Though the Saudi Arabian government publicly declared its tentative support for the widely-praised Iran nuclear deal last month, new reports reveal it is secretly funding propaganda efforts to undermine it. A new group called the American Security Initiative has spent over $6 million on advertisements criticizing the deal — using money supplied by the Saudi monarchy.
The president of the American Security Initiative Norm Coleman is a former Republican senator who now runs the lobbying firm, Hogan Lovells. He is a registered lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and his firm is on retainer for the Saudi monarchy at a rate of $60,000 per month.
According to The Intercept, “In July 2014, Coleman described his work as ‘providing legal services to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia’ on issues including ‘legal and policy developments involving Iran and limiting Iranian nuclear capability.’”
Other founders of the American Security Initiative include former Senator Joe Lieberman ( a Democrat) and former Senator Saxby Chambliss (a Republican), who works at DLA Piper, yet another firm hired to lobby on behalf of the Saudi monarchy. Opposition to the deal enjoys bipartisan support.
The lobbying effort has run commercials in nine states — Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia — and was initiated in partnership with a group called Veterans Against the Deal. One ad features a maimed Iraq War veteran who ominously warns that “Every politician who is involved in this will be held accountable. They will have blood on their hands.”
The Iran deal is set to be voted on in September, but the Saudi government has a vested interest in its failure. This is not only because of longstanding divides between Sunni and Shiite factions, but because relief from economic sanctions on Iran could increase Iran’s oil exports and threaten Saudi dominance of the market, which has already started to wane. Further, as The Intercept observed, “The crises in Syria and in Yemen have become proxy wars between the two nations as Saudi Arabia and Iran are playing an active role in fueling opposing sides in both conflicts.”
Last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Saudi government had abandoned many of its apprehensions toward the deal, moving to endorse it. However, according to Reuters, an official from the Saudi government revealed that he behind the scenes, the deal is still very much scorned. “We have learned as Iran’s neighbors in the last 40 years that goodwill only led us to harvest sour grapes,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Though the Saudi monarchy has been widely criticized for its inhumane policies —including everything from brutal beheadings to life-threatening lashes inflicted on bloggers — the government continues to exert powerful influence over American leadership (according to Wikileaks, it has paid for media influence in other countries, as well). It rivals the Israeli lobby, which has also invested heavily in demonizing the Iran nuclear agreement. Last month, Israeli lobbying group AIPAC spent $20 million in 20 states to advertise against the agreement. Opposition to the deal comes even as the crux of the accord cripples Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The glaring, underlying irony of the deal is that three of its biggest opponents — a bipartisan assembly of American lawmakers, the Saudi monarchy, and the Israeli government — are a far greater threat to peace than the admittedly oppressive Iranian government. The lawmakers who oppose the deal are the same ones who advocate perpetual American war, which has killed countless innocent civilians. Saudi airstrikes against the Houthi insurgency in Yemen are repeatedly slaughtering civilians. Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine creates a steady stream of needless innocent deaths.
In the face of the new revelations about Saudi manipulation of public perception surrounding the Iran deal, statements from the monarchy are now tinged with irony:
“Given that Iran is a neighbour, Saudi Arabia hopes to build with her better relations in all areas on the basis of good neighborliness and non-interference in internal affairs,” a Saudi official said last month.