Learning from Seyed Mousavian

Seyed Hossein Moussavian is a former Iranian nuclear negotiator now setting up shop as Research Scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. Jay Solomon provided the background on Mousavian’s departure from Iran in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, but I first heard of Mousavian in a Journal book review last weekend by Robert Bartley Journalism Fellow Sohrab Ahmari.

Despite falling out with a powerful faction in the Iranian government, Mousavian continues to peddle disinformation regarding the Iranian regime’s nuclear program. Mousavian has not only set up shop at Princeton, he has written a new book recounting his days as a nuclear negotiator on behalf of the Iranian regime. The book is published by a prestigious Western institute (the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where Alger Hiss served as president from 1946-1949), yet somehow Ahmari is not favorably impressed:

Consider former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian and “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis,” his chronicle of talks over the past decade involving the Tehran regime, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union and others. Early in the book, Mr. Mousavian recounts a 2010 meeting involving the emir of Qatar and Sen. John Kerry. The emir tells the American: “Based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100.” Mr. Mousavian presents the scene as evidence of Sunni-Arab leaders like the emir poisoning relations between the West and the Islamic Republic. But readers would do well to keep the emir’s advice in mind as they approach the author’s own many thousands of words.

“The Iranian Nuclear Crisis” is billed as a memoir, but it less resembles a personal narrative than a diplomatic brief, complete with awkward bureaucratic prose and key sections stippled by bullet points. Mousavian covers negotiations during the administration of President Mohammad Khatami in the early 2000s, when the author headed the foreign-relations committee of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad era beginning in 2005, the first two years of which he spent advising the council on foreign policy. (He moved to the United States in 2009.)

Although he has set up shop at Princeton and had his memoir published by a prestigious Western institute, Mousavian appears still to be plying the wares he had on offer as a representative of the Iranian regime:

A peculiar aspect of the book can be found in the endnotes, where an editor apparently felt obliged to acknowledge where the author parts company with the public record. For instance, Mr. Mousavian flatly declares that, by October 2003, Iran’s disclosures and leaks of other information “had left no major gaps in knowledge” at the IAEA about Iran’s nuclear activities. Six years later U.S. intelligence would uncover, among other things, a secret uranium-enrichment plant near the holy city Qom. A supremely understated editor’s note about Mr. Mousavian’s statement cautions that later investigations “raised additional issues about which the IAEA has sought more information and greater transparency.”

Ahmari nevertheless finds some value, of a kind, in the book. What can we learn from Mousavian? Ahmari writes:

…”The Iranian Nuclear Crisis” is a valuable text for a number of reasons. First, it offers a glimpse of what negotiators face when dealing with Iranian officials who are masters of evasion and obfuscation. Mr. Mousavian, for example, rarely admits Iran’s multiple breaches of nonproliferation statutes. (And when he does, he blames “administrative problems,” “bureaucratic passivity,” “technical ambiguities” and the like.) Readers could be forgiven if they came away from the book with the impression that when Iran does comply with nonproliferation laws, the country is doing a favor to the West and must be rewarded with concessions on other fronts.

In the 1990s, before Mr. Mousavian became a nuclear negotiator, he was Iran’s ambassador to Germany. It was during this period that four Iranian dissidents, three of them Kurdish leaders, were gunned down at a Berlin restaurant in 1992, murders for which a German court eventually convicted an Iranian intelligence officer and three Lebanese henchmen. The German federal high court also issued an arrest warrant for the Iranian minister of intelligence.

In Roya Hakakian’s 2011 book about the episode, “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” the author reports that Mr. Mousavian, the ambassador, initially dismissed the charges as a “joke,” predicting in a television interview that “the judges are sure to vote in Iran’s favor.” Once the court issued its judgment in 1997, the German government requested that he along with members of the intelligence section of the embassy be removed. Four Iranian diplomats were eventually expelled by Germany, and Mr. Mousavian decamped back to Tehran not long after.

Today Mr. Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton University. He recalls the pre-Ahmadinejad era with pride, casting himself as “someone who has for twenty years endeavored through Iran’s foreign policy to eliminate problems between Iran and the West.” Among those efforts, Mr. Mousavian says, was his role during the 1980s in “Iran’s humanitarian intervention to secure the release of Western hostages in Lebanon.” By his account, the U.S. ignored Iran’s show of goodwill and later unjustly imposed sanctions and other forms of pressure on the regime. Mr. Mousavian describes the hostage matter—dozens of Westerners, the greatest number American, were seized throughout the 1980s—as though the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah had acted independently in the abductions. But as shown by communications intercepted by American intelligence, the hostages were in fact taken at the behest of Hezbollah’s primary sponsor: the Tehran regime.

Surely Mousavian’s presence on our shores at Princeton is worthy of note along with what amounts, by Ahmari’s description, to something like service to an odious enemy of the United States.