In 1999, a future academic born in Iran but then residing in Sweden first proposed what would become the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Trita Parsi has made various claims as to why, at age 25, he formed the organization. They include seeking to engage politically and represent Iranian-Americans and providing a forum for Iranian-Americans to condemn the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Numerous questions surround Parsi and NIAC. Among them:
What is the council’s purpose? What was the nature of its ties to a corrupt former member of the U.S. House of Representatives? What is its connection to Iranian state-backed businesses? Two lawsuits involving the council and related sworn testimonies and court-ordered questions of documents—many of which NIAC failed to release on time or at all—have kept those questions from fading.
A number of news organization have failed to note the council’s discrepant history, even when quoting Parsi or other NIAC staffers about U.S.-Iranian negotiations over Tehran’s presumed nuclear weapons programs and the July, 2015 agreement between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. Parsi or other council employees also have been quoted as sources in reports about U.S.-Iranian relations and the Middle East in general without context.
Birth and Background
According to his biography on the National Iranian American Council Web site, Trita Parsi was born in Iran in 1974 but migrated to Sweden at the age of four to “escape political repression.” The biography states that his father was an outspoken academic who was jailed by both the Shah of Iran and his successor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Parsi received a master’s degree in international relations from Uppsala University and another in economics from Stockholm School of Economics. He moved to the United States in 2001 and completed his PhD at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS), where his dissertation adviser was Francis Fukuyama, author of, for example, The End of History.
Parsi’s dissertation on Israeli-Iranian relations served as the basis for his book Treacherous Alliance (2008, Yale University Press). Parsi is a resident alien, with Swedish and Iranian passports, not an American citizen, although he runs an organization that claims to represent Iranian-Americans.
Parsi lists himself as a current or former adjunct faculty member at George Washington University, Johns Hopkins SAIS, and the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He also identifies himself as an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and a policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. A copy of his CV can be found here.
Parsi says that he worked for the Swedish Permanent Mission to the United Nations, serving on its security council. He was “handling the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan and Western Sahara, and in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, addressing human rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iraq.” According to a website associated with Hassan Dai (whom Parsi later sued as detailed below), Parsi worked for the Swedish mission to the U.N. for only four months, from September 1998-January 1999. In the summer of 1998, Parsi was employed at Handelsbanken in Sweden.
Upon coming to the United States in 2001, Parsi worked as a managing director for Hooshang Amirhadmadi of the American Iranian Council (AIC) while completing graduate study. Parsi also served on Capitol Hill as a staff member to U.S. Rep Bob Ney (R-Ohio). Ney served from 1994 until his resignation in 2007 amidst accusations of influence peddling to international businessmen. Ney was found guilty of receiving bribes from foreign lobbying groups. Parsi lists his time with Rep. Ney as Capitol Hill experience; on his personal website and the NIAC website he does not specify for whom he worked.
According to one web site associated with Dai, Parsi previously met Rep. Ney when Ney was an Ohio state senator and had intervened on Parsi’s behalf while Parsi was on a study abroad program at Barnesville, Ohio High School in 1991. Parsi returned to Sweden in 1992 after graduating from Barnesville High.
While Parsi was on the congressman’s payroll, Ney pushed for the relaxation of sanctions on Iran, according to records subpoenaed in Ney’s prosecution. This documentation, as an article in The American Thinker notes, suggests that Ney “personally lobbied” former U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell to relax sanctions on Iran so the congressman’s overseas clients could sell U.S.-made airplane parts to the Iranian government. Washington had designated Tehran a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984.
Before launching NIAC, Parsi was “affiliated with a group called Iranians for International Cooperation. Parsi himself has described this group as a lobby group.” What did this organization lobby for?
Documents from the Iranians for International Cooperation seem to indicate an extensive concern with sanctions against Iran and a desire to lift them in “full.” The organization clearly expressed such sentiments in a March 20, 2000 online article covering a speech by then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright: “Any concerns that the U.S. may have with Iran are best addressed through dialogue, and not sanctions.” While lauding Albright’s announcement of partial sanctions relief, it went on to state, “a full lifting of the sanctions would have been better for both Iranian and American firms.”
A March 2, 2000 letter from the organization’s president, Babek Talebi, addressed to then-U.S. President Bill Clinton—with Parsi listed as executive director—took issue with the administration’s opposition to two World Bank loans to Iran. Even though the Clinton White House’s position was in accordance with sanctions then in place, the letter called U.S. efforts an “extra-judicial interpretation of the sanctions law” and urged that to “lobby against a World Bank loan, a measure that is not required by U.S. law…should not be continued.”
Indeed, in the IIC’s mission statement, the group claims “had there been an organized Iranian opposition to the proposed U.S. sanctions back in 1995, chances are that the sanctions either wouldn’t have been enacted or that they would have b
een enacted in a more lenient form. Now, we missed that train, but we still have the opportunity and the responsibility to help our people out of this situation and to make sure that we never get in such a precarious situation again [emphasis added].”
As these sanctions were against Iran, and not Iranian-Americans, the “we” and “our people” seem to refer to American-Iranians acting on behalf of the Iranian public under the regime of the ayatollahs, if not the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran itself.
NIAC was formed following the release of a 1999 paper by Trita Parsi entitled “Iranian Americans: The Bridge Between Two Nations.” The paper was authored by Parsi and an Iranian businessman named Siamak Namazi and was presented at a conference in Cyprus organized by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Center for World Dialogue (an organization of which Gary Sick, a former U.S. National Security Council staffer and current Columbia University instructor is a founding board member). Sick’s position on Iran sanctions and its purported nuclear weapons program has been that the former “do nothing but ruin people’s lives” and the threat posed by the latter is “greatly exaggerated.” The paper reportedly proposes an Iranian lobby to counter what it views as the strength of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. A copy of the paper is listed on Parsi’s website but is blocked to readers, according to a 2009 Center for Security Policy report. However a link to a copy of that paper can be found here.
Parsi has claimed that he founded NIAC in 2002 to enable Iranian Americans to condemn the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and that he has since run it as a grass-roots group aimed at strengthening their voice. However, 2001 is two years after the date of Parsi’s paper proposing NIAC’s establishment as a counter to AIPAC and does not reflect the stated mission of Parsi’s previous group, Iranians for International Cooperation, to diminish or end economic sanctions.
On June 10, 2008 the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran (CNAPI) and its official partner organization, NIAC, sought to have Americans call their representatives and senators and urge them not to attack Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons efforts.
NIAC also opposed the employment of Ambassador Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s lead Israeli-Palestinian negotiator, in the Obama administration, according to a Washington Times report based on e-mails petitioned in a court case (“Exclusive: Iran advocacy group said to skirt lobby rules,” Nov. 13, 2009). As Commentary magazine (“How NIAC lobbied against Dennis Ross,” Nov. 17, 2009) noted when reviewing the e-mails that disclosed NIAC attempts to thwart Ross’ appointment, the council opposed Ross—as an Obama staffer with focus on Iran—in part due to his association with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. NIAC labeled WINEP a “ ‘think tank’ created by AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] leadership in the 1980’s.” (“How NIAC lobbied against Dennis Ross,” Nov. 17, 2009).” According to The Times, the council even sought to create a “media controversy” over the appointment of Ross, although such efforts proved unsuccessful in blocking him.
In a January 7, 2009 email listing possible reasons and methods to oppose the appointment of Ross, Parsi wrote “Coming out strongly against him [Ross] will likely also make it more difficult for him to go the neo-con way. The pressure should be on him. He is so obviously conflicting with Obama’s views so we could make that very clear—criticize him, without criticizing Obama. Also, by being on record now, we protect ourselves from the time when Ross does screw up—then our criticism will be consistent with what we’ve said all along, and we’ll be able to defend ourselves against any attacks that our views on Ross may resemble Tehran’s. [emphasis added]”
Prior to the June 2015 announcement of a linked entity for lobbying called NIAC Action, Parsi has denied that NIAC itself is a lobbying organization—despite evidence that may suggest otherwise. He claims his organization represents Iranian-Americans, in 2009 asserting that the council had between 2,500-3,000 members. Yet, as The Washington Times notes (“Exclusive: Iran advocacy group set to skirt lobby rules,” Nov. 13, 2009) internal documents show fewer than 500 responses to a membership survey. By listing NIAC as a 501 (c)(3) organization, Parsi allowed donors to make tax-deductible contributions, provided that NIAC does not spend more then 20 percent of its time lobbying.
NIAC’s then-assistant legislative director, Patrick Disney, expressed his concerns in a July 2008 memo obtained by The Washington Times. Disney “quoted the Lobbying Disclosure Act—a law that says even the preparation of materials aimed at influencing legislation or policy must be disclosed to the public—and said he and a colleague should register as lobbyists.”
“ ‘Under this expansive view of “lobbying,” I find it hard to believe Emily [Blout], and I devote less than 20 percent of our time to lobbying activity. I believe we fall under this definition of “lobbyist.” ‘ ”
Documents revealed in a deposition of Patrick Disney indicated that Disney originally was called assistant legislative director. But during the period of the first lawsuit his title was changed to assistant policy director. Documents also attest to efforts by CNAPI (see below) to “push” members of Congress to support establishment of a U.S. State Department outreach office in Tehran. This may be at odds for an organization that does not consider itself a lobby and has described its primary purpose as educational.
According to The Washington Times the newspaper “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. [Mohammed Javad] Zarif.”
“Arranging meetings between members of Congress and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations [Zarif is now foreign minister and was chief Iranian negotiator in the nuclear talks] would in my opinion req
uire 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. Were I running the counterintelligence program at the bureau now, I would have cause to look into this further.’
“However the case is not definitive. Two lawyers who read some of the same documents said they did not provide enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Parsi was acting as a foreign agent. Neither of the lawyers agreed to be quoted by name.”
“According to documents, Mr. Parsi appeared at times to be coordinating his advocacy work with Mr. Namazi, who was until 2007 a managing director of a company called Atieh Bahar. Atieh Bahar is the international consulting arm of the Atieh Group, a Tehran-based holding corporation for concerns that have contracts both with Iranian government ministries and Iran’s banks, as well as international firms looking to do business in Iran. Had Congress lifted sanctions, Atieh Bahar stood to benefit.”
When questioned by reporters from The Daily Beast about connections between Atieh Bahar and NIAC, NIAC research director Reza Marashi—a former employee of Ateih Bahar—did not respond. Marashi also omits mention of his connection to the company in his official NIAC biography. (“The Shady Family Behind America’s Iran Lobby,” Sept. 15, 2015).
As Sohrab Ahmari noted in Commentary magazine (“The 36-year project to whitewash Iran,” May 21, 2015), Parsi emails to Zarif also indicate that NIAC was attempting to arrange meetings between Zarif and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) in 2007.
NIAC also sought to have former President Bill Clinton give a paid speech at a NIAC fundraising gala. Clinton Foundation official Amitabh Desai emailed department staffers of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 4, 2012 to inquire about this possibility, according to emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (“Bill Clinton Was in Talks to Give a Paid Speech to Iranian Group,” Breitbart News, Sept. 15, 2015).
As to whether the NIAC represents the interests of Iranian-Americans, this quote from an article by Jordan Schachtel posted at The American Thinker (“The Ayatollah’s lobby on K Street,” March 5, 2014) suggests otherwise: “If NIAC’s mission is truly to serve the best interests of the Iranian-American community, it has epically [sic] failed to meet that objective. When polled, 99 percent of Iranian Americans who support a pro-democracy trajectory for Iran expressed that NIAC did not in any way represent their interests. Furthermore, a staggering 99 percent of respondents also believed that NIAC are [sic] simply a lobby for the Ayatollah’s Islamic Republic.”
Documents released as part of a court case (Trita Parsi and the National Iranian American Council v. Daioleslam Seid Hassan), including e-mails to congressional staff and talking points, seem to illustrate a concerted effort to lobby against U.S. sanctions in regard to its purported nuclear weapons program. Other documents show detailed notes taken from meeting with various members of Congress and their staffs, including then Senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others. These interviews include how “friendly to NIAC’s cause” NIAC staff perceived certain members to be.
One internal NIAC document from 2008 obtained through court proceedings has NIAC then-legislative director Emily Blout stating that in one month, NIAC met with more than 50 members of Congress alone. That’s a lot of congressional contact for a non-lobbying organization. Despite this, tax documents show that in 2006, 2007, and 2008 NIAC reported zero lobbying activity.
When the court denied NIAC’s request to prevent publication of The Washington Times article cited above (“Exclusive: Iran advocacy group set to skirt lobby rules”), NIAC contacted its accountant and asked to amend its 2008 tax return that had been filed five months earlier in June 2009. NIAC’s email to its accountant in November 2009 to change the 2008 tax return shows Parsi admitting that NIAC conceded lobbying was conducted but claiming that it “was LESS [emphasis in original] than 10% of our time.” The new 2008 tax return filed on November 23, 2009 can be found at a website called http://www.iraniansforum.com/ Among other things, it says that the council conducted lobbying.
Other court documents also reveal that on Dec. 28, 2006, Parsi gave an interview to the Iranian government-owned newspaper, Aftab. The interview featured a picture of Parsi and was titled “Iranian Lobby Becomes Active.” The introduction to the interview stated, “The conflict between Iran and the West on Iran’s nuclear file has entered a critical state. The government must now utilize all the possible resources to defend the national interest. In this, we have not paid enough attention to the potentially significant influence of the Iranian American society in moderating the extremist policies of the White House. In comparison of this untouched potential to the influence of the Jewish lobby in directing the policies of Washington in supporting Israel, we see the difference between what is and what could be.”
While claiming that NIAC represents Iranian-Americans, the actual number of NIAC members appears quite low. According to the website http://www.iranlobby.net/, documents made available during the lawsuit with Dai indicate an extremely low number of NIAC members. According to the minutes of a board meeting on Oct. 26, 2007, Parsi “reviewed the membership trends: 1,034 (2005) increased to 1,307 in 2006 and 1,680 (2007) as of today—citing these figures as completely unacceptable.” However in a 2005 resume, Parsi claims that he “increased membership [NIAC] to 10,000 in less than a year.”
A board meeting on Feb. 22, 2008 offers further clues as to the membership numbers of NIAC. “NIAC’s membership has risen to approximately 2,000 members; Current members 1,068 (902 exp
ired).” This seems to indicate that NIAC counts expired and current members together. It also raises questions as to why a large percentage would decide not to renew membership.
NIAC has also claimed that it has tens of thousands of “active supporters.” However as the Web site notes, Parsi has admitted previously that anyone on the council’s mailing list is included as an “active supporter.” This presumably could include journalists, governmental officials, scholars, and others who simply receive NIAC e-mails.
In a September 2010 grant application to the Parsa Foundation, NIAC claimed it had “nearly 4,000 paid members and 35,000 active supporters nationwide.” Given how the organization chooses to classify what makes one an “member” or “active supporter,” such claims open questions about the figures the council uses in raising money and buttressing its claim to represent Iranian-Americans. Should an organization that appears to represent only a small fraction of the estimated 2 million Iranian-Americans bill itself as speaking for this group? Does it represent their interests?
Parsi participated as a co-panelist at a forum of Iran scholars hosted by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) on May 28, 2008 in Minneapolis. According to Ellison, the group’s purpose was to “promote dialogue on pressing issues.” Ellison has consistently voted against U.S. economic and other sanctions on Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Parsi has worked at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington, D.C. think tank partially funded by Congress, with former Ambassador William Miller. According to a report by the Center for Security Policy, “He [Miller] too was a member of the AIC’s [American Iranian Council] board of directors and advisory council. Miller is currently Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and Senior Advisor to the US-Iran Program at Search for Common Ground since 1998.”
“Miller served as political officer for the U.S. Embassy in Tehran from 1962 to 1964 and at the U.S. Consulate in Isfahan, Iran from 1959 to 1962. His affinity for the mullahs was evident when he subsequently served as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1979. During that era, Miller actually recommended that the U.S. support the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom he thought would be a ‘progressive force for human rights.’ A fluent Farsi speaker, Miller travels regularly to Tehran, where he maintains a relationship with the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Miller was an attendee at the April 2006 Pugwash Conference held in Tehran and entitled ‘Iran’s Nuclear Energy Program: Policies and Prospects.’”
Miller was also active in encouraging Parsi to form NIAC.
A Jan. 14, 2009 letter from NIAC to Ellen Laipson at the presidential transition team (Laipson currently heads the Stimson Center and sits on President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board) recommending changes in U.S. policy toward Iran was signed by Gary Sick, former U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, former U.S. Rep. Jim Moody, former Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, academics Reza Aslan and Juan Cole and others. The signers called for America to pursue “new, far-sighted and direct engagement in order to resolve outstanding tensions with Iran.”
Parsi co-founded NIAC with Siamak Namazi. Namazi currently heads strategic planning for Crescent Petroleum. He previously completed internships at the National Endowment for Democracy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Wilson Center. Namazi was also the head of Atieh Bahar Consulting, an Iranian-based consulting firm. From 1994-1996, he worked as a duty officer with the ministry of housing and urban planning in Tehran. In 1998, he founded Future Alliance International, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting company that focused on risks of doing business with Iran.
In 2015, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh worked as President Obama’s National Security Council Director for Iran. She is a former alumna of NIAC. As Sohrab Ahmari wrote in Commentary magazine, “a senior administration official subsequently described her NIAC role to The Washington Post as an internship. Really? A 2004 NIAC letter I’ve reviewed described Nowrouzzadeh as a ‘staff member’” (“The 36-year project to whitewash Iran,” May 21, 2015).”
Emily Blout, a former legislative director of NIAC, is currently a graduate student at St. Andrews University in the United Kingdom where she is completing a dissertation on communication in modern Iran. Blout is studying under well-known Iranian historian Ali Ansari. Her university biography omits directly identifying NIAC. It says Blout previously “directed communications for a senior member of the U.S. Congress. Prior to her time on Capitol Hill, she served as legislative director for an organization representing Americans of Iranian decent.”
The member of Congress for whom Blout served was Rep. Jim Moran (R-Va.), a member of the Progressive Caucus who made news with comments leading up to the 2003 U.S.-led coalition war against Iraq. According to Moran, “if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this [going to war]. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.”
Moran later apologized for these remarks but seemed halfhearted: In an interview with Tikkun—a California-based magazine run by Rabbi Michael Lerner—Moran said AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is “the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful—most of them are quite wealthy—they have been able to exert power.” Lerner has said Tikkun doesn’t support the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, “only the more limited BDS toward the products produced in the Israeli settlements or by corporations working with the Israeli government to enforce the occupation of the West Bank.”
In 2001 remarks to the American Muslim Council, Moran claimed that a U.S. visit by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was for the purposes of “probably seeking a warrant from President [George W.] Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for.” The Washington Post reported the next year that Moran was forced to give up $2,000.00 in campaign contributions from a Muslim activist with ties to Hamas and Hezbollah (“Moran upsets Jewish groups again,” Sep.15, 2007).
All of these reported questionable remarks and actions by Moran—publicized by various news media organizations—occurred before Blout worked in his congressional office. That is, she chose to work for him after they were public knowledge.
In her “Trita Parsi and the National Iranian American Council v. Daioleslam Seid Hassan” deposition, Blout says “NIAC must increase its lobbying effort.” That deposition can be found here.
Since 2010, Reza Marashi has been research director for NIAC. According to his Huffington Post bio (he is a regular contributor to the Web site) he previously worked for the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. State Department. He also served with the Institute for National Strategic Studies covering China-Middle East issues. Marashi’s biography also states that he was previously a Tehran-based strategic risk consultant, although it doesn’t specify his employer, which The Daily Beast notes was Ateih Bahar.
Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran: Founded in 2008, this group bills itself as ‘transpartisan’ and includes Parsi, Amb. Miller, former New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer (author of the book Reset, which argues that the United States should distance itself from Israel and move towards Iran and Turkey), Amb. Pickering, the CATO Institute’s Justin Logan, former George W. Bush administration National Security Council staffer and subsequent administration critic Flynt Leverett, author Barbara Slavin, and others. For a time, Patrick Disney ran CNAPI with 80 percent of his salary being paid by the George Soros-founded Open Society Institute from a grant awarded to NIAC, according to court documents. The campaign had its foundations in the Iran Legislative Strategy Working Group that in October 2007 began meeting at the Center for Arms Control under the direction of Carah Ong. Among the group’s meeting notes can be found a plan to “Send Hillary [Clinton] to Iran” led by former MoveOn.org staffer Tom Mazzie.
Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII): Founded by Abbas Edalat in the United Kingdom in 2005 and in the United States in 2006, BBC Watch (a CAMERA-affiliated NGO that monitors the British Broadcasting Corporation and advocates fair and accurate Arab-Israeli reporting) has covered Edalat’s anti-sanctions advocacy. CASMII was involved in CNAPI efforts, although the organization was removed from a publicly available CNAPI list, along with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR, [see CAMERA Special Report, The Council on American Islamic Relations: Civil Rights or Extremism? https://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=11&x_article=1496]), due to the “controversial” nature of these two organizations.
Iranians for International Cooperation: Founded in 1997 by Trita Parsi, this group had said “our main objective is to safeguard Iran and Iranian interests [emphasis added]. Currently our agenda is topped by the removal of US economic and political sanctions against Iran, and the commencement of Iran-US dialogue.” The organization was primarily a “web based advocacy” group, according to Parsi. It was disbanded in 2006.
American Iranian Council (AIC): Founded in 1997 in New Jersey, this organization includes Amb. William Miller, Amb. Robert Hunter, Amb. Charles Freeman, former U.S. Senator J. Bennet Johnston (D-La.) (currently the Chief Executive Officer) and Prof. Hooshang Amirahmadi among others. Opposition to Freeman for his anti-Israel, pro-Saudi and pro-Chinese views led him to withdraw his name from consideration after President Obama nominated him to serve as head of the National Intelligence Council.
J Street: Jeremy Ben-Ami is founder and president of the Soros-backed group that describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” while regularly opposing the Israeli government and its American supporters but discounting Palestinian violations of agreements with Israel. He has co-authored articles with Parsi including “How Diplomacy Can Succeed with Iran” for the Huffington Post (July 12, 2009). In this, the pair argued against U.S.-led sanctions. Ben-Ami and Parsi said that tougher sanctions would be “setting up roadblocks to our own success [in negotiations].” Ben-Ami and Parsi further argued that even if Iranian election results in 2009 are “not to Washington’s liking” there is “nothing [emphasis added] about the challenge posed by Iran that should preclude a diplomatic solution.” The election was widely believed stolen by the Iranian establishment to ensure a second term for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provoking mass demonstrations violently suppressed by regime forces.
Parsi and Ben-Ami also erroneously claimed that the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the Clinton administration, from 1993 to 2001, could be attributed to insufficient time: “The lack of adequate time to prepare and pursue diplomacy was one reason why President Clinton’s push for Israeli-Palestinian peace failed under tight time constraints.” This overlooks that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was invited to the White House on 24 occasions—more than any other international figure—that the handshake between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993 started eight years of intermittent negotiation, and that Clinton himself blamed Arafat’s refusal in 2000 to compromise on key issues for the failure of the talks.
J Street and NIAC also have collaborated on numerous projects. These include releasing a congratulatory letter in April 2015 to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his attempts to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The organizations hailed the announced framework, criticized by many as a U.S.-retreat from previously stated goals of restricting and revising Iranian nuclear initiative, as “preventing a nuclear-armed Iran” and averting a “disastrous war.”
J Street, along with NIAC, Open Society, Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, and others formed a coalition to oppose U.S.-led sanctions against Iran. J Street maintained this position despite the fact that a clear majority—78 percent according to a Washington Post poll—of U.S. Jews supported sanctions against Tehran.
A 2009 J Street Conference featured Trita Parsi and Hillary Mann Leverett (the wife of Flynt Leverett and a coauthor of the book Going to Tehran) as guest speakers.
Ties between the groups are evidenced financially as well. NIAC board member Genevieve Lynch also is a prominent financial backer of J Street.
In addition, NIAC has strong ties to various organizations that describe themselves as “progressive” (sometimes a political euphemism employed by the post-liberal left). Both Parsi and NIAC’s policy director, Jamal Abdi regularly blog at Huffington Post. Abdi himself previously worked for Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and was a self-described “progressive activist” in Washington state. Rep. Baird along with Rep. Ellison made a 2009 trip to the Gaza Strip during which they called for a lifting of the partial Israeli blockade and increased U.S. pressure on Israel. Abdi replaced Emily Blout shortly after she left NIAC.
NIAC had associations with numerous “anti-war” groups, a listing of which can be found here, and included the Friends Committee and Americans for Peace Now among others. A deposition in the court case Trita Parsi and the National Iranian American Council v. Daioleslam Seid Hassan, attests that these groups were involved and worked closely with the council.
Seid Hassan Daiolesalem (now going by Hassan Dai), an Iranian dissident Arizona resident and journalist, was sued for libel by NIAC and Trita Parsi. Parsi and the council claimed that Dai had accused them of being agents of the Iranian regime. Dai runs a web site called Iranianlobby.com and the Iranian American Forum with Keivan Kaboli. According to the Iranian American Forum Web site, Kaboli and Dai serve as editors. Kaboli is also a co-founder of the Green Party of Iran. In a Sep. 13, 2013 U.S. District Court decision, Judge John Bates rejected the NIAC lawsuit against Hassan Dai.
In his ruling, Judge Bates stated that Parsi and NIAC are limited public figures and as such must show by “clear and convincing evidence that defendant’s [Dai] statements were made with ‘actual malice’ in order to prevail upon their claims.” The ruling also found that while the defendant may have been sloppy in his reporting on the council that none of the errors “misrepresent the substance of the source or mislead the reader.” The ruling details that while Dai failed on occasion to cite a quote properly or misquoted something, he never did so in a manner which changed the meaning or which illustrated anti-NIAC malice. The judge pointed out that in some instances objected to by the plaintiffs, the defendant did in fact use proper citations.
The plaintiffs also asserted that Parsi had at times been critical of the Iranian regime. Thus, in their view he couldn’t have been an agent of Iran’s government. The court concluded that there was no way that Dai could have been aware of all of Parsi’s statements. It did however, state the following:
“Moreover, many of the statements listed in Parsi’s affidavit are not strongly anti-regime. The one statement plaintiffs do allege that defendant was aware of, for instance, reads: ‘Diplomacy is falling victim to an endless cycle of provocations right now and those provocations obviously come from both sides. I think from the Iranian side it’s been extremely provocative to [hold] this conference regarding the Holocaust [a Holocaust denial gathering] in Tehran.’ 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.”
Also from this court ruling: “The Court disagrees. While Parsi does criticize Iran’s human rights record in the underlying article, his criticisms are tepid (emphasis added). A representative example is the following statement: ‘Even in long isolated Iran, a country known for its less than flattering Human Rights record, there is a trend toward the improvement of the human rights situation, although it remains far from being satisfactory.’ In this article Parsi does not come close to specifically condemning – or even mentioning – the ‘torture, mass executions, rapes of women in prison, and stoning’ that defendant accuses him of ignoring. Moreover, the vast majority of the article is devoted to Parsi expressing his disappointment with the UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] students who protested Kharazi’s [Kemal Kharazi, the Iranian foreign minister from 1997-2005] speech, not to discussing the regime’s abuses. Hence, while defendant’s article is certainly a strongly-worded and one-sided take on Parsi’s underlying publication, it is not a distortion of the underlying publication that amounts to willful blindness or actual malice.”
As Jeffrey Goldberg noted in The Atlantic (“NIAC: End the Democracy Fund,” November 2009), minutes of NIAC meetings released in the court case “include almost no mention of a human rights agenda inside Iran.” Although failing to provide an example, Goldberg does claim that Iranian human rights has “more recently been on NIAC’s agenda.” The Atlantic writer also notes that NIAC minutes in addition reveal the council sought to “end the Democracy Fund [a U.S.-funded effort to encourage democracy in Iran] as we know it.”
Along somewhat similar lines, in June 2006, various Iranian-Americans gathered at the Iranian interests section in Washington D.C. to protest the imprisonment of Iranian academic Ramin Jahanbegloo by the regime. Iranian officials listened to various Iranian-Americans complain about the treatment of Jahanbegloo, a philosopher. Despite residing in Washington D.C., Parsi did not attend this event—although an early Washington Post story listed him as being there. The Post subsequently issued a correction noting that Parsi had not attended.
The plaintiffs [NIAC and Parsi] alleged that Dai is a member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), an opposition group that was at war with the Islamic Republic of Iran shortly after its founding. MEK was removed from the U.S. government list of international terrorist organizations in September 2012. Dai denied the accusation vigorously.
Judge Bates’ ruling concluded: “Because plaintiffs have mustered no evidence that defendant actually harbored any doubts about the correctness of his writings, or willfully blinded hi
mself to the truth, their defamation claim must fail. Their false light claim must also fail.”
The judge also ruled that the plaintiffs did not produce requested documents in a timely manner, noting, “there is no question that plaintiffs [Parsi and the NIAC] have repeatedly tried to evade their discovery obligations.”
Second Court Decision
Dai then sued for damages against NIAC and Parsi. In a February 10, 2015 decision in the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, two circuit judges and a senior circuit judge forced NIAC to pay $183,480.09 in monetary sanctions to reimburse Dai for expenses incurred fighting the defamation lawsuit brought by NIAC in 2008, referred to above.
A March 5, 2015 article in Business Insider by Armin Rosen profiled aspects of this decision. Despite filing the lawsuit against Dai, NIAC used serial delays that kept its activities hidden from the court. Dai claimed that these delays increased the cost of his defense.
“NIAC failed for ten months to produce Outlook calendar records for any of its employees in response to Daioleslam’s production requests…NIAC produced no calendar entries from before 2009. Of the entries it produced, 78 had been altered shortly before production, including two-thirds of those in Parsi’s calendar.”
“…a large portion of the documents were modified shortly before production.”
NIAC also initially hid the existence of four of its computers from the court. Forensic imaging conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed the council’s attempted deception.
“Even worse, the Appellants also misrepresented to the District Court that they did not possess key documents Daioleslam sought.”
NIAC was ordered by the court three separate times to produce its computer server. The multiple requests were in reaction to NIAC’s false claim that such a server didn’t exist. Moreover, further forensic imaging showed that “NIAC’s old server revealed hundreds of previously unproduced calendar entries.” [Further details of NIAC’s IT and computer activities can be found in the deposition of David Elliot (NIAC’s IT staffer and legislative/policy assistant).]
NIAC withheld 5,500 emails from its co-founder and former outreach director, Babek Talebi. The council delayed the release of the emails and then withheld thousands of them based on criteria the court couldn’t identify.
NIAC also produced no documents sent from Talebi’s email address from before December 2009. However, Talebi had been involved in NIAC since 2002. After the court ordered NIAC to search its servers, NIAC located about 8,000 of his emails, but produced only 89 of those as relevant. The court ordered NIAC to turn over the rest of the emails. The council turned in an additional 2,500, thus it still withheld approximately 5,500. The court described the withholding of the emails as “indefensible.”
NIAC also withheld records under a program called SalesForce. When this was first pointed out, NIAC responded that no such records existed. When it finally acknowledged their existence, NIAC told the District Court it only had experimented briefly with SalesForce. But Parsi later admitted that the council had used the program since 2006 to record members and donations.
NIAC took two-and a-half years to produce its membership lists, which were still incomplete, thus failing to comply fully with the court’s order.
As the court itself noted, “Seemingly at every turn, NIAC and Parsi deferred producing relevant documents, withheld them, or denied their existence altogether. Many of these documents went to the heart of Daioleslam’s defense. The Appellants’ failure to produce documents in a timely manner forced Daioleslam—whom they had hauled into court—to waste resources and time deposing multiple witnesses and subpoenaing third parties for emails the Appellants should have turned over. Even worse, the Appellants also misrepresented to the District Court that they did not possess key documents Daioleslam sought.”
Following the ruling, Parsi labeled Dai as someone with “neoconservative supporters…” apparently implying Dai shared an ideology commonly associated with some members of President George W. Bush’s administration. As others have noted, labeling critics as neoconservatives (sometimes a place-holder for American Jewish supporters of Israel) or as members of the Iranian opposition group MEK is a tactic Parsi has used before.
Parsi is the author of two books: Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (Yale University Press, 2008) and A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2013).
Michael Rubin wrote a devastating short review of Treacherous Alliance in Middle East Quarterly (“Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel, and the U.S.,” Spring 2008) charging, “Parsi’s manipulation of data undercuts his work. He argues that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’ was mistranslated and instead renders the phrase more benignly that Israel should be ‘eliminated from the pages of history.’ But the Iranian state-controlled news agency used the former translation.”
As Rubin notes, Treache
rous Alliance repeats the roundly debunked theory that Iran tried to offer some sort of grand bargain two months after the discovery of its nuclear program at Nantez. Parsi repeats this same fairy tale in A Single Roll of the Dice on pages 2-6, where he relies on the claims of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson. Wilkerson has alleged that Iran sought to offer to reach out to Washington via an anonymous fax.
This veracity of this claim—or how Wilkerson as a Powell staffer would even know of such an opening—has been thrown into doubt. Rubin and others allege that the purported Iranian outreach actually originated with Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann (from whom the key fax originated). Guldimann was apparently freelancing, not conveying a legitimate Iranian effort via an unsigned fax, to initiate talks with the United States. In Rubin’s view this seeming propensity for repeating claims of Iranian peace efforts and concessions debunked as never having occurred “suggests that Parsi’s Iranian interlocutors view him as a mechanism for disinformation.”
Distortions are not the only thing prevalent in Alliance; the work contains noticeable omissions as well. For example, Parsi on page 185 implies that a more stringent U.S. tone towards Iran was motivated by Israel: “In October 1994, Washington started to adopt the Israeli line on Iran. In response to Israeli pressure—and not to Iranian actions—Washington’s rhetoric on Iran begin to mirror Israel’s talking points.” He fails to note specifics, including the July 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina—widely believed to have been committed by Iranian-funded and supported Hezbollah terrorists.
But Parsi briefly mentions the attack—which killed 86 civilians and wounded 300 more—in an unrelated section simply saying that “few in Israel” doubted that the attacks were conducted by Iran. He says nothing of U.S. or international suspicions that the terrorist group Hezbollah did conduct the attacks against the community center and in 1992 against the Israeli embassy in Argentina with Iranian backing. The two bombings killed more than 100 people and wounded hundreds of others.
Parsi makes an obligatory mention of the March 17, 1992 embassy bombing. He writes “though other groups claimed responsibility for this bombing, Israel still suspected a Hezbollah link.” Israel and many others, based in part on considerable evidence uncovered by Argentine judicial inquiries.
In A Single Roll of the Dice on page 39, Parsi continues his well-developed pattern of fashioning questionable assertions via claims such as that after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “contrary to the commonly held perception, the U.S. did not assemble a coalition against the Taliban; Washington joined an existing coalition led by Iran.” This is risible. After securing support and participation from other countries, American-led coalition forces, in cooperation with Afghan opposition elements including the Northern Alliance, overthrew the Taliban government that had shielded Osama bin Laden and hosted Al-Qaeda bases. Iran led no such coalition.
Awards Parsi nevertheless has won several awards. Treacherous Alliance won the Grawemeyer award and Council of Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Award in 2008 (silver medallion). A Single Roll of the Dice was selected as The Best Book on The Middle East in 2012 by Foreign Affairs. These honors perhaps speak more to the usefulness of the works to partisans in foreign policy debates than to their veracity and scholarly independence. Iranian-American Poll about NIAC/Parsi In 2011, the Democracy Movement of Iran conducted an online survey of Iranians, Iranian-Americans, and Americans in general on NIAC and its activities. The representative sample of 1,851 individuals with Internet access, 18 years of age or older found the following:
Ninety-nine percent of respondents said NIAC did not represent their interests;
Ninety-nine percent believed NIAC was a lobbyist for the Islamic Republic;
Ninety percent were aware of the defamation lawsuit against Hassan Dai;
Eighty-two percent had read NIAC’s internal documents revealed as a result of the lawsuit;
Ninety-nine percent believed that NIAC has defrauded the federal government;
Eighty-two percent said that they were never asked for their opinion by NIAC;
One percent believed that NIAC was a human rights organization but ninety-nine percent believed that NIAC worked as a lobby for the Islamic Revolutionary Republic of Iran.
Quotes about Parsi/NIAC
Hooshang Amirahmadi, the founder and head of a rival group, the American Iranian Council (AIC), said, “NIAC has a direct connection to Congress, they ask their members or others to send their positions and views, they provide form letters and e-mails to their members …
“We do none of this at AIC because we are not a lobbying organization,” Mr. Amirahmadi said. “If AIC was to do what NIAC does, then we would be violating our 501(c)(3) status. That is my understanding of the law.”
To retain-federal tax-deductible status for contributions, 501(c) (3) non-profit organizations, including educational groups, may not spend more than 20 percent of their time lobbying.
Iranian filmmaker and unofficial spokesman for Iran’s opposition Green Movement Mohsen Makhmalbaf, told The Washington Times, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.” (“Exclusive: Iran advocacy group said to violate lobby rules,” Nov. 13, 2009)
“He wants to empower Iranian-Americans as a civic community,” says Sohrab Ahmari, a Northeastern University law student who moved to the United States from Iran in 1998. “This is really admirable, to model it after how Jewish-Americans are organized. What’s disappointing is what he’s advocating. If the Islamic Republic could hire a lobbying firm, I couldn’t imagine it doing a better job than NIAC.”
“You cannot find any difference between [NIAC’s] statements and the Iranian regime’s statements. Either officially or unofficially they are following the path of the regime,” explained Amir Fakhravar, a once-jailed Iranian dissident who heads the Iranian Freedom Institute from the United States.
“For many people, this closes the chapter on 1979,” said Parsi of the Obama administration’s 2015 announcement of an agreement wit
h Iran over its nuclear weapons program and sanctions. Parsi was referring to the year when Iranians overthrew the country’s pro-American ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, radicals seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and, defeating supporters of a potentially democratic new Iran, brought the fiercely anti-American Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. “It’s not that the revolution is undone, but the enmity with the United States is finally neutralized,” he claimed.
“Iran has by and large accepted American demands [regarding the nuclear agreement],” Parsi said. “What it’s not accepting is what it’s getting in return. The United States has said it won’t lift sanctions upfront. But it may have to.”
Parsi has also claimed that the Islamic revolutionary regime—despite brutally repressing a mass movement for a more open government and society in 2009 and fomenting unrest and promoting Shiite Islamic allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen—is a source of regional stability. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Parsi asserts, “On New Year’s Eve 1977, President Jimmy Carter famously toasted the Shah at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran and declared, ‘Iran … is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.’ Less than two years later, Iran was in chaos as the revolution swept the country and brought down the 2,500-year-old monarchy.”
“Carter has been mocked for his lack of foresight, but he wasn’t wrong. He was just a few decades ahead of his time.”
“Iraq is disintegrating. Syria is in flames. Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan. Libya is falling apart. The House of Saud is nervous about a potentially existential succession crisis. In this region, Iran looks like an island of stability.”
But “looks like” is not the same as “is.” Failing to provide the full story, Parsi omits the Iranian role in the very regional instabilities that he cites, i.e. Iran’s fighting Saudi Arabia via proxies in Yemen and its funding of Shiite militias accused of atrocities in Iraq and Syria, of subverting Lebanese sovereignty via Hezbollah and helping to poison Israeli-Palestinian relations through its support of Hamas.
Politico noted (“For Obama, finally, a foreign policy win,” Sep. 27, 2013) that Parsi told reporters at a Sep. 27, 2013 press luncheon Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani would have a limited time to show results in Iran from talks with the United States.
“What is happening is that this team has been given approximately a six-month window to prove a diplomatic approach … will produce better results for Iran than the theatrics of [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” Parsi said, referring to Iran’s immediate past president, known for his inflammatory anti-Western, anti-Israeli statements.
“Parsi warned that any effort by Congress to pass new sanctions on Iran would blow up diplomatic efforts,” according to Politico.
“If Congress decides to pass new sanctions on Iran in midst of negotiations, particularly at a moment when talks are moving in the right direction, rest assured that the talks will fall apart,” he said.
An October 2007 letter from NIAC and other groups requested that the United States cease funding a program promoting democracy in Iran. Parsi claimed that, “while the Iranian government has not needed a pretext to harass its own population, it would behoove Congress not to give it one.”
Sample of Parsi contradictions
A Sept. 16, 2013 New York Times article quoted Parsi as saying Iran was central to a solution to Syria’s civil wars: “Would there be a larger payoff to including Iran? Some experts, such as Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, suggest that enlisting Iran as a partner on Syria and other regional troubles might help break the nuclear impasse; in this view, engagement would allay fears in Tehran that our real aim is to overthrow the theocratic regime. ‘If Iran is part of the solution in Syria,’ Parsi contends, ‘then we also have a stake in assuring some degree of stability in Iran in order to make sure the solution does not fall apart.’”
Yet in The New York Times on June 4, 2013, Parsi pointed to Iranian military support for the Syrian regime as proof that sanctions haven’t changed Iranian behavior.
As previously noted, Parsi and NIAC opposed the appointment of Amb. Dennis Ross by the Obama administration and even sought to lobby against his appointment. Yet, NIAC’s previous opposition didn’t stop the council—in the aftermath of criticisms following the second court decision in favor of Dai—from claiming that “NIAC is not the only organization under attack” for supporting “Obama’s pro-engagement policy in the Middle East”; they then audaciously listed Ross as being purportedly attacked by the same opponents NIAC faces.
Despite having previously claimed that U.S. use of sanctions to encourage Iranians to put pressure on their regime was ineffective, Parsi seemed to tacitly acknowledge that such a possibility would indeed work—but not if the United States did something contrary to Tehran’s wishes. Speaking to The Baltimore Sun on Sep. 22, 2012, Parsi claimed that the effect of sanctions would be undermined by Washington de-listing Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK)—a rival and enemy of the current regime in Tehran—from the U.S. government’s list of terrorists and terrorist organizations. According to Parsi, “At a moment when the United States is trying to put pressure on the Iranian regime through sanctions, and have that economic hardship for the people translate into them putting pressure on their own government, that policy is undermined if the balance of the public anger is directed to the U.S. rather than the regime itself.”
On page 26 of his book A Single Roll of the Dice, Parsi claims that Israel doesn’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon as “this could force Israel to accept territorial compromises with its neighbors in order to deprive Iran of any justification for fomenting hostility toward the Jewish state.” This statement of possible Irania
n nuclear coercion of—and hostility to—Israel contradicts Parsi’s claims that Tehran has no hostile aims towards Israel, not to mention that Iranian leaders have made abundantly clear their rejection of a Jewish state in any borders.
Although he resisted the inclusion of topics beyond Iran’s nuclear program in the P5+1 nuclear talks, Parsi later conveniently asserted “The fact that there have been problems in the past is the very reason as to why we have to resolve those problems.”
In addition to his habit of labeling opponents as “pro-war,” “neo-conservative,” or associated with “MEK,” Parsi habitually plays up conspiracy-tinged narratives. Examples can be seen on his Twitter feed with tweets such as “Iranians celebrating in the streets (remember those saying Iranians didn’t want US to talk to Tehran?).” While seeming innocuous, this is emblematic of Parsi’s tactic of trying to paint critics as people opposing peace and favoring war. Other examples of conspiratorial and “blame Israel” rhetoric include Parsi’s April 27, 2015 tweet of the question “Is Israel bombing Hezbollah and Assad to help ISIS, to elicit a strong response from Iran to unravel the #IranDeal, or to signal Iran that it can have Syria or it can have the #IranDeal, but it can’t have both?” Or maybe Iranian supplies of numerous missiles and other weapons to Hezbollah, via Syria, actually threaten Israel?
Parsi again engaged in a very public example of foisting conspiracy theories onto audiences via social media. When the Associated Press reported that Iran would be able to directly supervise and more or less control International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections at the Islamic Republic’s Parchin military site where nuclear work allegedly had occurred, Parsi dismissed the AP report as suspicious (“UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site,” Aug. 19, 2015). The NIAC head took to Twitter to imply that because “AP’s dubious draft of the IAEA agreement” [later authenticated] referred to Iran as the “Islamic State of Iran,” and “the only one who refers to Iran” this way “is Netanyahu,” then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government may have circulated it. Parsi was assisted in relaying this unsubstantiated and far-reaching conspiracy theory by NIAC staffer Tyler Cullis who asked, “Was this personally forged by Benjamin Netanyahu?” In short order NIAC allies, J Street and Vox‘s Max Fisher, followed Parsi’s lead by similarly taking to Twitter to flog this concoction.
A good example of the straw man rhetoric often used by Parsi and NIAC can be seen in this quote from a Foreign Affairs article authored by NIAC Research Director Reza Mashari (“Undivided Tehran,” Feb. 24): “The hawks in Washington who are against any negotiations with Iran will most likely not relent in pursuing new sanctions. For them, a nuclear deal with Tehran is like Obamacare: they will continue their efforts to sabotage it long after it is signed, sealed, and delivered.” This brief excerpt of an article entitled “Undivided Tehran” manages to close with the parting suggestion that anyone who opposed the P5+1 negotiations was both a “hawk” who opposed any negotiations (and thus implicitly must be for war) and irrelevantly invoked “Obamacare” opponents, thus making common cause with the progressive or post-liberal left that NIAC often targets with its appeals.
After The Washington Times published a 2009 report detailing questions surrounding NIAC, Parsi used the fact that council board member John Limbert is a former State Department employee who was taken hostage in 1979 at the U.S. embassy to argue that it’s “illogical at best” that the report could be true.
NIAC has also shown itself not to be above engaging in antisemitic tropes. Michael Rubin noted in Commentary magazine (“NIAC Board Should Denounce Anti-Semitic Fundraising,” Jan. 11, 2015) that the council used a fundraising ad meant to assert that U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) takes “marching orders” from the prime minister of Israel on foreign policy. The ad showed an out-of-context quote of Graham saying, “We will follow your lead.” That misleading excerpt was originally promoted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, as Rubin observed. Rubin asserted “what is most noxious” about the ad “is the notion that Congress is pursuing Israel’s interest above that of the United States. This reeks of the dual loyalty canard and appears right out of the spirit of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion [an infamous forgery by Czarist Secret Police meant to show that a Jewish, war-mongering conspiracy runs the world].”
Instead of issuing a public apology for promoting a version of an antisemitic slander that has been used throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries to justify attacks against Jews, NIAC was effectively doubling-down on accusations of dual loyalty, for which the council seems to have a particular affinity. Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon noted (“Anti-Semitism in 140 Characters,” May 16, 2012) that NIAC researcher Beheshteh Farsheshani has a history of antisemitic tweets. The self-described “expert” on Iran compared the self-selected mullahs of the dictatorial Islamic Republic to the democratically-elected leaders of Israel’s Likud Party. An examination of her twitter account shows unfounded allegations that the American Israel Public Affairs was bribing members of Congress and “Israel spends our money on terrorism, war, fear, racism.” Farsheshani proceeded to express her relief that President Obama is “not for sale to Netanyahu’s lobby.”
Showing a clear pattern, NIAC accused Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) of being more loyal to Israel than the United States (“Major Jewish Groups Slam White House Allies for Use of Anti-Semitic Language in Debate Over Iran Nuclear Deal, Aug. 11, 2015, The Algemeiner).
NIAC Report on Sanctions
In July 2014, NIAC released a report entitled “Losing Billions: The Cost of Iran Sanctions.” In it, Parsi, NIAC Research Director Reza Marashi, and Jonathan Leslie stated that sanctions against Iran were costing U.S. jobs. The report was questioned by The Washington Post “Fact Checker,” Glenn Kessler, who noted:
There is the issue of how the report is framed, as illustrated in the news release.
“First of all, note that the report carefully refers to ‘job opportunities,’ not jobs. (Parsi’s quote in the news release is less careful.) That’s because one cannot assume that people remain unemployed, year after year. You certainly cannot add up the job numbers over time, though that’s what some reporters did—perhaps misled by Table 4, which lists ‘job losses’ year by year, though it correctly does not offer a total.”
“ ‘The U.S. economy has lost more than $135 billion in export revenues and hundreds of thousands of potential jobs because of stringent economic sanctions against Iran,’ an article in al-Monitor said.”
“Parsi said the report very carefully referred to ‘job opportunities’ but The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, missed that nuance. ‘Losing out on selling to Iran has cost the U.S. an average of between 51,043 and 66,436 jobs for every year between 1995 and 2012,’ its article said.”
“Meanwhile, there’s a problem with the headline number of $175 billion in lost exports. Hufbauer [Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for Economics whose research was used by NIAC] says that this really should be expressed as an annual figure, or at the least make clear that it is over an 18-year period. (The report instead says ‘from 1995 to 2012.’)”
“ ‘The authors are trying to get as high a number as possible,’ but he said an annual figure provides more context.”
“ ‘NIAC here is playing a game with ‘big numbers.’ While $175 billion sounds like a lot, it is only 5/1,000th of the total U.S. exports over that 18-year period. In other words, it’s barely a rounding error in the trillions of dollars of U.S. trade over nearly two decades. “Yet the report asserts that ‘the negative impact of sanctions to the U.S. economy has been staggering…the human cost has been even greater.’
“Moreover, the number assumes that American businesses simply sat on their hands when they lost access to the Iranian market—rather than search for other markets for their products. ‘What do companies do when a market is cut off?’ said Hufbauer. ‘They look for new markets.”
“ ‘We never claimed that it [sanctions on Iran] will collapse the U.S. economy,’ Parsi said. He said the purpose of the report is to highlight animpact of sanctions that is often neglected, since the focus is usually on the country being sanctioned. ‘It would be unfair to say we have taken anything out of context,’ he added.”
“The impact of U.S-led sanctions on the United States might be [a] worthy subject for inquiry, but NIAC is gilding the lily here,” The Post “Fact Checker” concluded. “The report does not do enough to make clear that there is a difference between ‘lost jobs’ and ‘lost job opportunities’—and should have expressed the export number on an annual basis, with a clear explanation of what that number means in the overall U.S. economy.”
In an August 11, 2014 interview with Foreign Policy Association, NIAC Research Director Marashi described the impact of NIAC’s report on sanctions: “The response [to the report] has been positive. Western government officials have described the numbers in our report as striking. Officials in the private sector knew the costs of Iran sanctions to the U.S. and EU were high, but they didn’t realize just how high the numbers were. And the media coverage of our report has been telling: TIME Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN, and Huffington Post all ran stories that talked about the cost of sanctions to the sanctioning countries. All things considered, I’d say mission accomplished.”
What should the news media understand and report about Trita Parsi and his National Iranian American Council? That they are more apologists for rather than critics of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary regime, that they have been less than candid in describing their views and activities, and at least one survey indicates that 99 percent of Iranian-Americans apparently do not think Parsi and the council represent their interests.
 The Parsa Community Foundation is the “first Persian community foundation in the U.S. and the leading Persian philanthropic institution practicing strategic philanthropy.” The foundation seeks to “provide tax advantaged vehicles to donors and make grants to non-profit organizations” for “preservation and advancement of Persian arts and culture, and development of leaders through fellowships and awards, and encouragement of civic engagement through non-profit capacity building and voter registration.” The organization explicitly states on its Web site that it does “not make grants in Iran or to non-profits that work with Iran.” For more, see its Web site http://www.parsacf.org/Page/5