The retired General Anthony Zinni, who was despatched to the Gulf by the US in an attempt to defuse the Qatar crisis, is reported to be the honorary chairman of an influential Washington think tank that received a secret $20 million donation from the UAE.
The revelation of the donation was made by the Intercept following the discovery of a trove of diplomatic correspondence and emails hacked from the account of the UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al-Otaiba. It's thought that either hackers or somebody with access to his inbox got access to the documents and handed them over to the Intercept.
On Monday US envoys Zinni and deputy Assistant Secretary Timothy Lenderking arrived in Kuwait to begin a shuttle diplomacy tour as part of Washington's efforts to break the stalemate between the Gulf countries. The US delegation, which planned on visiting all the main parties, was in Abu Dhabi yesterday where they were greeted by the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The last leg of the tour will see them travelling to Cairo, Egypt.
Zinni's selection was warmly greeted within the communities in Washington. "Few American figures are as well respected and well-liked by all Gulf Cooperation Council governments as Anthony Zinni," said Marcelle Wahba, president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
Charles Lister, who is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, also applauded Zinni's selection saying he "will come at this situation with many years of experience working intimately and at the highest levels with GCC states through his leadership at the US Central Command."
Paul Salem vice president for policy analysis at the Middle East Institute even took to twitter to say that he was "proud" that a Middle East Institute board member, Zinni, was selected to work on Qatar.
— Paul Salem (@paul_salem) August 2, 2017
Zinni's selection however did raise eyebrows within the policy community as commentators expressed their surprise in Washington's decision to send the former general because of his involvement with an institution that is reported to have received $20 million from the UAE, one of the major supporters of the blockade against Qatar.
Fascinating loop: UAE allegedly donated $20 mil to think tank whose honorary chairman later became US envoy charged w/ resolving Qatar spat https://t.co/QO0f9tdzjC
— Kristian Ulrichsen (@Dr_Ulrichsen) August 10, 2017
It's not clear if the White House administration knew of this revelation or whether it would have made any difference in their choice of envoy if they were aware that Zinni was on the board of a think tank that was receiving millions of dollars from one of the parties.
While the UAE's oversized influence in Capitol Hill has come under sharp focus recently, Abu Dhabi's $20 million donation to the Middle East Institute would nevertheless have come as a surprise because of the size of the donation. The huge sum paid by Abu Dhabi suggests the great lengths the UAE is willing to go to influence US thinking and Washington's policy in the Middle East.