least $13,000 by IDC, according to filings.

Legislation, donations

The Federal Elections Commission, which tracks campaign finance in the US, has records of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to mostly Republicans since 1992 by Toufic Baaklini, whose name comes up as IDC President and chairman of the board.

Baaklini has donated over $40,000 to Republican campaigns in 2017 and 2018, including $2,700 to President Donald Trump 2020 re-election efforts, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commissions.

Legislation like the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act and other threats, even from unratified legislation, “might have a psychological impact on foreign investors and international investors,” Sadik Unay, a political economist and professor at the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University told TRT World.

While the US could continue to put pressure on Turkey’s economy, Unay commented that perhaps the Turkish economy needed a restructuring that could be painful in the short-term. 

There was “was too much emphasis on service economy” and a shift to manufacturing and agriculture could be positive.

But “fundamentally, the Turkish economy is sound,” Unay said.

Baaklini also donated to California Democrat Brad Sherman.

Sherman is a co-sponsor of a resolution called “Urging Turkey to respect the rights and religious freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” which demands Turkey to eliminate “all forms of discrimination” based on race or religion.

It also remains unclear what impact IDC’s lobbying efforts have made on legislation. 

Kose claims that IDC is not the only DC organisation putting pressure on Turkey. Others, including the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think-tank typically viewed as being closely aligned with Israeli interests, has also put out numerous reports and press releases criticising Ankara.

But Kose was quick to say that current disputes between the Trump administration and Turkey are small in relation to the importance of Turkish-US relations.

Turkey is a NATO ally who gives both the US and the European Union a diplomatic and strategic door to the Middle East and Balkans, where Turkey is a key player, he said. 

“On a macro-level strategy in the long run is the interest of both countries. Lobbyists come and go [but] relations between Turkey and the US is very important,” Kose concluded.

Source: TRT World