Britain bankrolling Syrian opposition’s lobbying efforts in US - report

Free Syrian Army fighter. © Baraa Al-Halabi
Britain has spent more than £1 million ($1.4 million) funding the Syrian opposition’s lobbying efforts in Washington DC and at the United Nations in a bid to influence American policy, US Department of Justice records reveal.

The British government has used a fund known as the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to bankroll lobbyists in the US – some of whom are former British diplomats – on behalf of Syrian rebels.

The revelation comes as Syrian opposition leaders meet in London on Wednesday to discuss a possible peace deal which would see President Bashar Assad step down.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson hinted on Wednesday the UK is prepared to give stronger backing to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels opposing Assad.

Lobbying documents obtained by Al-Monitor show the UK has been using ‘soft power’ to influence US policy on Syria for years.

The Conflict Pool was created in 2009 to “reduce the impact of conflict and instability around the world,” according to the British government.

The fund, which is jointly managed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DfID), was renamed to become the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund in April 2015.

In the last 18 months, it paid out $1.4 million to advisory group Independent Diplomat to lobby the US State Department on behalfof the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.

At least two of the lobbyists are former British diplomats – Independent Diplomat founder and Executive Director Carne Ross and Policy Director Reza Afshar are both registered on the account.

The fund came to national attention earlier this year for spending £2.4 million ($3.2 million) to run a shadow press office for the Western-backed Syrian opposition aimed at publicising ‘moderate’ rebels to military backers such as the Department of Defence.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told Al-Monitor: “The UK has spent over £5 million ($6.5 million) since the start of the conflict supporting the Syrian opposition. This includes providing negotiation and communication support along with advice and training to staff at their international offices.”

Separately, records show that Saudi Arabia has used its $8 million contract with international PR giant MSLGroup to help the Syrian opposition with “media support.”

The PR firm has helped promote opposition forces through outlets such as Fox News, Reuters and the New York Times, according to Al-Monitor.