Javad Zarif's appointment as Iran's foreign minister has been welcomed in the West since he is viewed as a pragmatist and seasoned diplomat who can help the peaceful resolution of nuclear impasse with the Islamic Republic.
The upcoming nuclear negotiations between Iran and 5+1 will clarify whether the Iranian regime seeks compromise or try to pursue the same policy with a soft and moderate approach. Ali Akbar Velayati, the Supreme Leader's close advisor told Associated Press that Iran will not reverse course in nuclear policy but will use a new language.
Whether Iran opts for compromise or tries to deceive the West and buy time for its nuclear program, Zarif remains a key player in Tehran's calculation.
In his first public interview with Iranian TV, Zarif gave some indications about the Iranian strategy and declared:
"The US political system is not homogeneous in regard to Iran. We see that AIPAC bullies the Congress and forces the majority of lawmakers to abide by the Israeli demands and approve the policies that undermine US interests. But, despite AIPAC's pressure, twenty lawmakers refused to vote for the latest sanctions against Iran. These divisions over Iran provide us with opportunities to maneuver in Washington and advance our interests. The Iranian community can play an important role to combat AIPAC and defend our interests."
Obviously, Zarif is hoping to repeat his successful experience in the US when he served as Iran's ambassador to the UN between 2002 and 2007 and masterfully manipulated public opinion, influenced policy makers and weakened the White House pressure against Iran.
In his confirmation speech in parliament, Zarif explained that in coordination with the regime's higher authorities he established contacts with anti-Bush politicians in the US to cause division among decision makers and weaken the White House policy toward Iran.
Zarif's key partner in this endeavor was the Washington based lobby organization National Iranian American Council (NIAC) led by Trita Parsi. Governmental press in Iran considers NIAC as "The Iran lobby" in Washington. (read NIAC fact book)
During a defamation lawsuit filed by NIAC against one of its critics, part of NIAC's internal documents notably some email exchanges between the Iranian ambassador Javad Zarif and NIAC president Trita Parsi were released and shed light on Tehran's tactics to influence US policy toward Iran. Some of these emails are compiled here.
NIAC finally lost the defamation case and was punished by for lying to the court, withholding and concealing documents and other discovery abuses.
The review of these emails highlights Tehran's campaign to influence public opinion. They also show Zarif's relation with Congress members and illustrate how the Iranian ambassador and NIAC coordinated efforts to neutralize US pressure against Iran.
How Zarif used political divisions in Washington
According to email exchanges between Zarif and Parsi in early 2006, Zarif gave a copy of "Iranian 2003 offer for "grand bargain" to Parsi that he subsequently released to the press and used it in a campaign to prove that Iran was ready for peace and dialogue while the US was merely seeking war with Iran.
In May of that same year, Parsi launched the "Iran Negotiation Project," for which he asked nearly $100,000 of funding. He then arranged meetings between Congress members and Zarif. In his October 25, 2006 email, Parsi told Zarif about the Congress members who had decided to oppose George Bush’s policy on Iran and wanted to meet with him:
Also, happy to hear that you will meet with Gilchrest and potentially Leach. There are many more that are interested in a meeting, including many respectable Democrats. Due to various reasons, they will contact you directly (partly to avoid going through Jeremy Stone). Their larger goal is to meet with Iranian elected parliamentarians.
Gilchrest is a great guy, low key but very respected among Republicans as well as the Democrats. These members are very disillusioned with the Bush foreign policy and are tired to sit on the sidelines as Bush undermines the US’s global position. As a result, they are willing to take matters in their own hands and they accept the political risk that comes with it.
The next day, Zarif responded, “I am always open to these meetings. Your help is always welcome. I leave the modalities to your discretion.”
In February 2007, Parsi requested a new meeting with Zarif to discuss two Congress members' plan to establish communication with Iranian parliamentarians. He wrote: "Would you have time to meet next Friday? I am having a meeting with Gilchrest and Meeks, and they asked for our assistance in getting some communication going between the parliamentarians."
Another email written in October 2006 suggests that ambassador Zarif was back from Tehran and had brought a proposal for Congress members. Parsi wrote: “Hope all is well and that you are back from Tehran. Would love to get a chance to see the proposal or to understand more what it entails. If it is substantial, then certainly members of Congress may find it a reasonable offer, even if the White House doesn’t. tp”
Samuel Gardiner, one of NIAC's expert witnesses in the defamation lawsuit, testified about Congress members' relation with Javad Zarif and their effort to oppose Bush administration's policy toward Iran,
Anti-Israeli crusade and the role of Iran lobby
In his interview, Zarif explained the importance of combat against AIPAC and emphasized the role that Iranian-Americans could play in this campaign. Once again, Zarif hopes to repeat his success during the Bush administration when the Iranian regime and its US based allies carried out the anti-AIPAC crusade.
This campaign started after US catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003 that subsequently revived the public debate over the Israeli influence on US policy in the Middle East. Tehran launched its campaign to highjack this debate and morph it into a crusade that blamed Israel for the US-Iran impasse and depicted AIPAC as the bullying organization that forced the US administration to follow Israeli demands and ignore Iranian readiness for compromise, therefore maintaining a hostile attitude toward Iran.
The campaign was designed to influence public opinion and shape US policy towards Iran by presenting the Iranian regime as a victim rather than a party responsible for the turmoil in the Middle East and the hostility towards the United States.
The Iranian regime's main ally in this anti-Israeli campaign was NIAC president Trita Parsi who presents himself as the champion of this anti-Israel and anti-AIPAC crusade. (Read the complete report "Pro-Tehran lobby and anti-Israeli crusade")
Parsi depicts Israel as the main hurdle preventing any possible rapprochement between Iran and the US. Parsi claimed that “from the Israeli perspective, every step Washington takes toward Tehran is a step away from Tel Aviv,” that Israeli is “the sole force behind the lobby efforts to impose and extend the sanctions” against Iran, and Israel is “forcing Congress to pursue a policy that contradicts US interest.”
Accordingly, Parsi has always tried to frame his lobby as a heroic and historic battle against AIPAC, “David versus Goliath: a smaller grassroots Iranian-American movement (NIAC) on one side and the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) mega-lobby on the other.”
Iran's plans and US national interest
The Iranian regime's intention to repeat the same campaign that it successfully carried out during Bush administration shows Tehran's unwillingness to resolve the nuclear impasse and begin a new policy toward the US and Europe.
Tehran's new plan to influence US public opinion and policy with Iran will have limited success since the tough international sanctions have isolated Iran, weakened its economy and increased its domestic vulnerabilities. Moreover, Bush administration is gone and Tehran will have difficulty to frame Obama as warmonger and consequently manipulate public opinion.
Whatever the level of Tehran's success, this campaign is unlawful and against US national interests. It will manipulate public opinion and diminish the US government's ability to develop, implement and sustain a cohesive, balanced and prudent policy toward Iran.