Mr. Noppadon Goes to Washington

NOTE: This post was originally published on 8 July 2010 in a series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent. Ever since the red shirt protests ended, the government is keen to tell the world it's side of the story and that things have turned back to normal again in the Kingdom. In order to ensure this, they have, for instance, sent a special envoy to the US (with a little help from friends over there) for set the public agenda for Thailand (and also to prevent the US from intervention). Also, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was travelling around Europe the last few weeks starting with a visit to the European Union in Brussels, where he gave this astonishing statement while meeting an EU diplomat:

Kasit was quoted as telling Commissioner Georgieva that the recent red-shirt protests were engineered primarily by a combination of 'Marxist-Leninist' elements from the old Thai communist party, disaffected military men and 'slum-dwellers', all funded and inspired by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sources said.

However, he did not pressure the EU to extradite fugitive Thaksin since his ministry has earlier sought consultations from the EU diplomats in Bangkok on the process of Montenegro’s quest for EU membership. (...)

According to the EU press release, Commissioner Georgieva expressed her concerns about the victims of the recent political turmoil and hoped for a meaningful internal political dialogue to address the divisions in Thai society.

"EU concerns about Thailand's reconciliation", Bangkok Post, June 23, 2010 (emphasis by me)

I would like to have seen her face expression upon hearing Kasit's statement. The quote also reflects the the observations of US Senator Jim Webb when he met the Thai special envoy in Washington as Webb "agreed that aspects of the Red Shirts were 'classic Marxist.'" (Source)

Shortly after that the opposition camp has sent out their envoy around the world to counter the Thai government's media offense.

A close aide to Thailand's ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seeking US help to resolve the kingdom's turmoil as he tries to soften the image of the "Red Shirt" protest movement.

Noppadon Pattama, a former foreign minister, is on a mission to Washington that comes as a sharp challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has won US backing for his reconciliation plan and opposes outside mediation.

"We hope that the US administration will be more engaged about the situation in Thailand. They can use diplomatic channels to encourage the government to look at our proposal," Noppadon, a legal adviser to Thaksin, told AFP in an interview Tuesday.

"It doesn't mean they interfere with Thai politics. You can give friendly advice to your friend -- it's just natural," he said. "US-Thai relations are very important and if your friend is weak or is divided, your friend may not fulfill the potential that it has."(...)

Noppadon accused the government of misrepresenting the Red Shirts, saying: "I don't want the United States or the US population to misunderstand that the Red Shirts are terrorists. They are just farmers, they are just democracy lovers, they are people who dislike double standards,"

Noppadon declined to specify whom he was meeting in Washington, saying it could lead to repercussions. Diplomats said he would meet with staff members at Congress. (...)

"Thaksin Shinawatra aide seeks US role in Thailand", AFP via The Times of India, June 30, 2010

The Nation claims to know who Noppadon has met in Washington:

Noppadon will meet with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell at the State Department, a political source said, adding that he had also sought meetings with ranking senators, including John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Howard Burman and Richard Lucas.

"Noppadon is believed to rely on Ed Rogers, a lobbyist working in the law firm of former US secretary of state James Baker," the source said.

"Wooing Washington", The Nation, July 1, 2010

Also, on a possible involvement by Thaksin, Bangkok Post had this:

Mr Noppadon said Thaksin knew about his trip to the US but gave no particular instructions, adding that the fugitive former prime minister was now in eastern Europe. (...) [Noppadon] had nothing to do with Robert Amsterdam, a foreign lawyer working for Thaksin.

"Thaksin's lawyers at work", Bangkok Post, June 30, 2010

Ed Rogers is vice-president for the lobby firm BGR Holdings LLC, which had Thaksin as a client back in 2008. Also:

Thaksin Shinawatra [...] has hired BGR Government Affairs, Amsterdam & Peroff and Kobre & Kim to lobby federal policymakers.

BGR, according to the firm’s lobbying registration for Thaksin, will “provide strategic counsel on U.S. government policy and assist with advancing individual’s desire to promote democracy in Thailand.”

At BGR, Thaksin will be represented by Stephen Rademaker, former national security policy director for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); Jonathan Mantz, the national finance director for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) 2008 presidential campaign; and Walker Roberts, an ex-deputy staff director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Loren Monroe, a BGR principal, declined to comment for this piece, saying the firm does not discuss client matters.

"Former prime minister of Thailand hires trio of lobby and law firms", by Kevin Bogardus, The Hill, July 1, 2010

The time of Noppadon's PR-tour in DC was not accidental as he was in the week before the US Congress votes on whether to back Prime Minister Abhisit's reconciliation roadmap or not. The vote went 411 - 1 in favor of the bill officially titled "Affirming the support of the United States for a strong and vital alliance with Thailand" (the full text of the bill is in the link).

Of course, the Thai government is delighted with the decision from Washington as they have encouraged Abhisit to stay the course and carry on with the roadmap. This episode was also a show of whose side has done better lobbying on Capitol Hill, since the Thai government has also hired a lobbying firm. Looks like Noppadon or Thaksin will have more work to do to convince DC for their side of the political conflict.