0449 GMT February 25, 2018
Nayef, who is also Saudi Arabia’s first deputy prime minister and the minister of interior, has paid the money to SPG, a Washington-based lobbying firm with ties to Trump’s team, Politico reported on Wednesday.
In return, SPG would provide the Saudi Interior Ministry with “public relations and media engagement as well as public affairs counsel,” the report added.
While Saudis have long been paying US lobbyists for PR purposes, this is the first time that a ministry is directly contracting a lobbying firm. The hefty contract is filed with the US Department of Justice.
SPG has a praised Nayef’s record at the Interior Ministry as “a moderating force in a region increasingly under attack from radical elements” and “a reminder of the vital importance of the United States-Saudi relationship.”
The move by Prince Nayef is believed to have roots in his rivalry with Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy crown price.
The two princes have been engaged in a quiet battle to replace 81-year-old King Salman, whose health has been fragile.
Trump met with Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, at the White House in mid-March. US Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and top strategist Steve Bannon were also present at the meeting.
Following the meeting a senior adviser to the deputy crown prince said that the talks marked a "historical turning point" in US-Saudi relations.
After the Oval Office meeting, Trump and the prince were joined by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and State Minister Musaed al-Aiban for lunch in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Salman has also worked with more established US lobbying firms, including the Podesta Group and BGR. Justice Department filings show that a Saudi entity called the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court is shelling out a total of nearly $2.2 million each year to keep the two firms on contract.
More than a dozen US lobbying firms have been hired by various Saudi government entities in recent months.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at getting Arab nations to stand in “unity” with Israel against Iran.
Trump, a fierce critic of Washington-Riyadh ties during the campaign run, has quieted his criticisms since taking office.