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Rudaw: Thomas Kaplan interviewed on Kurdish activism

WASHINGTON , United States — A New York based pro-Kurdish group has hired international law firm Covington and Burling LLP to advocate for the formulation of a Middle East policy in President Joe Biden’s new administration that benefits Kurds.

“Justice For Kurds has asked us to communicate to decision makers of the US government both in the executive branch and the Congress messages about the importance of Kurdish people to the US national security interest,” Senior Counsel Stephen Rademaker at the law firm, and former assistant Secretary of State under President George W. Bush told Rudaw in a Zoom interview on February 26th.

Justice for Kurds (JFK), a Franco-American non-profit advocacy group, was established in 2017 by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and American billionaire and conservationist Thomas Kaplan, who currently chairs the organization.

In an interview with Rudaw on February 25, Kaplan said, “our aim is to make sure those in the West understand that not only are the Kurds important for our national security… we also share common values that the Kurdish people are part of the solution for the Middle East and the broader region”

Rademaker told Rudaw he believes there is a ”very receptive audience in the United States government for that message”.

Kaplan says he thinks the Kurdish cause can generate cooperation across the aisle.

“We believe that in a country as divided as the United States is today, the Kurdish cause represents what we call low hanging fruit for the new administration to be able to establish at least one area in which there is true bipartisan appreciation,” said the JFK chairman.

In October 2019, former US president Donald Trump, after a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, decided to withdraw troops from Syria, green lighting Turkey’s incursion into the Kurdish-held northeastern Syria. The move generated a wave of anger among both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, government officials in the US, and allies abroad.

In response to whether the advocacy group was worried the new administration may keep on with the former administration’s policies, Kaplan said, “it’s too soon to tell […] but the answer is yes, not because we have seen any evidence for it, but because we have not yet seen evidence against it.”

Despite the resignation of then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and the US envoy to defeat ISIS Brett McGurk, the Trump administration proceeded with the withdrawal prompting many to question the reliability of the United States as an ally to the Kurds.

At the time there was no lobbying group to advocate for the Kurds, Kaplan says, “but now there is…. we will not accept the status quo with regards to taking the Kurds for granted, we will take whatever it takes… in order to grow that agenda”

JFK has over 100 dignitaries from the US and Europe in its advisory group including former president George Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, retired General David Petraeus, former congress members. “We are a bipartisan organization, we are populated by Democrats and Republicans. In France there are people on our advisory council that range socialist, communist all the way to conservatives. Same for Britain, we have labor lords and conservative lords. We cross party lines”

On the lobbying account apart from Rademaker who is well connected to the Republicans, there is also Howard Berman, a former Congressman from California who served as the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign affairs from 2008 to 2011 and is a well connected politician to the Democrats.

“The only axe we have to grind is for the Kurds,” Kaplan told Rudaw. “It is not anti-Democrat, it’s not anti-Republican. It’s pro-Democrat, pro republican to the extent that they will respect and honor our long standing commitment and responsibilities to the Kurdish people ” Kaplan told Rudaw.

JFK plans to work with the law firm for as long as the Kurdish people remain disenfranchised, according to Kaplan. Pressed for more specific details on what issues, or what part of Kurdistan they are focusing on, Rademaker told Rudaw: “We are not focused on the Kurdish population of any particular country in the Middle East. We are talking about the Kurdish population in general, although obviously there are some countries where the Kurdish people face greater risks.”

Kaplan said his organization does not have the luxury of fragmenting Kurdish issues, but to work on the Kurdish questions in multiple countries simultaneously.

“We are advocating for all Kurds. We don’t receive any government or official money from any Kurdish source, actually any government source, we are completely independent in terms of our narrative, in terms of our thought process, and in terms of our funding. This gives us the flexibility to be able to be nimble,” Kaplan told Rudaw.

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