WASHINGTON - As the United States grapples over securing funding to build its pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there is “too much at stake” for the country not to participate in the event as it would damage its international reputation and the US’s bid to host the event in 2027 or 2030.

The US State Department and other government entities are legally prohibited from providing funding for capital expenditures or operational expenses associated with US pavilions or exhibits at World Expos.

In a bid to secure funding, American lawmakers have introduced a motion requesting that the government waive those regulations and provide emergency funding for the 2020 event. While the bill has been approved by the House of Representatives, it still needs to be approved by the Senate before being sent to be signed by President Donald Trump.

“There is simply too much at stake for the United States to fail to participate in Expo 2020,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a November 8 letter to US Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, according to a report by the Star Tribune newspaper.

“In the absence of the United States, global rivals would tell our story for us, ultimately damaging our reputation, disappointing our allies, and emboldening our adversaries,” Pompeo said in the letter, adding that a lack of presence at Expo 2020 Dubai “would also undercut the US bid to host either Expo 2027 or 2030.”

Arabian Business contacted the House Appropriations Committee and a House Democratic aide confirmed the existence of the Pompeo letter mentioned in the report, adding that “the letter from Secretary Pompeo was received at the 11th hour and 59th minute”.

Minnesota bid

Mark Ritchie, the former Minnesota secretary of state who is spearheading the Minnesota bid to host the World Expo, said it was vital that the US made a big impression at the Dubai event.

“If we’re going to have our bid taken seriously, then we need a US pavilion in Dubai and somewhere within that pavilion there will be the Minnesota bid room… You market yourself, your state, your city, your region and your theme,” he was quoted as saying.

Expo 2020 Dubai will run from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021 and it is estimated the event will attract 25 million visits, with around 70 percent coming from overseas.

The report said the US State Department needs to secure $60 million in funding to build its Expo 2020 Dubai pavilion and backers are hoping this can be secured in federal budget negotiations next month.

Minnesota previously bid to host the 2023 Expo but it lost out to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The US last hosted a World Expo in New Orleans in 1984.

‘Late to the table’

Speaking at the Dubai Airshow last week, Danny Sebright, the president of the Washington-DC based US-UAE Business Council, told Arabian Business the US was “woefully late to the table” in starting work on its pavilion.

Speaking at a gathering of US and UAE government officials and business leaders on Sunday night – which included Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, director-general of the Expo 2020 Dubai Office – Sebright said that a failure to secure funding would represent “failings in America’s ability to promote and deploy its soft power abroad.”

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event, newly appointed US ambassador John Rakolta Jr said that “we are up against the wire” to get the Expo pavilion up and running.

“I am confident that the Congress will ultimately pass some legislation that will allow us to proceed,” he said. “The old legislation does not work, didn’t work and will not work going forward.”

Rakolta added that US government involvement in the Dubai Expo is “clearly now in the hands of the Senate”.

“What we [the State Department] can do is work in a way with them to convince them and show them how important this is, not only to the relationship [with the UAE], but important to the United States in a way that we have to continue to export and spread our democracy, freedom, way of life, cultural values, technology, business, security and strength.”

Full commitment

Rakolta added that he has given UAE authorities his full commitment – both as an ambassador and as an individual – to ensure that the US pavilion can move forward.

“There are good positive signs this could happen,” he added. “Once it does, we’ll really have to put our shoulder to the wheel and make sure we produce something we can be proud of.”

Additionally, Rakolta said that the US government and the private sector would have to come together as a “USA team” to ensure success.

“All of us have to pull together and that’s when the United States shines the best,” he said.