The indispenable Eli Lake has an important story in the Washington Times about the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its leader Trita Parsi. Lake’s piece demonstrates that NIAC may well be lobbying for policies favorable to the Iranian government, in violation of federal law.
Lake’s evidence consists of emails that have been discovered in a lawsuit. Ironically, the lawsuit was filed by NIAC after an Irananian-American journalist — Hassan Daioleslam — accused NIAC of lobbying for Iran. Parsi promptly sued for defamation. As a result, NIAC has been required to produce its emails and related documents.
These documents strongly suggest that NIAC and Parsi are indeed lobbying for Iran. Among the documents are emails between Parsi and Iran’s then-ambassador to the United Nations and an internal analysis by NIAC of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. In the internal review, Patrick Disney, currently NIAC’s acting policy director, found it “hard to believe” that he devotes less than 20 percent of his time to lobbying, and concluded that, therefore, he falls under the legal definition of lobbyist.
Disney disavows that analysis, noting that he was only 22 years old when he reached his conclusion in July 2008. Now, he is a much wiser 23 or 24.
But Parsi himself, when he was putting his group together, described its mission as lobbying. And the founder and head of another Iranian group — the American Iranian Council — says that “NAIC has a direct connection to Congress, they ask their members. . .to send their positions and views, they provide form letters and emails to their members. . . .”
NIAC’s efforts are not confined to influencing Congress. Parsi has been called to the White House, lectured at the CIA, and met with Secretary of State Clinton. He even boasted in internal emails that he learned about President Obama’s speech to Iranians in March several hours before it was posted on the internet.
What positions are NIAC and Parsi advocating? They favor the removal of all U.S. economic and political sanctions against Iran and the commencement of an Iran-U.S. dialogue.
Parsi, who is nothing if not clever, claims that his views towards Iran have changed because of its behavior since the June 12 elections. Yet Parsi is no friend of Iranian democracy. During the Bush presidency, NAIC argued against U.S. funding for the promotion of democracy. His opposition was couched in terms of hurting the opposition by associating it with the U.S., an arguable position.
But Mohsen Makhmalbar, an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker and unofficial spokesman for Iran’s Green Movement told Lake, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement; I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”
In any event, that lobbying may well violate U.S. law, as NIAC’s own analysis concluded just last year.
UPDATE: Another aspect of this story to keep an eye on is the possible connection between NIAC and J Street. Parsi spoke at J Street’s recent convention here in Washington. And J Street, astonishingly for an organization that claims (however laughably) to be pro-Israel, agrees with NIAC that the U.S. should lift its sanctions on Iran.
We’ve also observed that J Street receives money from as well as from several individuals connected to organizations Palestinian and Iranian issue advocacy. NIAC is one of these organizations.
Perhaps the emails that NIAC has had to produce in its lawsuit will shed some additional light on whether or to what extent these groups are linked.
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