Frontpage Interview's guest today is Hassan Daioleslam, an Iranian human rights activist and political scholar. Daioleslam was born in Tehran in 1957. After finishing his primary and high school in Tehran, he entered the Polytechnic University of Tehran in 1974. In the years after the 1979 Iranian Islamist Revolution in Iran, he became a student movement leader standing up against Khomeini's repression and mass executions. He eventually left the country and settled in France. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Daioleslam was active with Iranian secular movements, human rights activities and the defense of Iranian political prisoners.
In 2001, Daioleslam moved to the United States and concentrated on political research. Since 2005, he has been collaborating with two independent Iranian journalists inside Iran focusing on the Iranian Regime's lobby in the U.S. His reports have been largely published by major Farsi websites and several US journals. Daioleslam has frequently appeared as an expert guest on the Voice of America-TV as well as on other outlets of Persian media.
FP: Hassan Daioleslam, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Daioleslam: Thank you for inviting me. It is my pleasure to share my views with your readers.
FP: For more than a year now you have been active in the media, including in the Voice of America, on the issue of the Iranian regime’s expanding influence and lobby efforts in the West -- and in particular in the United States. Before we get into the details of the what, who and how, can you tell us why this issue is important?
Daioleslam: The policy of United States on Iran over the past decade has been full of confusion and shortsightedness. This is not accidental. A key factor in shaping this policy has been a disinformation campaign waged by pro-Iranian circles. The price of this confusion has been heavy and has included the lives of Americans, billions of dollars of tax payers' money, and even worse, the looming threat of Tehran's mullahs as a nuclear superpower dominant in the region. We must understand this web of the Iranian influence in the US. It is a matter of national security.
FP: Who is involved?
Daioleslam: There are two distinct but related groups of people and organizations that are active in manipulating US policy toward Iran. The first is what I call the "Iranian regime's lobby" in the U.S. They are present in US media, think-tanks and a potpourri of various organizations. Their lobby activities are also focused on the US Congress. These groups have various degrees of connections to Tehran.
The second group operates in conjunction with US business interests, and in particular with the oil industry. The forces involved with these interests aim at the Iranian market and they fear that firm and decisive policies toward the clerical rule would harm their global interests. For these special interests, financial benefits have priority over U.S. national interests.
FP: Let’s start with the first group. Tell us about the “Iranian Lobby” in the U.S.
Daioleslam: Sadegh Kharazzi, the former Iranian deputy foreign minister (1997-2003) who lived in the U.S. between 1989 till 1996, is the architect of this lobby. In a very interesting interview with Shargh newspaper on May 28, 2006, he talked about the Iranian regime's means of countering U.S. policies and also ways to counter the Israeli lobby in the US. He openly admitted that there is an Iranian lobby in the U.S. He also emphasized that this lobby should remain non-governmental. "The government should support it, promote it and then can rely on it." Kharazzi said.
FP: Wait a second, these aren’t actual registered lobbyists in Washington?
Daioleslam: It is unlawful for the Iranian regime to lobby the U.S. Congress. There are no registered lobbyists pursuing the Iranian cause in Washington. However, as Kharazzi said, there is an unofficial Iranian lobby in the U.S. All one has to do is to compare the need or wishes of the Iranian Regime at any given time and the activities of these groups. The picture will become crystal clear.
FP: Who exactly is involved in this lobby?
Daioleslam: The answer can be found in the Iranian regime's own reactions. In April 2007, I published my report about the "Iran's oil Mafia, penetrating US congress". In that article which was published by FrontPage, I talked about the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) founded by Trita Parsi-- who was an advisor to the convicted Congressman Bob Ney.
Immediately after the article was published, in a very organized manner, the Iranian governmental newspapers came to NIAC's rescue and wrote that "the Neocons and the Israeli lobby are attacking the Iranian lobby". As you can see, they (the Iranian official media) call the NIAC an Iranian lobby. (See for example, Ghods Daily, April 21, 2007)
On December 28, 2006 the governmental newspaper Aftab in Iran published an interview with Trita Parsi. In his introduction, the editor underlined the role of Iranian American lobby on the behalf of the Iranian regime and described it as the Mullahs' "unofficial diplomacy."
FP: You mentioned NIAC is at the top of the list of the Iranian Lobby in the U.S. What do you know of their ties with Tehran?
Daioleslam: In 1999, Trita Parsi who was living in Sweden, together with Siamak Namazi from Tehran, elaborated a seminal paper and discussed the way to create an "Iranian American lobby in U.S." They wrote: "This lobby is needed in order to create a balance between the competing Middle Eastern lobbies. Without it, Iran-bashing may become popular in Congress again."
They went into details about the functioning of the AIPAC (the Israeli lobby) and argued that the Iranian lobby should follow the same path.
FP: Who is Siamak Namazi?
Daioleslam: He has been Parsi's friend and partner for over a decade. To understand the relation between NIAC and the Iranian regime, we should first understand Namazi's position in Iran.
Namazi's family, together with Bijan Khajehpour and Albrecht Frischenschlager, control the Atieh Bahar firm in Tehran. This web of companies is in direct partnership with the Iranian regime. Khajehpour 's Qheshm Energy is a joint venture with the Qhesh authorities (Government). Frischenschlager is in partnership with 3 free zone authorities. He is also partner with Hatami Yazd, a famous figure in the Iranian oil Mafia and the former head of three important Iranian Banks, all under US sanctions. Babak Namazi co-wrote the foreign investment law for the government. Atieh and Iranian oil ministry co-organize oil related events.
For example, two of Atieh’s prominent clients, French Total Oil Company and the Norwegian Statoil, had to pay tens of millions of dollars in bribes, to penetrate the Iranian market.
FP: Do Parsi-Namazi relations go beyond the 1999 paper?
Daioleslam: Yes. To materialize the "Iranian American Lobby," a series of conferences were held to attract naïve young Iranians. In these "Diaspora" conferences, Babak Namazi and Parsi along with others were active participants. One of the conferences was held on Jan. 26, 2006 in Tehran and Namazi's father, Bagher was the host. Parsi and Namazi ties go far beyond the roadmap for a lobby.
FP: The NIAC, of course, claims that their only goal is to empower Iranian Americans to participate in civic life - regardless of what their political believes are.
Daioleslam: To examine their claim, it suffices to examine their web site. Almost all of what they have been doing for years has been focused on U.S. policy toward the Iranian regime. In his last article, Parsi could not be more clear about what he is promoting. He advised the U.S. government to share the Middle East with Iran.
He wrote, "Can the US and Iran share the Middle East. . . .Current facts on the ground are quite different -- Iran's regional influence is unquestionable and rolling Iran back out of Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps even Gaza may no longer be realistic. . . . Sooner or later, Iran and the U.S. must learn how to share the region."
It is well known that the large majority of the Iranians in the U.S. despise the current regime in Iran and their barbaric treatment of the Iranian people. A fair question is: when did NIAC ever empower their voice? Iranian Americans are concerned about the execution of children, mass executions, stoning to death, barbaric suppression of university students, infiltration of Iranian Islamic fundamentalism in the region, the Mullahs’ dangerous nuclear games -- which have the promise of destroying the country, blatant theft of the country’s wealth by the elite mullahs and their oil and financial mafia, and many similarly atrocious issues. When did NIAC ever voice these concerns?
Instead a cursory examination of NIAC’s publications and activities all point towards paling these issues. The Iranian community in the US is an educated and affluent one. The major handicap they are suffering from is the negative image of the Clerical rulers in Tehran.
The first step to render the Iranian prestige to its people, at least in the U.S., is voicing the fact that this regime does not represent the Iranian nation. NIAC does the opposite. In fact they have bent backward to present data that the Iranian people support these barbaric rulers. This is not empowering the Iranian Americans. It is humiliating them.
FP: What other organizations are involved in the Iranian Lobby?
Daioleslam: In 2006, when Ahmadinejad started a confrontational policy over Iran’s nuclear program, a new lobbying group was launched in Europe and the US. Campaign against Sanction and Military intervention in Iran (CASMII) was founded by Abbas Edalat, a computer professor connected to the inner circle of the Iranian regime. Half of CASMII's founding board members came from Trita Parsi's circle and NIAC. The other half came from the so-called Iranian left with anti-Imperialist tendencies who interpreted Ahmadinejad’s howls as progressive.
FP: What does CASMII do?
Daioleslam: Again, a simple look at their web site is illustrative of their function: pure defense of the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions.
FP: You are indicating that the Iranian regime has been able to make connections to the American Left. Can you elaborate on that please?
Daioleslam: CASMII is the Iranian connection to the American left. Through CASMII, segments of the Left and the anti-war movement in the United States have channeled their critique of the war and the current US administration to support the most radical elements of the Iranian regime. These American personalities and groups have clearly crossed the line and have become ardent advocates of one of the most notorious dictatorships of the modern history, with no regards for the Iranian people, the prime victims of these dictators.
FP: Do you have specific examples?
Daioleslam: CASMII, among other PR activities, regularly organizes trips for such groups in the U.S. to visit Iran. Upon their return, CASMII arranges orchestrated PR charades of the kind we often see from totalitarian regimes. Their trip diaries are both laughable and disgraceful. They remind us of the cold war era visits to the Soviet Union. The returned visitors praised Stalin and the joyful Gulags.
Last year, when the mullahs’ wave of public mass hangings was condemned by the international community, Phil Wilayto, who led the latest “People's Peace Delegation to Iran” responded to “these fallacious allegations against the Iranian regime”:
“Yes, Iran has the death penalty, and uses it. But not nearly so often as the United States government. . . .Neither did we see any evidence of deep, mass anger with the Iranian government. We talked with Iranians from a wide range of occupations and social classes. People grumble about their economic situation, but most seem to blame the U.S.-imposed sanctions."
FP: You mentioned that the Iranian regime is also present in the American think tanks and the academic centers. Could you elaborate on that please?
Daioleslam: It seems that the American Think Tanks and academic circles provide a unique opportunity for Iranian officials to be recycled as scholars. It is difficult to believe that only in Boston, three of Iranian former deputy foreign ministers have been recruited by the most prestigious universities: M. J. Mahallati, Farhad Atai, both academicians as well as board member of ILEX foundation in Boston. Then, there is the head of the Iranian lobby in US, Abbas Maleki, deputy foreign minister for 8 years who was also an advisor to the Supreme Leader till he started his U.S. career in Harvard.
FP: How could the U.S. permit such high ranking Iranian officials to operate here?
Daioleslam: This is the question that the Iranian community is legitimately asking. More amazingly, Maleki does not hide his intentions. In his recent visit to Tehran, he gave several speeches and outlined the way of countering the US hegemony. In the clearest ways, he talked about the campaign of misinformation that seeks to influence American public opinion.
FP: You also talked about some American interest groups that help the Iranian regime. Who are these groups?
Daioleslam: We should distinguish between those who genuinely believe in a friendship with the Iranian regime (although naively so) and those who intentionally and systematically manipulate U.S. public opinion and the decision making system. Their goal is that no harsh policy ever be adopted against the Iranian regime. As I mentioned earlier, the oil industry is prominently placed within this group.
Through media and think tanks, they strive to pale the Iranian regime’s atrocities inside and outside Iran and demonize their critics. These proponents of Tehran’s ayatollahs over the last decade have confused and mislead the US policy makers and have made it difficult to oppose the Clerical rulers.
FP: Can you give us examples of how they misrepresent and mislead as you suggest?
Daioleslam: Note that their goals are to hide the Iranian regime's weaknesses, to misrepresent the Mullahs' motives and to intentionally ignore the Iranian threat to world security and to U.S. national interests.
FP: Concrete examples?
Daioleslam: This pro-Tehran campaign was mainly launched during Mohammad Khatami's presidency. Their first goal was to hide Khatami's irrelevance and lack of power, and to represent the “reform government” as an irreversible trend which the U.S. should accommodate and get along with. Let me quote some of these “Iran experts”:
Robin Wright from Washington Post wrote: “The (2000 parliamentary) election may also have marked the onset of recovery — a revolution’s third and final phase.” (Wright, R., The Last Great Revolution. The Journal of the International Institute)
She seemed so excited about the Iranian positive impact that she wrote in Foreign Affaires of Jan, 2000:
“Like the world around it, Iran is still undergoing a profound transformation. . . .Gradually, the government of God is being forced to cede to secular statecraft -- and to empower Iranians. In the process, Iran has begun contributing to the spread of public empowerment around the world.”
Suzanne Maloney wrote in the Middle East Policy Journal of June 2000:
"Nonetheless, the February elections provide powerful evidence that the system is evolving in an irreversibly democratic fashion.”
Ray Takeyh was even more affirmative, He wrote in Middle East Policy Journal of November 2000:
“The next institution that is likely to fall in the hands of the reformers is the judiciary. . . .The anticipated reform of the court system will further diminish the conservatives' power base…In the coming decade it is likely that the position of the leader will undergo transformations as its absolutism is widely challenged within both clerical and secular circles.”
FP: What happened when it became apparent that Khatami was failing? How did these Iran experts respond?
Daioleslam: Here we see the most extraordinary example of how these people mislead and manipulate the facts. In July 2004, the Council on Foreign Relations released its Task Force Report on Iran. Suzanne Maloney directed the project. This report urged rapprochement with the Iranian regime, basically the same policy that many such reports had already proposed for the previous seven years. What made this CFR report unique was its analysis of the Iranian power structure after the defeat of reformers in two consecutive elections in 2003 and 2004. In fact, the CFR report was released at a time when many Iranian analysts qualified as a turning point in the life of the Islamic Republic.
While a large number of Iranian analysts, political scholars and intellectuals were warning the Iranians and the international community about the rise of a new radical faction representing the Revolutionary Guards, the CFR task force report not only did not mention anything about this apparent element, it surprisingly discovered an “ascending pragmatic faction” in Iran:
“Iran is experiencing a gradual process of internal change that will slowly but surely produce a government more responsive toward its citizens’ wishes and more responsible in its approach to the international community.” (page13) “. . . .the pragmatists who appear to be ascendant in Tehran.” (page19)
FP: It is interesting to see how these intellectuals reacted to Ahmadinejad's ascendance.
Daioleslam: His ascendance started in 2003 when he became mayor of Tehran. From 2003 till 2005, a number of "Iran experts" were busy discovering imaginary pragmatic factions in Iran, ready to accommodate the international exigencies. Ray Takeyh, CFR's senior Iran expert (Suzanne Maloney's husband) wrote in 2004:
“The reality is that the postwar situation in Iraq and the massive projection of U.S. power along Iran’s [border] have strengthened the position of a cadre of pragmatic conservatives seeking practical solutions to Iran’s increasingly dire predicaments. Under the banner of “new thinking,” this group seeks to restructure Iran’s domestic priorities and international relations.” (MPJ, November 2000)
Then, in 2005, Ahmadinejad took the command and the Pragmatic mirage evaporated. Ray Takeyh and friends started a new campaign of misinformation. First they tried to downplay the Iranian regime's threat. Takeyh wrote:
"Despite the chorus of concern, Iran's new president has demonstrated no interest in substantially altering the contours of Iran's international policy - nor has the country's ultimate authority, the Supreme Leader. . . .But the notion that Iran's foreign policy is entering a new radical state is yet another misreading of the Islamic Republic and its many paradoxes.” (CSM, Sep. 29, 2005)
When the absurdity of this argument became evident, the "Iran experts" tried to promote new pragmatic leaders in Iran who seemingly control the situation. In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19, 2006, Takeyh said:
“Realists: President Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical fulminations and presence on the international stage should not obscure the fact that he is not in complete command of Iran’s foreign relations. One of the most important actors in Iran today is the powerful Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani. As the leader of a new generation of realists that evolved in the intelligence community in the 1990s, this cohort’s has predominant influence over the direction of Iran’s international relations. Through their presence in key institutions, links with traditional clerical community and intimate ties to the Supreme Leader, the realists chart the course of Iran’s foreign policy".
FP: How does this group react to the Iranian nuclear program?
Daioleslam: Inside Iran, the government imposed a strict censorship and started a series of state organized rallies by the Bassijis (militias) in support of the nuclear program. Then, the pro-Iranian circles in the U.S. started to argue that the Iranian program is supported by the vast majority of Iranian people.
Robin Wright was again the leader of this campaign. On Nov. 14, 2004 she wrote in the Washington Post:
"Iranians are deeply divided on politics, the economy, the role of religion in government and a dress code for women. But reformers and conservatives, urban and rural, old and young, rich and poor, and men and women generally agree on one thing: Iran needs nuclear energy, and despite its oil and gas riches, the world should not deprive it of the technology, even though it could also be used to develop weapons."
This article is a pure example of fabrication and misleading. Wright's article was immediately published by Iranian governmental newspapers. Who did tell Wright about the Iranian support and unity? She cited Abbas Maleki, the head of Caspian research institute in Tehran. But, Maleki was in fact the former deputy foreign minister and actual advisor to the Supreme Leader. Wright did not find necessary to tell this part of the story.
FP: How did the Iranian people react to the regime's nuclear program and how was it echoed in U.S. media?
Daioleslam: When the Iranian file was referred to the UN Security Council and sanctions were imposed, voices were raised to brave the regime's censorship and oppose the nuclear program. The very same journalists or experts, who were portraying the Bassiji demonstrations as a sign of popular support for the Ayatollah’s nuclear ambitions, totally ignored the true popular opposition to the regime's program. Thousands of intellectuals, student leaders, journalists and religious dignitaries have opposed the nuclear program but we find no trace of them in the U.S. media.
FP: Concluding thoughts?
Daioleslam: Everyone, including Iranian mullahs, have the right to voice their opinion and strive to convince others. By no means have I intended to limit, in anyways, the right of any organization or individual. However I strongly believe that irreparable harm results from apolitically motivated pursuits under the disguise of “academic pursuit,” “scholarly activities,” or, even worse “empowering populations.” It is this demagogy that I am fighting against. This creates harmful confusion. As I stated at the beginning of this interview, the price for this confusion is extremely high. Too high to be ignored.
FP: Hassan Daioleslam, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Daioleslam: Thank you for inviting me and it was a great pleasure