The United Arab Emirates has myriad interests with the US government, including arms procurement, and more than a dozen companies actively registered with the Department of Justice to represent government clients.
Otaiba said his favorite event to host is an interfaith Iftar dinner during Ramadan with Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others. Former Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, former Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Special Olympics President Timothy Shriver they have all attended the event, which began before the pandemic.
The dinner in late March drew a list of prominent Jewish leaders: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Biden’s anti-Semitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt, Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog and Republican Frank Luntz. The menu included salmon, saffron chicken, brinjal and beef kibbeh labanieh, and guests received a box of dates from the United Arab Emirates as a party favor.
“Everyone walks away feeling good after that,” Otaiba said. «It’s about tolerance, it’s about inclusion, all the values we stand for and uphold in the Emirates.»
Iftar dinners, however, are relatively mundane compared to many embassy parties. The French ambassador’s residence has held an Améthyste event in recent years, a tribute to the purple stone. Washington bigwigs in attendance last year included Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.), senior White House officials Shalanda Young and Mitch Landrieu, and trade representative Katherine Tai.
The purpose is to bring Democrats and Republicans together, said a French official in Washington who was granted anonymity to discuss the thinking behind the event. But he’s also made no secret of his connections to K Street influences. Heather Podesta, a mega-lobbyist who lobbied the likes of Toyota and SpaceX that quarter, co-hosted Améthyste in December.
«Any time you put Republicans, Democrats, the media, corporations, nonprofits, the entertainment industry and the diplomatic corps in the same room, good things will happen,» Podesta said in a statement. “In a city that is too often divided into parties, we all need opportunities to get to know each other better.”
Corporate sponsors for the event included South Korean conglomerate SK Group and French investment firm Ardian, which is looking to invest in the US, said Steve Clemons, another co-host of the event whose day job is writing a newsletter for media startup Semafor. . . A familiar face to those operating on the nexus of journalism and the embassy party circuit, Clemons became a Knight of France’s Legion of Honor in 2021.
In a statement, Ardian did not comment on his involvement in the match. The party also featured Chevron-branded coasters for the energy company, another sponsor. SK Group did not provide any comment. Chevron spokesman Bill Turenne said in a statement: «Like other brands and news organizations, Chevron is proud to support events in Washington, like Amethyste, that bring Republicans and Democrats together to benefit important charitable partners.»
Although denizens of the embassy party circuit say the corporate sponsorships go back several years, at least they’ve become more notorious of late. As part of the festivities surrounding the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Swiss commodity company Mercuria will sponsor Time magazine’s after-party on Saturday night at the Swiss ambassador’s residence.
A Mercuria representative said in an email: “Mercuria is a Swiss company, so the company often sponsors events at the Swiss embassy. We also sponsor the Soiree Suisse at the Swiss Embassy with other Swiss companies every year.” Spokesmen for the Swiss embassy and Time declined to comment or did not respond.
A Republican lobbyist said that a company doing business with a foreign government or in a foreign country might sponsor an event as a means of building relationships. A defense contractor, for example, could use the venue to chat with a diplomat from a country to which it hopes to sell military equipment, the lobbyist said.
Alternatively, part of a government’s mission in the US is often to court companies to show that the country is «open for business» and encourage investment, the person noted.
Asked why more companies are sponsoring embassy events, Gérard Araud, who was France’s ambassador to Washington from 2014 to 2019, said: “I think it’s money. I think it’s really the foreign ministries that are struggling under budget constraints.» He said that when he was ambassador, he had to get approval from the Foreign Ministry in Paris for any proposal to sponsor an embassy event.
POLITICO has partnered with embassies in the past, including hosting an event earlier this month at the home of the European Union ambassador. Thursday’s event took place at the home of Ambassador Karen Pierce.
«POLITICO is proud to host high-level gatherings of influencers, so we’re so excited to partner with the British Embassy in April to showcase our reporting teams both here and in London to a fantastic audience,» said Brad Dayspring, Vice President global communications executive and brand at POLITICO. “More conversations are needed in Washington, not less, which is why our reporters and editors regularly attend events like these and why we prioritize hosting and connecting people at them.”
One of the quirkier attractions on the embassy party circuit is the Finnish Embassy’s long-running sauna series, which brings together journalists and Hill employees for a long night of sauna, conversation and Scandinavian food. The ambassador has his own sauna which he uses for personal meetings with senior government officials and journalists.