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Friday, September 18, 2020

Al Jazeera says US ‘foreign agent’ order part of UAE-Israel normalisation deal

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Al Jazeera said it suspects the US request to register AJ+ as a foreign agent was part of the controversial United Arab Emirates deal to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel.

Al Jazeera slammed a recent US Justice Department [DOJ] order to force AJ+ to register as a foreign agent on Monday as one of the UAE’s conditions to normalising diplomatic relations with Israel. 

“The UAE has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received DOJ’s letter the day before the UAE signed the Accords,” Al Jazeera said in a statement, referring to the controversial agreement signed at the White House on Tuesday. 

“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” it said.

The remarks came just hours after the US Justice Department declared on Monday that AJ+, which is part of Qatari owned Al Jazeera Media Network, is an agent of the government of Qatar and ordered it to register as a foreign agent.

“Despite assertions of editorial independence and freedom of expression, Al Jazeera Media Network and its affiliates are controlled and funded by the Government of Qatar,”  the DOJ said in a letter signed by Jay I. Bratt, the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division.

Read also: US official claims Qatar blockade to end ‘in weeks’

“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” the letter stated. “Even,” the letter added, “if it views itself as ‘balanced.’”

The Al Jazeera Network maintained AJ+ is independent and should not have to register as a foreign agent. However, the network also said that it was “considering our options.”

“We are deeply disappointed by the Department’s decision, which runs counter to the extensive factual record we provided demonstrating that FARA registration is not applicable to AJ+,” it said, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

“The legal structure, editorial structure, editorial policies, budgeting process and content of AJ+ clearly demonstrate its independence. We are reviewing the determination and considering our options.”

Blockade demands

Responding to Al Jazeera’s statement, the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba, denied the allegations, according to The New York Times.

“At no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised,” Al-Otaiba said to The New York Times. “They’re really not as important as they think they are.”

The ongoing brawl between the Gulf states was sparked in 2017 when UAE — along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain — cut diplomatic ties with the country and imposed an illegal land, air, and sea blockade, citing “terrorism” claims. Qatar has vehemently denied all allegations and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of relations.

The shuttering of the popular Al Jazeera network was among a list of 13 demands to lift the blockade. Qatar refused the demands which it said were made to be rejected.

Since 2018, several Republican members of the US Congress have sent three letters asking the DOJ to force Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

The network “engages in political activities and disseminates information in the United States that advance the interests of Qatar,” Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Lee Zeldin wrote in an August 7 letter.


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