Lobbyist Abandons Bid to Represent Sudan in Washington

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

An East Coast law firm has dropped its effort to secure a lobbying contract with the pariah regime in Sudan after an outpouring of opposition from key lawmakers and activist groups, officials said Friday.

Robert B. Crowe, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and a longtime backer of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), had been working quietly since the spring to get the Obama administration to approve a lobbying deal with the government in Khartoum. The Washington Post disclosed the effort in a report last week.

A deal would have given Sudan its first Washington lobbyist since 2006, when a GOP-connected firm dropped the country as a client amid public outcry. Many lawmakers and human-rights groups object to allowing U.S. representation for Sudan, which is subject to stiff economic sanctions and is accused of backing genocide in the western region of Darfur.

James C. Gray Jr., an administrative partner at Nelson Mullins, said Friday that the firm "is no longer pursuing the application or a relationship with the government of Sudan."

"We determined that we are not in a position to make a difference on the issue," Gray said, adding that the "extraordinary passions" of opponents also played a role in the decision.

The efforts come as the Obama administration prepares to unveil a new policy on Sudan next week after months of infighting over the issue. President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, has signaled a willingness to ease sanctions while other officials want to maintain a hard line on Khartoum.

Sudan's push for a Washington lobbyist is part of a concerted effort by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to enlist help from prominent U.S. figures, records and interviews show. Earlier this year, Sudan helped arrange a $1.3 million contract between the nation of Qatar and former Reagan administration aide Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane for consulting work in Darfur, The Post has reported.

The lobbying idea arose out of conversations between Kerry aides and Bob Arnot, a physician and television personality, who then approached Crowe, participants said. Kerry's office said the senator, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was not aware of the talks.

Crowe said in an interview this month that the proposed contract would have required substantive reforms by the Khartoum regime for the relationship to continue. The administration initially rejected the application and urged Crowe to seek congressional support before it reconsidered, State Department officials said.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a leading House critic of Sudan, said that a lobbying contract would have been "terrible" and that he hoped the episode would spur Obama "to get more directly involved in making progress in Sudan."

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