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Consultants repping Saudi, UAE interests partner with Blinken’s old firm - Truthhurts

Posted: Mar 2nd, 2021 - 5:53 pm

A well-connected firm that represents Saudi and Emirati interests is partnering with a consulting firm launched by top Biden administration aides as the U.S. tackles foreign policy dilemmas in the Middle East.

Global advisory firm Teneo announced Monday it acquired a minority stake in WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm co-founded by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2017 that also employed Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

According to OpenSecrets’ foreign lobby watch database, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund paid Teneo around $2.9 million since 2019 to develop a strategic plan and conduct outreach for Neom, a proposed $500 billion city in the nation’s northwest corner. To make room for the project, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is evicting thousands of tribal residents. A tribesman who criticized the government effort was killed by Saudi special forces in April. 

Last week, Haines publicly released a report concluding that Bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Washington Post journalist who criticized the regime. The Biden administration, which has paused arms sales to Saudi Arabia, sanctioned several Saudi officials allegedly involved in the murder but did not directly punish the crown prince. Key members of Congress, including top Democrats, have urged President Joe Biden to take stronger action.

Former Obama administration defense official Michèle Flournoy, managing partner at WestExec Advisors, will work with Teneo to provide “best in class strategic advice” to business leaders, according to a press release. Flournoy, who was under consideration for Biden’s defense secretary, worked alongside Blinken and Haines at the consulting firm. Together they pulled in big contracts to advise corporate clients, including defense contractor Boeing

A source familiar with the partnership told OpenSecrets that WestExec Advisors will not be involved with Teneo’s work for Neom. WestExec Advisors has said it does not work with foreign governments. Both firms say they do not lobby U.S. officials. 

Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, said that while WestExec may not be involved in the firm’s work for Saudi Arabia, the firm’s connections to the Biden administration and influential groups are valuable. Teneo has reported contacting think tanks on behalf of foreign clients, and Flournoy is a member of the defense sector-backed Center for a New American Security, which has sent more than a dozen staffers to the Biden administration.

“It’s all just different shades of trying to garner influence,” Freeman said. 

LINK/URL: Consultants repping Saudi, UAE interests partner with Blinken’s old firm


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