The center of gravity in Washington
Three decades of US policy with Iran: Naiveté and failure
Jack Abramoff scandal and revelations about Iran lobby
The defamation lawsuit and lobby's internal documents
Oil and trade Lobby campaign
NIAC, and Iran's oil mafia
Track II meetings
High jacking the peace movement
Money, lobby and political influence
Center of Gravity in Washington
On December 18, 2008,
shortly after Barack Obama’s election, representatives of some 20 groups held
their monthly meeting to discuss their lobby efforts to influence US policy
toward a friendlier stance with Iran. The coordinator of this coalition declared that the group had become the “center of gravity on the
Iran issue” in Congress.
This coalition was
called the “Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran” (CNAPI),
which brought together USA*Engage (a pro-trade lobby group representing large
US corporations), Open Society, as well as peace and religious groups. The
National Iranian American Council (NIAC) coordinated this coalition and its
NIAC has been referred
to as "the Iranian
lobby in US" by the governmental press in Tehran and two of
CNAPI's coalition partners, the Campaign Against Military Sanctions and
Intervention in Iran (CASMII) and FOR, openly work with Ahmadinejad’s office in
Tehran. (See documents)
An instance that showed
CNAPI's influence was its successful lobby to prevent the nomination of Dennis Ross by President Obama as
the Iran envoy in the State Department. The coalition prevented Ross's
nomination, stating that he was considered to be hawkish towards Iran and
finally, John Limbert, who is close to CNAPI and is a member of NIAC advisory
board, took office as the senior Iran official at the State Department.
May 2008 memo, discussing CNAPI's recommendation policy paper for US
administration, the coalition partners opposed to include the issue of human
rights violations in Iran because "the language might make it more
difficult for the Campaign members who have developed and maintain contacts
with government officials inside of Iran."
CNAPI was active between 2007-2010 but many of the groups and
individuals that participated in this coalition or supported its lobby have
been active for the past two decades to shape US policy with Iran. They
continue to work together and enjoy considerable influence in think tanks, the
media and the US government. Since 2010 and the failure of Obama's overture
toward Iran and start of tough sanctions, this lobby has been weekend but
remains a determining force in Washington.
Three decades of US policy with Iran: Naiveté and failure
Two words best define the policies of the United
States toward Iran in the past 32 years: naiveté
and failure. The US policy towards
Iran has been a failure. Fundamentalists rule Iran with an iron fist.
Their attitude toward the world has been demeaning, abusive, and hostile. Their illegal, unwelcomed and malicious
influence has been broadening in the region.
Their terrorist exploits is reaching way beyond the region to Europe and
the Americas. Iranian ayatollahs are at
the door step of becoming a major nuclear player in the international arena.
The US policy toward Iran has been plagued with naiveté.
The US has given every dictator in the theocratic regime of Iran
benefit of the doubt. For three decades,
administration after administrations held the ill-conceived hope that a
moderate will emerge from the gloom of tyranny in Tehran who will extend them
the olive branch.
In September 2008, the Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates, who has been personally involved in dealing with Iran from the
very beginning of the Islamic Republic, gave a speech in Washington
and masterfully defined the dominant aspect of US policy toward Iran in
the past three decades: (official transcript)
“I have been involved in the
search for the elusive Iranian moderate for 30 years. (Laughter.)... Every
administration since then has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another
and all have failed. Some have gotten into deep trouble associated with
their failures, but the reality is the Iranian leadership has been consistently
unyielding over a very long period of time in response to repeated overtures
from the United States about having a different and better kind of
The “illusionary search for moderates” as Robert
Gates put it, has driven American officials to being the subject of public
mockery. In 1986 President Reagan who
sought friendship with “moderate” Rafsanjani secretly sent his National
Security Advisor to Tehran. In addition
to the supplying arms requested by the Iranian regime, McFarlane also offered
as souvenir a cake in the shape of a key, symbolizing a new opening in the
Later, Clinton’s illusions about “reformist”
Khatami pushed him to ridicule when he addressed the UN general assembly in
2000. The administration hoped for an
“accidental” friendly encounter with the Iranian president at the UN. The idea was to break the taboo of
“engagement” and break the ice. What happened
next was humiliatingly bizarre. While
Clinton was waiting in the UN hallways to shake hands with the Iranian
president, Khatami hid in the men's room refusing to come out!
But probably the most dramatic example of the
American gullibility occurred in 2002-03 when George Bush’s representatives coordinated
the invasion of Iraq with the
Iranian envoys. This invasion gave the clerical rulers of Tehran a historic and
golden opportunity to strengthen their fundamentalist influence in Iraq,
challenge the US presence, shape the future of this country and finally
strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East.
President Obama is not an exception to this rule.
In 2009, in the middle of the Iranian uprising, while millions were challenging
the regime, he sent his delegates to sit down with the Supreme Leader’s envoys
for futile nuclear negotiations. In
order to prepare for this meeting Obama had sent several secret messages,
public letters and video greetings to the Iranian dictator. He had refrained
from offering full support to the regime’s opponents.
Obviously, at every turning point when the US
policy makers arrived at an impasse with Iran and were ready to examine
alternative policies, strangely, they were given advice and fresh hope that a
new pragmatist, moderate, realist or reformist leader will emerge in Iran and
would resolve US concerns. At every defining moment that the US should have
changed the course, it was driven dragged back to the same path of failure and
Are the US government, think-tanks, intellectuals
and policy makers so inept that they cannot even learn from their repeated
mistakes? Are the Iranian ayatollahs so
shrewd that they have outsmarted us constantly for more than thirty years? The answer to both of these questions is
This paper offers a new
perspective: that the US foreign policy is influenced by various and opposing
interest groups and lobbies. While the public attention has been primarily
focused on Israeli lobbies and their influence in Washington, other lobbies
including the powerful oil lobby have remained unnoticed and relatively
In 1997, large US
corporations launched a vast lobby and media campaign promoting a friendlier
policy with Iran and urging the government to remove sanctions. This
business-oriented lobby created a favorable political environment for other
lobbies and political organizations that opposed a harsh policy with Iran to
become more active and vocal. In such an environment, groups and lobbies
created by or tied to the Iranian regime mushroomed in Washington and became
part of the political landscape.
political force with influence in mainstream media, think tanks, and academic
centers, in addition to the US government, has been instrumental in the
campaign to prevent any pressure against Iran and has gradually morphed into an
Iran appeasement lobby. In many cases, this lobby has been pursuing the
interests and wishes of the Iranian regime at the expense of US national
A key player in this
lobby is the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a small lobby organization in Washington, specifically its
president Trita Parsi, who is in close relationship with the White House and
the State Department.
Abramoff Scandal and Revelations About the Iran Lobby
In 2005, the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal became public. Abramoff and his
partners operated a most elaborately fashioned web of money for political
favors. One of his main accomplices was Bob Ney, the former Congressman from Ohio.
On October 13, 2006, Ney
pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges and was later sentenced to 30
months in prison.
As the extent of Ney's
corruption was revealed, many Iran policy observers who knew the Congressman
and of his relentless efforts in favor of a "soft" policy with Iran
asked a very simple question: Why would a person that so readily made his
services available to the highest bidder so passionately care for the Iranian
rulers? What were Bob Ney's motives to advocate on behalf of the Mullahs? For
almost ten years, Bob Ney had a young Iranian-Swede called Trita Parsi in his
office working as foreign policy advisor. Why would a lawmaker with no
official role in foreign policy have a foreign policy advisor on Iran? (For
Ney-Parsi relation see documents)
The Abramoff and Ney
scandal revealed three affairs that were directly related to Tehran.
VIP airplane for Iranian
The first affair involved Bob Ney's relation to two London-based businessmen
who worked for the Iranian regime that tried to buy a VIP airplane for the
Iranian leaders. Since the airplane's transfer to Iran was prohibited by US
sanctions, they hired two Washington lobbyists, Roy Coffee and David Distefano
to resolve this issue. Coffee was a top Washington lobbyist close to George
Bush and was his former deputy campaign manager. Distefano was Ney's former
chief of staff. (See documents)
The two lobbyists went
to Congressman Ney for help to resolve the sanction issue and facilitate the
deal. Ney travelled twice to London and was bribed by the two businessmen. In
his plea agreement, Ney admitted receiving bribes from them.
An Iranian PAC to lobby
against US sanctions on Iran: The second affair was revealed by Coffee. In a letter to the Dallas Morning News in February 2006, he explained
his collaboration with Trita Parsi to create a lobby in Washington and remove
sanctions against Iran.
"Back in the spring
or summer of 2002, a good friend of mine from law school, Darius Baghai, had
just returned from visiting relatives in Iran for the first time since his
family left before the revolution. He spoke with me about how the economy of
Iran was humming and that the US was missing out because we were the only
country imposing sanctions on Iran since 1979. … From this, I took Darius
into visit with Mr. Ney. What was to be a 15 minute meeting became a 1 1/2 hour
meeting as they spoke passionately about their hopes for the Iranian people.
They also spoke in Farsi a great deal - I'm sure talking smack about me. From
that meeting, Darius, Dave and I began to work with Trita Parsi, another
Iranian-American to try to form a political action committee of
Iranian-Americans to pursue a strategy of normalization of relations between
the two countries. … The 4 of us worked very hard for about 9 months to form
this committee, but we found that most Iranians do not want to get involved in
politics because of their experiences in Iran during and after the revolution."
Among NIAC's internal
documents released during the defamation lawsuit, there are several
documents related to this affair including Parsi's memo written for
Coffee titled: "Towards the Creation of an Iranian-American Lobby" in
which he explained their strategy to use Iranian- Americans in a lobby campaign
against US sanctions on Iran.
Iranian 2003 offer for grand bargain: The third affair was the
alleged offer by Iran for a grand bargain with the US in 2003.
Once again, Trita Parsi and his boss Bob Ney were at the center of this affair.
In April of 2003, Sadegh Kharazi, the Iranian ambassador to France asked Tim
Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, to take the Iranian proposal to the
US government. Strangely, the Swiss ambassador overruled his superior orders
and instead of sending the proposal to the Swiss embassy in the US, travelled
to Washington, met with Bob Ney and gave him the Iranian offer and Ney asked
Trita Parsi to take care of this issue. (See
also Parsi's book p.246-247 and draft of
Parsi's book obtained during the lawsuit)
According to Guldimann’s
the Iranian offer was so secret that only four people in Iran were informed:
"Kharazi told me
that he had two long discussions with the leader on the roadmap. In those
meetings which both lasted two hours, only President Khatami and Foreign
Minister Kamal Kharazi were present. The question is dealt with in high
secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed.”
secrecy implied that the Revolutionary Guards, the National Security Council,
the cabinet ministers, and the Iranian parliament were all kept in the dark on
this historical shift in Iranian foreign policy. Under such conditions, we note
the unusually extraordinary level of trust between the Iranian regime, Bob Ney,
and Trita Parsi which justified their role in this affair. (See
defamation lawsuit and NIAC's internal documents
These questions were the
starting point for me, the present paper's author, to investigate Ney and
Parsi's ties to the Iranian regime. In April 2007, I published the result of my
investigation in an article titled “Iran’s Oil Mafia, Penetrating US Political
System” detailing how Trita Parsi and his organization were supported,
promoted, and trusted by the Iranian regime.
newspapers and websites inside Iran and close to the regime stepped
forth to defend NIAC and Trita Parsi, attacking my reputation and accusing me of being
an agent of the New Conservatives, AIPAC and Israel. The ultra-radical Ghods
Daily wrote: "the Neocons attack the Iranian lobby in the US."
Then, Parsi and his colleagues in NIAC publically accused me of being a
terrorist and warmonger.
But these accusations
did not stop me and a growing number of critics. Consequently, in April 2008,
NIAC filed a defamation lawsuit to crush me under the legal expenses and make
an example out of me, shutting up other like-minded critics.
In 2009, the discovery
process began and a small part of NIAC's internal documents became available.
They showed the extent of NIAC's lobby in Washington and revealed the close
ties and collaboration between Trita Parsi and Iranian officials. Twice, NIAC asked
the judge to block the release of these documents to the press. The Judge denied NIAC's demand and the Washington Times published some of these
documents in a front page story.
Senator Jon Kyl then sent an
inquiry to the US Attorney general asking
to investigate the group’s ties with the Iranian regime. NIAC's documents have
since been arranged in a fact book posted on the Iranian
American Forum website and are partly used in the present report.
On September 13, 2012,
53 months after the suit was filed, the court dismissed the case and the Federal Judge wrote:
"In sum, none of
the communications from editors or other journalists provide any evidence that
defendant had subjective doubts about his articles or willfully avoided the
... That Parsi
occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, shared blame approach is
not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for
the regime. .. After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the
Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the
regime’s reputation in the United States." (p. 12)
In a second ruling, the court sanctioned NIAC for discovery abuses and
untrue declarations to the court. The judge wrote:
"There is no
question that plaintiffs have repeatedly tried to evade their discovery
obligations... In awarding sanctions, the Court is mindful not just of the need
to compensate defendant, but also of the need to deter plaintiffs from future
discovery abuses." (p. 23)
In 1992, Iran offered a
$1 billion contract to US oil giant Conoco to develop offshore oil and gas
fields in the Persian Gulf. At the time, Iran was also supporting terrorist
organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in a campaign to destroy a US
sponsored Israel-Palestine peace plan. The Iranian terrorism extended well
beyond Middle East, namely the massacre of Jewish civilians in Argentina in 1994.
The US Congress and
public opinion did not view the Conoco deal favorably and therefore the agreement
was kept secret. The company started a lobby campaign to soften this opinion
and convince the administration to give a green light to the deal.
Gary Sick, a Carter
national security official, and Hooshang Amirahmadi carried this lobby. The Gulf 2000 project was launched and regular conferences were held. Op-eds
appeared in newspapers in favor of better relations with Iran.
In March 1995, Conoco
made its Iranian deal public but the Clinton administration intervened and
issued an executive order to kill the deal. A year later
in June 1996, Iranian terrorists bombed US military barrack in Khobar, Saudi Arabia and in September, the Congress passed Iran Libya
Sanctions Act (ILSA). The horizon for Conoco and other US giants became bleak.
In 1997, Mohammad
Khatami became president of Iran and the political environment was changed in
favor of a new and friendly attitude toward Tehran. The National Foreign Trade
Council (NFTC), representing more than 500 US corporations, launched an
official lobby organization called USA*Engage to remove sanctions
against Iran and Libya. Oil companies also became very active and helped create
the American Iranian Council (AIC), an advocacy group led by Hooshang Amirahmadi who in an interview with a government
newspaper in Iran called himself the "Iranian lobby in the US."
included CEOs and Vice Presidents from Chevron, Conoco, Exxon and other oil
corporations. AIC was mainly funded by these giants and between 1997-2001,
this lobby was a determining force in Washington and influenced President
Clinton's friendly attitude toward Iran.
activities and the large number of "experts," journalists and
politicians, who participated in AIC's campaign exhibit the influence of oil
lobby in Washington. (See
This anti-sanction lobby
reached its summit in 2001 when Congress planned to extend the ILSA. Oil CEOs
met with George Bush, travelled to Tehran, and an unprecedented media and
public opinion campaign was launched to prevent the extension of the sanction
bill. Finally, the Congress extended the law and the lobby was defeated.
Iran's oil mafia
In 1999, Hossein
Alikhani, an Iranian oil businessman living in Cyprus and
chairman of "Center for world dialogue" organized a conference to discuss how to improve US-Iran relations
and remove sanctions. Alikhani had been previously arrested by the FBI in 1991
and jailed in the US for violating the sanctions against Libya. In 2005, in a show of
support to Alikhani, a court in Tehran demanded that the US embassy compound in
Tehran be sold and the funds be given to him. (See documents)
participants in the 1999 conference were Richard Sawaya, chief lobbyist at oil
giant Arco, Farrokh Mostofi, representing Shell company, and Bijan Khajehpour,
chairman and founder of Tehran based Atieh Bahar, a consulting company that
helps foreign oil companies and multinationals do business in Iran. (For
Atieh Bahar, see documents)
portfolio of Atieh shows a potpourri of engagements and partnerships with the
Iranian regime including joint ventures, consulting, organizing policy
conferences, facilitating the convergence of foreign and Iranian oil
enterprises, in addition to representing and guiding the multinational foreign
companies in their dealings with the Iranian regime. Atieh's Iranian customer
list includes high level Iranian institutions like various banks and the
parliament. Its subsidiaries have unmatched access to sensitive electronic data
from government banks and institutions. Atieh is part of Iranian economic mafia
controlled by various factions of the Islamic regime.
In the Cypress
conference, Siamak Namazi (Atieh Bahar's managing director) was also present
and, together with Trita Parsi, presented a project which argued that an
Iranian-American lobby should be created to influence US policy with Iran and
eventually remove sanctions. In their recommendations, they detailed how the
Israeli lobby operates in Washington and suggested that its model should be
1. Seminars in lobbying
for Iranian-American youth and intern opportunities in Washington DC.
Arguably an Iranian-American
lobby (which is different from a lobby group purely pursuing the
interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran) is needed in order to create a
balance between the competing Middle Eastern lobbies. Without it, Iran-bashing
may become popular in Congress again."
2. Increased awareness
amongst Iranian-Americans and Americans about the effects of sanctions, both at
home and in Iran.
3. The taboo of working
for a new approach on Iran must be further legitimized.
In 2001, Parsi was hired by AIC president
Hooshang Amirahmadi and moved to the US from Sweden. Soon after, he started consultation to create the grassroots lobby he had planned with Namazi.
Consequently, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) was founded in late
2001 and officially started work in 2002.
Assisted by Washington lobbyist Roy Coffee and Congressman Bob Ney, Parsi
tried to launch NIAC's lobby and recruit Iranian-Americans. But after 9 months
of effort, they failed to attract Iranian-Americans and their lobby did not
actually start until 2005 when Ahmadinejad became president.
include lobbying in Congress against US sanctions, cooperating and coordinating
with other groups that seek better relations with Iran, and providing an
"Iranian voice" to the large-scale lobby by US corporations to lift
documents clearly show that Tehran-based individuals who worked with the Iranian government helped Parsi to create NIAC. While Parsi was president of NIAC and
lobbied in the US Congress, he was simultaneously hired and paid by Atieh Bahar in Tehran. (Also see, NIAC collaboration with Atieh)
NIAC's activities include lobby in Congress against US sanctions,
cooperation and coordination with other groups that seek better relation with
Iran (joint lobby with USAEngage). NIAC provides an "Iranian
voice" to the large scale lobby by US corporations to lift the sanctions.
(To see some example of NIAC lobby see, 1
- 2- -3- -4
-5 - 6)
internal documents show that Trita Parsi coordinated his activities with Iranian officials and Tehran based oil consultants. The US government cooperates
with NIAC and some of court documents show that State Department asked NIAC to lobby the Congress on behalf
of the administration regarding initiatives related to Iran. Parsi and NIAC
brief and advise the government regularly, are invited to the White House and
State Department officials participate in NIAC's event and speak at their
conferences. (See report)
appeasement lobby" and its efforts to lift US sanctions were pushed back
in 2001 when ILSA was extended for five years and the September 11 terrorist
attacks created an unfavorable environment for a pro-Tehran lobby.
However the lobby did
not remain inactive and continued their work in the media and think tanks and
were present in the government. They launched Track II meetings with Iranians.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund that previously funded the AIC lobby became the
main sponsor of these meetings that took place between 2002 and 2008 with 14
occurring in Sweden.
The Track II continued
after 2008 and US representatives met several times with Iranians in Europe.
The Iranian delegation even included M. Hashemi Samareh (Ahmadinejad's deputy).
Trita Parsi facilitated these meetings
Perry (Obama's National Security advisor in his election team), together with
several lawmakers and officials, participated from the American side.
These meetings, combined
with other initiatives, affected US policy with Iran as the illusion was kept
alive that the Iranian regime would eventually compromise and US-Iran
hostilities would be resolved. Arguably, these meetings also influenced
Obama in his 2009-2010 overture toward Tehran and his decision to not support
the Iranian uprising in 2009 as he was most likely persuaded that a deal with
Iran was within reach.
jacking the peace movement
With the US invasion of
Iraq, a vast and popular anti-war movement was created in the US that opposed
George Bush's foreign policy in general and his Middle Eastern policy in
particular. When Ahmadinejad became president and Iran resumed nuclear
activities, hostilities between Iran and the West increased and the fear of a
new war in the region became more real. Peace organizations believed that
Bush's drive to invade Iraq stemmed from his hostility toward Iran and
concluded that Washington sought a pretext to attack Iran.
appeasement lobby" that was so far unable to attract and "use"
the Iranian community in its "grassroots" lobby, profited from this
new situation and launched a vast campaign to support and organize (highjack)
the US peace and anti-war movement for its cause.
In a document obtained
during the lawsuit titled "lobby
groups" that was sent by Trita Parsi
to his partner in Tehran, Siamak Namazi, its is possible to see how Parsi and
his lobby partners planned to ally themselves with anti-war organizations and
gradually morph them into their lobby partners. (See also: this report)
In 2006, the Iranian
regime created a new organization in Europe and US called CASMII (Campaign
Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran). With apparent
"anti-imperialist" positions, CASMII was designed to recruit left and
anti-war groups for the Iranian cause.
Most of CASMII's board
members were also NIAC's members and the two organizations collaborated to
penetrate and take over the peace movement. Hundreds of activists were selected
and sent to Iran through organized tours to visit the country and meet targeted
people. Upon their return, many of the activists became "full time"
lobbyists for the Iranian cause. Many websites, radio programs, tours,
conferences and rallies were organized in the US to portray the Iranian regime
as the victim of US warmongering intentions. Iran's nuclear program was
presented as peaceful and Iran’s involvement in terrorist activities was
advertised as a lie fabricated by right wing media to demonize Iran and prepare
for an invasion of the country.
The alliance between
part of the American anti-war movement and the Iranian regime was best shown
during Ahmadinejad's visit to New York in September 2008, when nearly two
hundred peace leaders met with him, praised him, and promised to help Iran
combat US belligerence. Even today, media outlets controlled by American left
and anti-war organizations act as PR agencies for the Iranian regime.
NIAC and CASMII's
efforts enabled the "Iran appeasement lobby" to launch CNAPI (the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran) and use these
activists and their social networks in its pro-Tehran lobby enterprise.
Since 1993 and the start
of an "organized" lobby in the US for a friendlier policy with the
Iranian regime, the oil companies and US corporations have played a key role in
providing political and financial support. AIC was a clear example of this
support. USA*Engage, representing US corporations, has played an important role
in this lobby and documents show NIAC-USA*Engage collaboration and joint
lobbies in an effort to lift the sanctions.
The American trade lobby
needs the presence of the Iranian community to justify a more friendly approach
toward the Iranian regime. In 1998, the Associated Press reported on this issue
and wrote: "Gary Marfin, Conoco's manager for government affairs, said
the company's alliance with Iranian-Americans is part of its general opposition
to economic sanctions...."
Additionally, Peter H.
Stone wrote in the National Journal that: "Red Cavaney, the
president of the American Petroleum Institute and his allies are in the midst
of a lobbying campaign aimed at persuading members of Congress and
Administration officials to relax sanctions against investments in Iran an. oil
behemoths such as Chevron Corp., Conoco, Exxon-Mobil Corp., and Phillips
Petroleum Co. have been working aggressively alongside big business coalitions,
such as USA*Engage, a group of 670 U.S. companies, to fight unilateral
sanctions... For extra help on the issue, oil companies are also banking on a
grassroots organization of Iranian-Americans to lend a hand.”
In Trita Parsi's memo to
Roy Coffee, he explained the role of US corporations in this lobby. He wrote:
mission of the proposed lobby should be to improve relations between the US and
Iran and open up opportunities for trade, the initial targets should be less
controversial issues such as visas and racial profiling/discrimination...
Nonetheless, despite its
predominantly business oriented constituency, it is essential that the lobby
creates a “human face” for its aims and goals. AIPAC successfully painted the
opponents of the Iran Libya Sanctions Act as “greedy businessmen who had no
scruples when it came to doing business with terrorist regimes.” The oil
companies failed to characterize their campaign with “human concern for the
well-being of innocent Iranians stuck with a dictatorial regime” or “support
for the poor mid-Western family father who lost his job due the sanctions.”
The human element is essential both when it comes to attracting support
among Iranian-Americans and when it comes to winning the debate and the votes
on the Hill.
organizations have in the past targeted the oil companies for financial support.
This strategy has been a two-egged sword. On the one hand, the oil companies
have been relatively dedicated to the cause and have been generous supporters
of groups such as AIC. On the other hand, oil companies have a bad reputation
among Iranian-Americans and are easily depicted as greedy and insensitive to
human rights concerns in the media.
It would be a wise
strategy of the proposed lobby to seek limited support from US oil companies.
Oil companies should not be the initial sponsors of the lobby and their share
of the lobby’s budget should perhaps not exceed 10 per cent. Diversification is
The lobby should target
business with positive images that have a strategic interest in trade with
Iran. These companies include Motorola, who would benefit greatly from the 70
million strong Iranian telecom market, IT companies who could benefit from
Iran’s cheap yet highly skilled labor (just as they do in India), construction
and irrigation companies, soft drink companies (displeasure with US policies in
the Middle East has allowed Iranian soft drink companies to grab market shares
from Coca Cola and Pepsi in many Persian Gulf countries) and fast food
However, it is difficult
to track the money flow from the business sector to NIAC since they do not use
a transparent and direct route to do so. A good example is the large donation
made by a London-based Iranian businessman to the US-based Brookings
Vahid Alaghband is the
chairman of the Balli group in London with multiple large holdings inside Iran.
He was sanctioned by the US treasury for violation of the sanction laws and selling
three US aircrafts to Iran. (See
also, Iranian web of influence )
In a series
obtained during the lawsuit, Alaghband asked a cultural foundation in
California to receive his $900,000 donation and then send that money to
Brookings Institution where Suzanne Maloney leads a program and campaigns in
favor of lifting sanctions on Iran.
In a separate series of emails obtained during the
lawsuit, it is clear that the US government also used the same
"detour" to fund designated organizations. In 2007, NIAC became the
target of public outrage when it was revealed that the organization was
receiving Congressional funds while simultaneously lobbying the Congress to cut
funds designated for human rights and civil society organizations that opposed
the Iranian regime.
As a result, NIAC
declared that it would deny further government funding. Meanwhile, the US
Consulate in Dubai decided to hire NIAC in its outreach program toward Iranians
(this is by itself highly problematic). We see in email exchanges between the
two groups that US government tried to mislead the public, hiding the origin of
funding by giving the funds to NIAC through a detour.
There are two main
foundations that support the NIAC in the US, the Ploughshares Fund and the
Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Their millions of dollars in grants go to the
organizations, media outlets, journalists, Iran experts, and programs that
campaign in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.
This support is
justified by "conflict resolution" claims, but it goes beyond this
and flirts with direct support for the Iranian regime. A clear example is the
Ploughshares fund (a main contributor to NIAC) and its financial support to
Hossein Mousavian, Iran's former ambassador in Germany in the 1990s, when his
embassy was the headquarters for the coordination of a vast campaign of
terror against Iranian dissidents throughout Europe.
The Ploughshares Fund
has been funding Mousavian at Princeton university, helping him write a memoir
and even organized a series of lecture programs in which Mousavian
"uniquely" lobbied in favor of the Iranian regime.
Another example is its
financial support for an Iran program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in
Washington, D.C., where for the past several years, many fellows, grantees, and
guests have campaigned in favor of friendship with Tehran. Shockingly, this
funding has given Atieh Bahar firm officials from Tehran the opportunity to be
invited to the center’s events numerous times, and Namazi even received funds
from the center.
The United States’
inability to develop, implement and sustain a cohesive, balanced, and prudent
policy toward Iran has been devastating. The cost of this confusion and
inaction includes significant loss of credibility and influence in the region,
loss of commerce, loss of the trust of the Iranian people, and last but not
least, the loss of life of American men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A root cause of this
confusion is the persistent efforts by NIAC to redirect the American policy to
benefit them. As US decision makers weigh the options toward Iran, it is
necessary to reassess past policies and failures and in this regard, the first
step is to examine the influence of the “appeasement lobby.”