The UAE Has Donated Millions to the Atlantic Council. They Just Got a Glowing Op-Ed From the Think Tank's Chief.

Fred Kempe did not disclose millions in Emirati funding in gushing article

Atlantic Council president and CEO Frederick Kempe / Getty Images
January 17, 2023

The Atlantic Council's chief executive officer, Fred Kempe, this month lavished praise on the "resource-rich, renewables-generating" United Arab Emirates in a Jan. 14 op-ed for CNBC praising the oil-rich Gulf nation's "utopian" plan to fight climate change.

What he failed to mention were the Middle Eastern monarchy's sizable donations—which have in some years topped $1 million—to the Atlantic Council. He also omitted the more troubling aspects of the UAE's governance. The country has a documented record of human rights abuses, according to the State Department, including torture, arbitrary detention, and "undue restrictions on free expression and the press."

In the piece, Kempe celebrated the United Nations' decision to hold its annual climate change summit in Abu Dhabi and praised the UAE’s selection of Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, an Emirati government minister and the head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to oversee the global summit. Kempe called Al-Jaber an "ideal choice" to lead the conference, rebuffing climate activists who criticized Al-Jaber's selection because of his role as head of one of the Gulf region's largest oil producers.

After the Washington Free Beacon contacted the Atlantic Council for comment, CNBC attached a lengthy editor's note to the article noting that "the obvious conflict of interest" was "not disclosed" and that the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is a major sponsor of the Atlantic Council's annual energy conference. The UAE embassy in 2021 gave more than $1 million to the Atlantic Council, while the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation gave between $100,000 and $250,000, according to donor records.

In a statement to the Free Beacon, an Atlantic Council spokesman said the think tank "regret[s] that proper disclosures were not made."

"That was an oversight. The piece has been updated to clarify the nature of the relationship," the spokesman said.

The Atlantic Council, which paid Kempe roughly $700,000 in 2019, has promoted the UAE in other ways. In October, the think tank funded a junket for congressional aides to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials and energy industry executives, the Free Beacon reported. The Atlantic Council has hosted Emirati officials at forums and other events both in Washington, D.C., and Abu Dhabi. Kempe interviewed Al-Jaber at an Atlantic Council event in April 2021.

The think tank has come under scrutiny before over its other foreign entanglements. Burisma Holdings, the Hunter Biden-linked Ukrainian energy firm, contributed $300,000 to the Atlantic Council as part of the company's attempts to repair its public image in the wake of corruption scandals. Atlantic Council officials accepted the donation even after State Department officials had warned them about Burisma's corruption. Two of Burisma's lobbyists, Sally Painter and Karen Tramontano, served on the Atlantic Council's board of directors at the time.

The Turkish government, a longtime Atlantic Council donor, has pressured the think tank to shape its research and programming in ways favorable to Ankara, sources have told the Free Beacon.