An Iranian Cinderella man in WashingtonTwelve years of pro-Tehran lobby
A few weeks ago, on November 18th, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) held a conference in the Hart Senate building. A group of lawmakers, former diplomats and Iran experts gathered to indirectly advise the President elect Obama on how to deal with Iran. Or, how to reduce the pressure off the Iranian regime and augment the incentives.1 The moderator of the event was Trita Parsi, the president of NIAC.
In the process of preparing for the meeting a group of 21 self-proclaimed foreign policy “experts” issued a report2 titled “Joint Experts’ Statement on Iran” which according to them was “the product of a large group of experts with diverse knowledge, experience and affiliations.” Surprisingly, the lion’s share of this report was published one year ago by Trita Parsi as the sole author.3
It is hard to explain how an old report is being recycled by such a prominent group of “Iran experts” and presented as a hot-out-of-oven roadmap for the new President. This puzzling “coincidence” is yet another loop in a chain of coincidental events that has made Trita Parsi the leading light of some influential Iran related circles in Washington. A few more examples of the windfall of divine fortune for Mr. Parsi are listed below.
In 1997, Parsi, a young student living in Sweden, decided to found a small lobby group and combat the US economic sanctions against Iran.4 In his early 20s, he became advisor to Bob Ney, an influential Republican congressman from Ohio.5 This collaboration lasted 10 years until Ney was sent to prison on corruption-related charges (some related to accepting bribes to create loopholes for Iran to buy American aircrafts).6
In 2001, Parsi came to the US and within a few months became the Director of development in the American Iranian Council (AIC).7 This powerful organization was advocating improved relation with the Iranian regime. AIC’s board of directors included a former undersecretary of State, U.S. Senators, Iran experts and representatives of major US oil corporations.8 For a young Iranian who had freshly arrived in Washington, it was quite a success.
Parsi did not stop here. He decided to found his own organization in 2002 and set up the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).5&7 Here too, the success story is amazing. He inspired so much confidence that less than a month after NIAC was founded, the National Endowment for Democracy gave him a grant. Normally, it takes at least 2 month for NED just to process a grant application, but here the whole process was accomplished in record time. Over the next few years, NED granted him about 200.000$.9
His new organization needed help. Again, the best professionals came to Parsi’s rescue. A few months after NIAC was founded, 2 of the best Washington lobbyists, Roy Coffee and David Destefano held a lobbying session in a restaurant for a few NIAC’s members.10
According to his official bio, Coffee “was Deputy Campaign Manager for George W. Bush in his successful 1994 race for Governor against incumbent Ann Richards. He then served as the Director of State-Federal Relations in the Governor’s office for four years.”11
In 2003, the Iranian regime decided to send a secret offer of “Grand Bargain” to US. The Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tom Guldiman and an Iranian official wrote the proposal. This affaire was so secret that according to Guldiman; only 4 people were informed in Iran.12 Guldiman wrote:
“Kharazi told me that he had two long discussions with the Leader on the roadmap. In those meetings which both lasted two hours, only president Khatami and foreign minister Kamal Kharazi were present. The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed.”
But, Guldiman came to Washington and went to Bob Ney’s office and gave him a copy and asked him to send it to the White House. Parsi told the Democracy Now journalist that: “I was an advisor to Bob Ney at the time. And Tim met with Bob and handed over the proposal to him. And Bob afterwards sent it to be hand-delivered to the White House to Karl Rove, and Karl Rove called back within two hours, and they had a brief discussion about the proposal.”13
According to the media, Parsi was personally involved in this dealing “Parsi admitted that he was the point person for Ney in helping to manage this issue.” Wrote Steve Clemons.14 This was an extraordinary privilege. While the Iranian parliament, the Revolutionary Guards, National Security Council, Rafsanjani and … were not informed about such a historic initiative, Parsi was the fifth Iranian to be involved.
This exceptional trust was repeated three years later, in 2006, when the situation was worsening for the regime of Tehran. Parsi was once again given a new copy of the 2003 offer and he gave it to the press. No one before him had ever gone public about this affaire, not even in Tehran. Gareth Porter wrote in IPS that: “Parsi, who provided the document to IPS, says he got it from an Iranian official earlier this year but is not at liberty to reveal the source.” 15
This Iranian regime’s trust toward Parsi is so important that on September 19, 2006, ambassador Faramarze Fathnejad , the former head of the Iran Interest section in Washington, went back to Tehran and personally promoted Parsi’s position. He met with a semi-governmental organization and underlined “the importance of relation with Iranian organizations in the U.S. and specially pointed to NIAC and his young leader who is a consultant to CNN and has been very successful in his efforts”16
I was personally unaware of such favorable attitude from Tehran toward Parsi till April 2007 when I wrote my first article about him and NIAC. I did not expect that several government related newspapers would come to defend Parsi and attack me. One of them called NIAC the “Iranian lobby in Washington”.17
When in 2006 Parsi defended his doctorate, he was assisted by highest US politicians and visionaries. He wrote his Doctoral thesis on US-Israeli-Iranian relations under Professor Francis Fukuyama and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security advisor.18
In 2007, Parsi published his only book, Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007). The success was again immediate. He was the 2008 Silver Medal Recipient of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award.19
In 2008, when US Congress was showing some teeth to the Iranian regime, a number of groups (Peace organizations, Moslem association, Iran experts and former politicians) and individuals came together and founded the “Campaign for new American Policy on Iran”.20 Their campaign was especially intense to fight against the H.R. 362, an advisory resolution which was asking more sanctions on Iran. This resolution which enjoyed a large number of sponsors was finally shelved by the Congress. Again, NIAC and Parsi were on top of this event. According to Sasan Dehghan, a NIAC’s prominent member, his group led the lobby efforts. In an epical tone, he compares NIAC to “David” and portrays the Israeli lobby as “Goliath”:21
“NIAC beats AIPAC
It was David versus Goliath: the classic underdog match up. In the battle over a Congressional resolution calling for war with Iran, the lines were drawn between the smaller grassroots Iranian-American movement (NIAC) on one side and the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) mega-lobby on the other…
Led by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and a coalition of peace and security groups, Iranian Americans from around the country called, emailed, wrote, and visited their members of Congress…
In the end, the bill was never allowed to be brought up for a vote on the House floor, nor was it even considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks to groups like NIAC working behind the scenes with members of Congress to discourage consideration of the bill.”
Here we are. 12 years of exceptional success. Trusted in Tehran and Washington. For my part, I attribute his achievement to the fact that both the Iranian regime and some influential US business interests have found a common ground: combating American sanctions on Iran. Parsi grew in such a fertile land.
He started his career in 1997 when these business interests started their campaign against the sanctions. This campaign needed an “Iranian” touch, an “Iranian” presence. 3 organizations (including Parsi’s IIC) were created and the AIC (mentioned earlier) was the biggest one. AIC was mainly funded by Oil corporations.22 In 1998, Associated Press reporter Josef Federman reported on these new Iranian groups and wrote that:23
“Gary Marfin, Conoco’s manager for government affairs, said the company’s alliance with Iranian-Americans is part of its general opposition to economic sanctions. Another group, Iranians for International Cooperation, seeks to promote dialogue, cultural exchanges and economic ties between Iran and America. Trita Parsi, a graduate student leads the group from Sweden.”
In 2001, this campaign was intensified to beat the Iran Libya Sanction Act (ILSA). Peter H. Stone worte in National Journal that:24
“Red Cavaney, the president of the American Petroleum Institute and his allies are in the midst of a lobbying campaign aimed at persuading members of Congress and Administration officials to relax sanctions against investments in Iran and. Oil behemoths such as Chevron Corp., Conoco, ExxonMobil Corp., and Phillips Petroleum Co. have been working aggressively alongside big business coalitions, such as USA*Engage, a group of 670 U.S. companies, to fight unilateral sanctions…..
For extra help on the issue, oil companies are also banking on a grassroots organization of Iranian-Americans to lend a hand.”
Parsi’s merit has been to outperform the 2 other “Iranian” organizations and monopolize the favorable attentions. Recently, the Iranian regime controlled newspaper Aftab published an interview with Trita Parsi and in the introduction, the editor wrote about the creation of these “Iranian” groups in Washington:25
“Houshang Amirahmadi founded his council, The American Iranian Council (AIC) in 1997. In 2001, Trita Parsi, as a young Iranian Swedish came to the U.S. and joined AIC as the managing director. In 2002, he [Parsi] with the support of the Congressman Bob Nay started a new organization called NIAC (National Iranian American Council). Since then Parsi has been able to achieve a superior status than Amirahmadi.”
I believe the streak of Trita Parsi´s success has not come without cost. From my view, the cost has been added confusion in the US policy towards Iran, a climate of misinformation and misrepresentation of Iran related facts in the US congress, and empowerment of a web of Iranian influence in America. This in turn has meant more suffering for the Iranian people, higher casualties for the American forces in the region, .and the scary prospect of the nuclear mullahs.
2- See the report at http://americanforeignpolicy.org/.
3- See Parsi’s report at http://www.niacouncil.org/images/PDF_files/seven%20myths%20about%20iran.pdf
I compared the two reports at http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/81956
4- Parsi’s first statement at: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/3725/trita.html
5- See parsi’e resume at http://web.archive.org/web/20011120204601/www.geocities.com/tritaparsi/resume.html
6- DoJ’s plea agreement with Bob Ney http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2006/September/06_crm_622.html
7- In addition to his resume, you can also read Parsi’s Bio at http://www.iranian.com/Opinion/2002/May/Group/
8- AIC’s board: http://www.american-iranian.org/home.php?mains=2&subs=14
9- Read my article about NED’s grants to NIAC at (http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/65425 )
10- See the 2 following links A:http://www.niacouncil.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=64&Itemid=2
11- Coffee’s bio at: http://www.lockelord.com/rcoffee/
12- A copy of Iranian offer and Guldiman’s memo is published by Washington Post: http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/documents/us_iran_roadmap.pdf
For a comprehensive study of this affaire, read my article: 2003 Grand Bargain, Secrets, Lies and Manipulation at: http://www.intellectualconservative.com/2007/12/18/iran%e2%80%99s-2003-grand-bargain-offer-secrets-lies-and-manipulation/
13- Trita Parsi’s interview with Democracy Now, Feb. 26, 2007:
14- Steve Clemons, Feb. 17, 2007: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-clemons/what-did-rove-do-with-200_b_41472.html
15- Gareth Porter, IPS, May 24, 2006 http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0525-05.htm
17- See the six following Iranian regime controlled newspapers:
18- http://www.tritaparsi.com/biography.htm. To see the photos, go to http://www.tritaparsi.com/photos.htm photos 12 & 13
22- See AIC’s document http://www.american-iranian.org/aboutus/growthplan.pdf
25- Aftab, August 5, 2008 http://www.aftabnews.ir/vdcc10q2b0q4m.html