Iran’s ruling clerics have a new unofficial spokesman in Washington, who can talk circles around their official ambassadors.
His name is Trita Parsi, and he is a protégé of Francis Fukayama, the policy heavy-weight who has now turned against the Bush agenda of promoting freedom in the Middle East as an antidote to terror.
In a remarkable round-up of official Iranian government views, presented as “objective” analysis on C-SPAN this past Saturday, Feb. 17, Parsi urged the United States government to “open up diplomacy and dialogue” with Iran’s rulers and to give them a leading role in resolving the sectarian war in Iraq – a war that the Iranians themselves have fueled.
He repeated as evidence of how helpful the Iranians can be a favorite myth of the Left, claiming that Iran helped the United States in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. In fact, however, Iran set up a “rat line” for al Qaeda members seeking to flee the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, and has been sheltering al Qaeda operatives ever since. Flights of Iranian army helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to evacuate Bin Laden family members and senior al Qaeda leadership to Mashad were observed at the time by U.S. intelligence, as I reported in Countdown to Crisis.
Parsi also attempted to downplay Iran’s involvement in Iraq, arguing that Iranian-made Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP’s) were “only” responsible for killing a “small number” of American troops (170!), and that Shia militias “are not responsible” for American casualties.
Then he dismissed the evidence unveiled recently in Baghdad of Iran’s involvement with the insurgents with an argument that only a mullah could have invented. The U.S. claim that it had found Iranian weapons in the hands of insurgents was “not a very serious accusation,” he said, because “a lot of American weapons are in the hands of Sunni insurgents.”
Small wonder that the first question Mr. Parsi was asked when listeners phoned into the early Saturday morning show was whether he was being paid by the Iranian government.
No, he said. His organization, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), was a “grass-roots lobbying” group funded 80% by private donations, with additional money coming from foundation grants. “We get no money from government sources,” he added, either from Iran or from the United States.
Of course, if the Iranian regime wanted an organization to promote its views in Washington, the last thing it would do is to provide direct grant money to the group. Besides, the Iranian equivalent of our National Endowment for Democracy is the Qods Force, the special branch of the Islamic Republic Guards corps that funds, trains, and commands overseas terrorists – er, “freedom fighters.”
But Mr. Parsi’s quick declaration that his “grass roots” lobbying group is free from government funding is not even true on its face. According to his group’s own annual report for 2003-2004, available from its website, they have received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a private foundation established by the U.S. government and funded by Congress.
On its website, NED lists a $25,000 grant to NIAC in 2002, “to design and implement a two-day media training workshop in Iran… [to] guage participants general receptiveness to civic activities.” NIAC received a second NED grant in 2005, this time for $64,000, “to strengthen the capacity of civic organizations in Iran.”
NIAC does not describe these activities in its annual reports. However, failed efforts to hold “training workshops” with Iranians in Dubai by another U.S. non-profit group, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University, led to the arrest of several student pro-democracy activists last year. Under pressure by the Iranian authorities, they then denounced U.S. efforts to promote democracy in Iran.
Iranian student activists have complained for years that their movements have been infiltrated by pro-regime elements masquerading as regime opponents. Last year’s mishap over the training workshops in the methods of non-violent conflict would appear to be a case in point.
NIAC acknowledges that it has received funding from the Open Society Institute and the Tides Foundation, both of which have close ties to radical leftwing billion George Soros, who is actively opposing the Bush administration’s crackdown on Iranian meddling in Iraq.
Frontpage magazine editor Ben Johnson reveals in his 2004 study of the Tides Foundation that Tides also funds groups as the Council for American-Islamic Relations, Moveon.org, the Arab-American Action Network, and the National Lawyers Guild, a group founded by the Communist Party USA.)
Is NIAC an authentic grass roots organization, as Parsi claims? It’s hard to know. Its 2004 annual report shows that approximately 29% of NIAC’s funding came from “membership dues.” But without itemization or lists of donors and members, it is impossible to determine whether NIAC is the pet project of a handful of wealthy Iranian donors, who may be promoting their own business interest in resumed trade with Iran, or whether it relies on larger numbers of small donors.
The overwhelming majority of the two million-plus Iranian community in America came to this country to escape the tyranny of the Islamic revolution in Iran. There was strong support within this community for the re-election of President Bush in 2004, and a great deal of deception since then that the president has not lived up to the expectations he had created of helping the Iranian people to free themselves of the yoke of absolute clerical rule.
But this is not NIAC’s agenda. By its own account and by Mr. Parsi’s voluminous public statements, NIAC’s agenda dovetails quite nicely with the agenda of so-called “reformers” in Tehran such as Hojjat-ol eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who is attempting to paint a happy face on the regime as a reliable partner to stabilize Iraq.
But Rafsanjani is also the man who presided over the buildup of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program and the murder of thousands of Iranian dissidents, at home and abroad.
In a speech at Tehran University on Dec. 14, 2001, the “moderate reformer” Rafsanjani raised the possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran might be willing to endure “millions” of casualties if it could annihilate Israel in a nuclear exchange. “Such a scenario is not inconceivable,” he said. So much for moderation.
Item number one on the agenda NIAC shares to Tehran’s leaders is to clip the wings of the Bush administration, to prevent a U.S. military attack on Iranian nuclear and missile sites. On Feb. 16, for example, the NIAC website proudly announced that it had joined forces with other left-wing activist groups to buy a full page ad on the back cover of the Congressional Quarterly, “warning against war with Iran.”
Item number two is to promote a “grand bargain” with Iran’s clerical leadership. To legitimize this position, which also was promoted by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, NIAC turns to “former neoconservative theorist” Dr. Francis Fukuyama, who famously denounced his former allies in a the New York Times oped last year and now says that the Bush pro-democracy agenda is “in a shambles.”
In NIAC’s account, Fukuyama described the Iranian regime at a recent Capitol Hill conference as a “cautious regional actor,” and “described Iranian foreign policy as pragmatic and rational,” while urging the Bush administration to hold its nose and cut a deal.
To further credit this thesis, Parsi has been feeding the press with information about a much-hyped Iranian offer to “negotiate” with the United States in May 2003. His latest, breathless claim is that he acquired a copy of the Iranian offer while in Iran and gave it to Rep. Robert Ney (recently sentenced to prison for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal), and that Ney hand-delivered it to Karl Rove in the White House. Says Rove-hunter Steve Clemons, “the revelation that Rove is involved is huge.”
So let’s get this straight. An organization that has received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy to promote democracy in Iran is actually promoting the views of the Tehran regime in Washington, seeking to sabotage U.S. policy, and actually boasts of playing an intermediary role for Tehran’s mullahs in apparent violation of the Logan Act. Hmmn.
Other items on the NIAC agenda that dovetail nicely with the desiderata of Tehran were on display at the conference the group co-sponsored last week on Capitol Hill with Clemons’ New America Foundation.
Former IAEA deputy director Bruno Pellaud made the unbelievable claim that the IAEA has found “no evidence of a nuclear weapons program” in Iran. That, of course, is just what the regime wants us to believe.
Pellaud’s statement non-plussed even Clintonista Joe Cirincirone, formerly in charge of non-proliferation programs at the Carnegie Endowment, who has made a profession of mocking the Bush administration for swallowing intelligence community claims on Iraqi WMD for years.
Cirincirone gently reminded Pellaud of multiple findings of clandestine nuclear weapons research by the IAEA in Iran, including documents and equipment for producing “hemispheres” of highly-enriched uranium, which have “no other use” than for nuclear weapons. (To understand Pellaud’s thinking, it’s necessary to recall that he was the top deputy to Hans Blix when the blind Swede headed the IAEA and for 18 years fail to detect Iran’s clandestine nuclear programs.)
Beyond that, NIAC and Tehran would both like to see U.S. and UN sanctions on Iran lifted, so that U.S. capital and oil drilling technology can rescue Iran’s ageing oil fields from extinction.
Want to know what Tehran’s thinking? There’s no need to turn to the Islamic Republic News Agency, or to watch Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei or Ahmadinejad. Just listen to the Mullah’s voice in Washington.
Trita Parsi makes the Iranian regime sound so reasonable. So pragmatic. So – well, just like us. The kind of folks we can do a deal with.
And as the mullahs take home that agreement with our signature on it with a smile, the Qods force continues to murder U.S. soldiers in Iraq. And those uranium enrichment centrifuges continue to spin, somewhere inside an unknown mountain in Iran.
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