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Iran’s Oil Mafia By: Hassan Daioleslam
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Robert William (Bob) Ney is a current federal prisoner and a former Ohio Congressman from 1995 until November 3, 2006.  On October 13, 2006 Ney pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements in relation to the Jack Abramoff lobbying and bribery scandal.  Ney reportedly received bribes from Abramoff, other lobbyists, and two foreign businessmen - a felon and an arms dealer - in exchange for using his position to advance their interests.

Conspicuously missing from this dossier of disservice to the country was Ney’s assistance in the creation of a Washington-based lobbying enterprise for the Iranian theocratic regime, The National Iranian-American Council (NIAC).  NIAC is part of an extensive US lobbying web that objectively furthers the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This article will address the creation of NIAC, Tehran’s role, NIAC’s connection to Iran’s oil mafia, and NIAC attempts to penetrate US political system.

 

Creation of NIAC

 

The National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) was founded thanks to the efforts of four non Iranian-Americans:  Roy Coffee, Dave DiStefano, Rep. Bob Ney, and Trita Parsi. Coffee and DiStefano, both Washington lobbyists, were investigated by the Justice Department for arranging a trip to London for Bob Ney, where he met a Syrian arms dealer and convicted felon involved in a conspiracy to circumvent sanctions to sell US-made aircraft parts to Tehran.

Roy Coffee sent a letter to the Dallas Morning News in February 2006 to justify his relationship with the two London-based felons.  Part of the letter discussed the founding of NIAC:

“Back in the spring or summer of 2002, a good friend of mine from law school, Darius Baghai, had just returned from visiting relatives in Iran for the first time since his family left before the revolution. He spoke with me about how the economy of Iran was humming …….From this, I took Darius in to visit with Mr. Ney. What was to be a 15 minute meeting became a 1 1/2 hour meeting as they spoke passionately about their hopes for the Iranian people. They also spoke in Farsi a great deal - I'm sure talking smack about me. From that meeting, Darius, Dave and I began to work with Trita Parsi, another Iranian-American to try to form a political action committee of Iranian-Americans to pursue a strategy of normalization of relations between the two countries…. The 4 of us worked very hard for about 9 months to form this committee.”

Prior to his imprisonment in March 2007, Bob Ney  led Congressional efforts to defeat ILSA and initiate Tehran-friendly policies in concert with AIC. Disappointed and angered by the ILSA vote, Ney began to plan for the next battle of the war.  

The ILSA vote doesn’t look very promising, but that doesn’t mean the struggle should stop on this entire issue. It is a matter of education and re-education and people getting together and forming a citizen’s lobby to make sure that members of Congress and their offices are educated on this issue,” Ney told AIC in a June 2001 speech.

This failure to block the renewal of ILSA in 2001 marked the start of a new era for the pro-Iran lobby in the United States.  The lobbyists recognized that they must broadly reach out to Iranian-Americans.NIAC was created to put those plans in motion.

 

Trita Parsi was the regime’s trusted man within the new network. Tehran’s faith in Parsi was so profound that in 2003 when Iran decided to send a highly secret proposal for negotiations to the White House, Parsi was called on to arrange the delivery of the message through Bob Ney to Karl Rove.   Parsi, moreover, was among the few chosen men (along with Mahallati, Iran’s former  ambassador to UN) to present the results of a shady Tehran-friendly poll of the Iranian population which indicated the popularity of Iran’s nuclear program.

Trita Parsi and the Regime’s Inner Circle

During the eight years of Rafsanjani’s presidency, which ended in 1997, the Iranian regime had attempted without success to attract the Iranian Diaspora to its cause. Khatami’s presidency recharged Tehran’s efforts.  With the Supreme Leader’s direct involvement, the High Council for Iranian Compatriots Overseas was created in 2000.  The President heads the Council, and the Foreign Minister serves as its deputy director.  The Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance collaborate to implement the decisions of the council. 

The objective was to create a network of organizations to infiltrate and seemingly represent the Iranian community abroad, and promote policies favorable to the Iranian government.  Tehran anticipated that this strategy would neutralize opposition activities abroad and legitimize the new lobby.

State-sanctioned Iranian newspapers started a campaign to promote Trita Parsi and NIAC.  Pro-government publications outside Iran followed suit. The former head of the Iran interest in Washington, Ambassador Faramarze Fathnejad, was thrilled with the efforts of Trita Parsi and NIAC, 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.” The Iran Ambassador even claimed 20,000 strong membership for NIAC (while only 150 is claimed by NIAC itself)!

But token rhetorical support would not alone turn an inexperienced graduate student and a corrupt Washington politician into a lobbying enterprise.  Entities with ample financial resources and direct access to Iran’s top leaders had to enter the scene. This is where Siamak Namazi, an important figures of this new lobbying enterprise and a prominent member of the Iranian oil Mafia, enters the scene.

Trita Parsi and Namazi worked closely on developing the details of a grand plan to create an Iranian-American “Citizen’s Lobby.” They traveled to Iran together  They organized joint conferences and meetings. In 1999, they co-authored a seminal paper, that provided the roadmap for the organization that later became NIAC. 24

Namazi, along with his sister Pari and brother Babak, control the Atieh enterprise in Iran and its  three sister companies Atieh Roshan, Atieh Bahar and Atieh Associates, as well as numerous other direct and indirect partnerships, including Azar Energy, Menas companies in England, Atieh Dadeh Pardaz, FTZ Corporate services and MES Middle East Strategies..   Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Baquer Namazi  (their father) is the Chairman of Hamyaran, identified by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a “resource center” in Tehran for Iranian non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Atieh claims to be a “fully private strategic consulting firm that assists companies better understand the Iranian market, develop business and stay ahead of [the] competition.”  People familiar with the oil industry in Iran understand the coded language, After all, rulers in every country in the Middle East use outside consultants to negotiate the discrete terms of lucrative oil contracts.

Atieh’s customers include the foreign corporations who wish to do business in Iran. One Atieh Bahar customer, Norway’s Statoil, has been publicly identified as a participant in a scheme to bribe Iranian government officials  by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice. A number of high officials in the company were fired and the company had to pay tens of millions of dollars in penalties to the US and Norwegian governments for “payments to an Iranian official in 2002 and 2003 in order to induce him to use his influence to obtain the award to Statoil of a contract to develop phases 6, 7 and 8 of the Iranian South Pars gas field.

The most recent debacle of Atieh enterprise was in March 2007 when the CEO of the French oil company Total SA was charged with having bribed senior Iranian officials  to secure contracts.  Total is a major customer of the Namazi’s Atieh enterprise.

Tehran’s trust in Namazi is further evidenced by the fact that his company provides the network and computer services for almost all Iranian banks, the Majles (parliament), and other important institutions. Namazi’s groups monitor  nearly all Iranian economic or political activities and have access to the country’s most sensitive data. This is a clear indication of his prominent place inside the inner circle of power in Tehran.

While representing Tehran, Namazi, disguised as a scholar travels to the US to seemingly pursue academic activities . He succeeded so well that the Congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy awarded him a Reagan-Fascell  Democracy Fellowship  in 2005.

This link between the Iranian oil Mafia and “scholarly” pursuits in the US is hardly isolated. Three former Iranian deputy foreign ministers currently live in Boston posing as “scholars”: Mohammad Mahallati who was also the Iranian ambassador to the UN in the late 1980s,   Farhad Atai and, Abbas Maleki. In addition to his diplomatic past, Maleki has been one of the most important figures within the Iranian oil Mafia.

The Roadmap

In 1999, Parsi and Namazi presented a joint paper titled “Iranian-Americans: The bridge between two nations  at a conference organized by the Iranian government in Cypress.  This report contains the manifesto and the  roadmap for the new Iranian lobby in the US.  The authors argue that “an Iranian-American lobby is needed in order to create a balance between the competing Middle Eastern lobbies. Without it, Iran-bashing may become popular in Congress again.”

The “competing lobby” was AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee). The pillars of the road map were:

·        To have the appearance of a citizen’s lobby

·        To mimic the Jewish lobby in the US

·        To impede Iranian opposition activities

·        To infiltrate the US political system

·        To break the taboo of working with the Iran’s cleric rulers  for the Iranian Diaspora

·        To improve the image of the Iran’s government abroad24. 

In their report, Namazi and Parsi acknowledged that problems of organizing a pro-regime lobby within the Iranian-American community:

This group’s role has not been utilized any where close to its potential, however, for several reasons: A good portion of them were against the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran], therefore would not do anything to help.

 

“The point is, [Iranian Americans] were  not about to form a lobby group that would benefit the establishment in Tehran, or benefit the Iranian-Americans themselves as a community, nor was it for the most part interested in forming a pressure group against the Islamic Republic.”

This was also underlined by Roy Coffee, one of the NIAC’s founders:

“We [NIAC’s founders] found that most Iranians do not want to get involved in politics because of their experiences in Iran during and after the revolution. They have come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children and don't want to get involved.”

The lack of participation by the Iranian American community in this lobby has been overcome with a sophisticated machine of professional lobbyists and “friendly” circles who favor a rapprochement with the Iranian regime.

Tehran’s Advice: Mimic Jewish Lobby in Washington

One of the hallmarks of the new lobby was its desire to rival the “Israeli Lobby” in the United States. This aspiration led to the creation of  the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), loosely modeled after similar organizations created by  AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee)Three of IAPAC’s board members came from the AIC’s leadership.

In their 1999 paper, Parsi and Namazi analyzed at length the techniques used by AIPAC, and suggested that the same approach should be taken to create an Iranian lobby in Washington:

“Creating similar types of seminars and intern opportunities to Iranian-American youth may not improve Iran-US relations in the short run, but it will help integrate the Iranian-American community into the political life of America. In the long run, a strong and active Iranian- American lobby, partly established through these seminars and by the participants of these programs, may serve to ensure that the US and Iran never find themselves in violent opposition to each other again.”

Trita Parsi has been reciting this comparison to the Israeli lobby since the late 1990’s, about the time that the High Council was formed in Tehran.  At the beginning his tone was more contentious and resembled the mullah’s usual rhetoric, but more recently he has toned down his anti-Israeli remarks, at least in English.

The government-owned newspaper Aftab published an interview with Trita Parsi on December 28, 2006 that underscores Parsi’s efforts on behalf of the Iranian regime..

Translation: “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.

Siamak Namazi began sounding  similar themes.:

I propose that we should start showing up to the leadership training seminars and other events organized by the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) for their youth. Not only will this create an opportunity to learn the fine skills of community organization and grassroots lobbying, but it also takes away from AIPAC's ability to spread misinformation about Iran through a deliberate campaign to further its own political agenda.

Not Lobbyists?

As Ney’s criminal bribery and lobbying fiasco became more public, NIAC’s president Trita Parsi began to downplay NIAC’s lobbying activities. (NIAC is registered as a 501 c3, to which certain legal restrictions apply.)  Furthermore, being lobbied by a former aid would have added to Ney’s already complicated situation. Asked in 2005 whether his group lobbied the US Congress, Trita Parsi told an interviewer:

Our group does not do any lobbying at all. We do not contact the Congressmen to support or oppose a bill.

Since its creation, however, NIAC has strived to penetrate the US political system in accordance with the roadmap Namazi and Parsi established in 1999. As the Washington Post reported on June 25, 2006: 

The NIAC helped persuade a dozen conservative House members to sign a letter to President Bush earlier this month calling for unconditional negotiations with Iran's regime.

The external communications of Parsi and other NIAC leaders shed further light on NIAC’s lobbying activities.

The NIAC members have educational and experimental knowledge on the lobbying process and politics in America.”

“.. we must establish connections on Capitol Hill to establish early-warning systems about proposed votes or bills that may oppose the best interests of Iranian-Americans.”

Bob Ney, Roy Coffee, and Dave DiStefano arranged numerous workshops, training classes, seminars and speeches in which they themselves and others with experience prepared members and affiliates of NIAC to lobby and influence Congress.  Parsi, Namazi and Ney organized public gatherings and discrete and exclusive $1,000 per plate fundraiser events.  They even developed a training manual for lobbyists, a copy of which was sent to this writer by a former NIAC member.

NIAC itself admits that “In 2002, Congressman Ney benefited from letters sent by Iranian-Americans through NIAC's Legislative Action Center in support of his resolution on US-Iran relations.”

Infiltrating Congress

Trita Parsi, Namazi and their backers fully intended to infiltrate the US Congress.  One of the methods they boast of involves recruiting young Iranian Americans to serve as Congressional interns or pages by offering room, board and financial incentives.  NIAC’s website brags of success stories in this venture.

NIAC claims to have drafted the young Iranian American Press Secretary for Rep. Marcy Kaptur to help in improving the lobbying skills of NIAC members and affiliates.   Similarly, an Iranian American student in the University of Minnesota received a financial scholarship in his senior year and becomes an intern in Senator Norm Coleman’s (R-MN) Washington office.  Another intern, a graduate of University of South Florida, was placed in Congressman Jim Davis’ (D-FL) Washington, D.C. office.  Expanding the operation to penetrate the US political system, NIAC has now formally implemented a paid trainee program and is actively in search for unwary Iranian American youth.

Conclusion

Since the early 1990’s, Tehran has embarked on developing a sophisticated lobbying enterprise in the United States.  Iran’s government has devoted significant manpower and financial resources to this cause.  This lobbying enterprise consists of a complex, intermingled web of entities and organizations with significant overlap of leadership, and heavy involvement of the notoriously mafia-like inner circles of the Iranian regime.   Disguised as scholars, many of the former Iranian government officials reside in the US and constitute an important piece of the lobby machine.  NIAC and its major figures, such as Bob Ney and Trita Parsi are effective nodes of Tehran’s efforts to manipulate US policy toward self-serving ends.

Hassan Daioleslam is an independent researcher and writer who has worked closely with two experienced investigative reporters inside Iran to explore and expose Iran lobbying enterprise in the United States.

 

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Hassan Daioleslam is an independent Iran analyst and writer. He is well published in Farsi and English. He has appeared as an expert guest on the Voice of America-TV as well as in other Persian media. Daioleslam has three decades of history of political activism and political scholarly analysis.


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