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Pro-Iranian Regime NIAC Tries to Rebrand Itself

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NIAC is the National Iranian American Council, a group that for years has carried water for Iran in Washington as the country’s defender; some even describe it as Iran’s unofficial lobbyist. NIAC calls itself the “most trusted voice on U.S-Iran relations,” but most Iranian-Americans regard it with mistrust and disdain. It has consistently argued against sanctions on Iran, insisting that Washington “end draconian sanctions that have impoverished ordinary Iranians from all walks of life, and nurture connections between Iranians and the outside world. The U.S. should in parallel to the diplomatic track also engage in good-faith and direly needed humanitarian actions including the lifting of sanctions that deny Iranians access to personal communications tools and services and facilitate medical aid to Iran amid the pandemic.”

NIAC has offered to help the American media “understand” – i.e., sympathize – with Iran. The founder and leader of NIAC is Trita Parsi. He has a long record of supporting the regime even before he founded NIAC. An article in Tablet Magazine provides details of Parsi’s efforts. Parsi began his pro-Tehran activities in 1997 in Sweden, where he founded a small lobby organization called “Iranians for International Cooperation” (IIC) that used its few Washington members to send petitions and letters to Congress members. In an IIC document released during a subsequent lawsuit, Parsi explained IIC’s activities and goals as follows: “IIC was founded in August 1997 by Trita Parsi, the present President. … Our agenda is topped by the removal of US economic and political sanctions against Iran. … IIC is capable of organizing the grassroots and pressure US lawmakers to pose a more Iran friendly position.”

In 2001, Parsi moved to the United States and became the development director of the American Iranian Council (AIC), an anti-sanction and pro-Iran advocacy organization that had been founded by its president, Hooshang Amirahmadi, in 1997. AIC was funded by U.S. oil companies, which were apparently eager to do business in Iran. It also received backing from the Iranian regime. In several interviews, Amirahmadi called AIC Iran’s “prominent lobby in the U.S. that strives to defend the interests of Iran and oppose the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC.”

Shortly after his arrival in the United States, Parsi begun consultations to create NIAC. Several emails by Parsi discovered in subsequent legal actions illuminate the function and the strategy of the new organization as at least an advocate for the Iranian regime. In one of the emails, Parsi indicated that Tehran-based Baquer Namazi was instructing him. Namazi was the co-director of Tehran-based Hamyaran, a semi-governmental organization also known as the “Iran NGO initiative.” The other co-director of Hamyaran was Hoseein Malek Afzali, a deputy minister in Iran for 18 years, whose tenure ended in 2008. Hamyaran was not a private initiative by Iranian citizens who hoped to do good: It was created by the Iranian government to monitor the activities of Iranian NGOs and to coordinate their relations with foreign organizations. Hamyaran was also assigned by the Iranian foreign ministry the role of coordinating relationships between the state and Iranian expatriates.

Following the Ney scandal, criticism against NIAC’s pro-regime activities mounted within the Iranian-American community. In 2008, NIAC and Parsi filed a defamation lawsuit against one of their critics who had exposed their tie to the Iranian regime. During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, NIAC was obliged to release a small part of its internal documents that proved to be devastating for the organization as they showed NIAC’s direct links with the regime. In November 2009, the Washington Times ran a front-page article about these documents and wrote:

Law-enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, which were made available to the Times by the defendant in the suit, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif—and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act—offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws… the Times asked two former federal law-enforcement officials to review documents from the case showing that Mr. Parsi had helped arrange meetings between members of Congress and Mr. Zarif. “Arranging meetings between members of Congress and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations would in my opinion require that person or entity to register as an agent of a foreign power; in this case it would be Iran,” said one of those officials, former FBI associate deputy director Oliver “Buck” Revell. The other official, former FBI special agent in counterintelligence and counterterrorism Kenneth Piernick, said, “It appears that this may be lobbying on behalf of Iranian government interests.”

Following the Times report, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl sent an inquiry—a very unusual request in Washington—to the U.S. Attorney General asking him to investigate the group’s direct and indirect ties with the Iranian government.

But in 2009, the Obama administration, which had begun its conciliatory approach toward Tehran, decided that it could use NIAC’s help in mending rifts with Iranian leaders. The White House also needed NIAC, as an Iranian-American group, to endorse and legitimize President Barack Obama’s friendly attitude toward the clerical regime, especially after the Iranian popular uprising of 2009-2010 was brutally crushed by the regime in front of television cameras. As a result, NIAC gained influence in the administration and became a White House partner. Parsi went from being a fringe player in Washington to a semi-legitimate “expert” who is assumed to represent an American constituency, and whose views are seldom quoted with any acknowledgement of his intimate and longstanding links to the Iranian regime.

NIAC finally lost the legal action against its critic in 2012 as the court dismissed the defamation lawsuit, punished NIAC and Trita Parsi for discovery abuses including false declarations to the court, and ordered them to pay a significant part of the defendant’s legal expenses. Part of NIAC’s internal documents released during the lawsuit are posted here and some of them have been used to prepare this report, which hopes to answer the question of how parts of official Washington and the D.C. press came to embrace a willing advocate for a theocratic regime that brutally tortures and murders its own citizens while spreading death throughout the Middle East, contrary to the interests of America and its allies in the region.

There is much more to investigate and discover about Trita Parsi, for many years a tireless and well-paid defender of the Iranian regime; who now wants us all to believe that he and NIAC have been fierce critics of the regime all along. If you go to the NIAC website today, you will find the following: under “Take Action” – “Call out the Iranian government’s human rights abuses” and “Tell Congress to stand in solidarity with Iranian protesters.” But since 1997, a quarter-century ago, when he first started, in Sweden, as the Iranian regime’s defender, Trita Parsi has stood with the mullahs, trying to aid the regime through his efforts with Congress, the State Department, and the media. Now he has tried to cover those tracks, as he presents himself as having always stood with the Iranian people and against the regime. Many Iranian-Americans beg to differ.

Parsi even manages, in his book Treacherous Alliances, to justify Iranian ally Hezbollah, describing its kidnapping of Americans in Lebanon as being in retaliation for the United States’ supposedly endless support of “Israeli aggression.” He doesn’t dare, however, try to justify Hezbollah’s bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, that killed 241 Marines. That would be too dangerous.

But now Trita Parsi has hurriedly rushed to present himself as an enemy of the regime that he so long was willing to help, above all in his effort to prevent sanctions on Iran. The protests in Iran this fall have put on international display, and for more than three months, the murderousness of the regime, in a way that previous protests — in 2007, 2017, and 2019 — never did. The anger in Iran erupted first against the Morality Police, who murdered Mahsa Amini after arresting her for having affixed her hijab incorrectly. The girls and women who started the protests, by ripping off their hijabs, were soon joined by boys and men, and what had begun as a protest against the mistreatment of women by the Morality Police, expressed in the chant “Woman, Life, Freedom,” soon metamorphosed into an expression of rage at the regime itself, Now the chants are much more ominous: “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to the Dictator.” Iranian protesters, and the killings of protesters have been in the news every day, and Iran has finally been recognized as a criminal state it has always been. Consequently NIAC has had to change course.

Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer noted in 2017 that NIAC “has also been established in court as a lobbying group for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Said Michael Rubin: “Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s policy director, now appears to push aside any pretense that NIAC is something other than Iran’s lobby. Speaking at the forthcoming ‘Expose AIPAC’ conference, Abdi is featured on the ‘Training: Constituent Lobbying for Iran’ panel.’” Iranian freedom activist Hassan Daioleslam“documented over a two-year period that NIAC is a front group lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime.” NIAC had to pay him nearly $200,000 in legal fees after they sued him for defamation over his accusation that they were a front group for the mullahs, and lost.”

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