Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Iranian-American Council

Why Does Obama Ally with the RT Set?

Russia Today, now simply called RT, is Russia’s English-language broadcasting network. Among all the foreign satellite networks operating across the globe, RT and Iran’s PressTV are the most overtly propagandistic and anti-American. RT’s money comes from the Kremlin, and it follows Kremlin directives.

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Russia Today, now simply called RT, is Russia’s English-language broadcasting network. Among all the foreign satellite networks operating across the globe, RT and Iran’s PressTV are the most overtly propagandistic and anti-American. RT’s money comes from the Kremlin, and it follows Kremlin directives.

As the German news magazine Der Spiegel explained:

…It is also meant to amplify the self-doubts of Europeans and Americans who have been forced by recent events to wonder if their own countries — like Russia and China — are corrupt and in the grip of a pervasive intelligence apparatus. In any case, the station has a rare knack for propaganda. The average age of the Russian editors is under 30, and almost everyone speaks fluent English. To spice up the news, directors sometimes use Hollywood-like special effects… There is also a logic behind such visual effects, especially since the station sees itself as a sort of ministry of media defense for the Kremlin.

And here is Foreign Policy listing in 2013 seven unbelievable RT segments, such as reporting that it was actually the FBI and not two radical Islamist Chechen brothers responsible for the attack. Progressives in the United States might bash Fox News, and conservatives might roll their eyes at MSNBC or CNN, but all the networks basically stick to the facts or host debates about the news; they do not simply make it up.

No matter what RT’s agenda, they would fail in their effort to project legitimacy if they did not host so many American guests. Every station has their favorite contributors or outside go-to experts. MSNBC, CNN, and Fox all have an array of former politicians, ex-diplomats, retired generals, columnists, and think tank experts to whom they turn. And, even if Fox skews right and CNN and MSNBC lean left, each will make an effort to include at least some people representing an opposing point of view.

What actually is quite curious, however, is RT’s choice of frequent commentators. The National Iranian American Council, for example, an anti-sanctions group which tends to lobby for the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic positions, constantly feeds the RT beast with guest appearance, both by Trita Parsi, its founder and president-for-life, as well as policy director Jamal Abdi and research director Reza Marashi. Barbara Slavin, a former journalist whose writing often advocates for Iranian positions, also talks to RT. Ditto Flynt Leverett, a former aide to Condoleezza Rice who now works full time to advance Iran’s narrative. Joseph Cirincione, who as head of the Ploughshares Fund channels money, is also part and parcel of the RT set. Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, often joins RT shows to bash the United States, its officials, and its policies. And the list goes on.

The irony here of course is that those who most affirm and lobby for Obama’s outreach for Iran—in Parsi and Ciricncione’s case often quite directly—never take stock of the fact that RT invites them because they affirm the Kremlin’s anti-American position. This shouldn’t necessarily surprise—Parsi has written in Internet chat forums that “There is no substitute for Iran!” What is surprising is that the Obama administration doesn’t take stock of the fact that the people who most embrace his policies and with whom he and his top aides sometime consult are those who never had the courage to walk off the RT set, who never stood up for the United States on the RT set, and whose writing seem infused with moral equivalence and a desire to see America lose.

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NIAC Board Should Denounce Anti-Semitic Fundraising

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies to end sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, has a new fundraising plea out on Facebook, which asks “Should the U.S. Congress follow Israel’s lead on #Iran, or yours?” Accompanying the question is a photo suggesting that Senator Lindsey Graham is telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Congress will take marching orders from him.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies to end sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, has a new fundraising plea out on Facebook, which asks “Should the U.S. Congress follow Israel’s lead on #Iran, or yours?” Accompanying the question is a photo suggesting that Senator Lindsey Graham is telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Congress will take marching orders from him.

The “We will follow your lead” Graham quote was taken out of context and then promoted by the Ron Paul Institute and notorious racist David Duke. That’s probably not the company that most Iranian Americans want to keep, but for NIAC it’s nothing out of the ordinary. While NIAC claims to be mainstream (and has been welcomed into the White House under the Obama administration), it consistently aligns itself with not only Ron Paul, but also fringe or hard-left organizations like Code Pink and WarIsACrime.org. As for the Graham speech from which NIAC pulls its suggestion that Netanyahu is directing American policy, here it is:

I would love nothing better than a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear ambitions. I support the Administration’s effort to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion. But you, above all others, have said that sanctions are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with. I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead. In January of next year, there will be a vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill, bipartisan sanction legislation that says, if Iran walks away from the table, sanctions will be re-imposed; if Iran cheats regarding any deal that we enter to the Iranians, sanctions will be re-imposed. It is important to let the Iranians know that from an American point of view, sanctions are alive and well.

Now, even if NIAC disagrees with Senator Graham and sanctions, it is clear that Graham is discussing leverage in order to win the best possible deal from Iran. He also states his support for the White House’s efforts to negotiate a solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute.

What is most noxious, however, is the notion that Congress is pursuing Israel’s interest above that of the United States. This reeks of the dual loyalty canard and appears right out of the spirit of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Now, I happen to disagree with the policy pursued by retired Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and John Limbert, both of whom serve on NIAC’s advisory board, but I sincerely hope that they are not embracing the dual loyalty calumny that the organization which they advise pursues. If they wish to win the policy debate, they should do so on the facts of Iranian behavior and the results of the diplomatic strategies which they advise, not on the basis of suggesting that anyone who holds a different point of view is un-American and in the service of a foreign state. The same holds true for retired congressman Wayne Gilchrest. Does Gilchrest really believe that the hundreds of congressmen and senators with whom he once advised take marching orders from Israel?

There is real reason for diplomatic strain between the United States and Iran. The list of American grievances includes the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing, the 1996 Khobar Towers attack, and the supply of explosively-formed projectiles to militias seeking to kill U.S. forces in Iraq. To suggest that Israel directs U.S. enmity toward Iran is to forget the last 35 years of Iran’s undeclared war against the United States. Let us hope that NIAC understands that charges of dual loyalty and other anti-Semitic tropes have no place in this policy debate but, if not, that Pickering, Limbert, and Gilchrest won’t soil their reputations on an organization that finds itself in the company of David Duke, Ron Paul, and other purveyors of conspiracy and hate.

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Is NIAC the Iran Lobby?

There has been a lot of controversy back-and-forth about whether the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) lobbies for the Islamic Republic of Iran. After an Iranian-American journalist referred to NIAC as a lobby group, NIAC sued him for defamation but ended up losing its case. While at the Washington Times, Eli Lake used documents revealed during that lawsuit’s discovery phase to suggest that NIAC was, indeed, illegally lobbying. Lake’s story apparently forced NIAC to amend its tax returns.

Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s policy director, now appears to push aside any pretense that NIAC is something other than Iran’s lobby. Speaking at the forthcoming “Expose AIPAC” conference, Abdi is featured on the “Training: Constituent Lobbying for Iran” panel. Oops.

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There has been a lot of controversy back-and-forth about whether the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) lobbies for the Islamic Republic of Iran. After an Iranian-American journalist referred to NIAC as a lobby group, NIAC sued him for defamation but ended up losing its case. While at the Washington Times, Eli Lake used documents revealed during that lawsuit’s discovery phase to suggest that NIAC was, indeed, illegally lobbying. Lake’s story apparently forced NIAC to amend its tax returns.

Jamal Abdi, NIAC’s policy director, now appears to push aside any pretense that NIAC is something other than Iran’s lobby. Speaking at the forthcoming “Expose AIPAC” conference, Abdi is featured on the “Training: Constituent Lobbying for Iran” panel. Oops.

Then again, in his university days, NIAC founder Trita Parsi made no secret of his goals. (Of course, another question might be asked of Chuck Hagel: Hagel sits on the board of the Ploughshares Fund, which channels money to NIAC. Now NIAC’s policy director is lobbying for Iran? I wonder whether Hagel feels that investment is worth it.)

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About that Fictional “Iranian Grand Bargain” Offer

Earlier this month, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian penned an op-ed in the New York Times offering advice about how to negotiate with Iranians. The piece was full of the usual sophistry, but one sentence caught my eye: “Following the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador to Iran reached out to Washington with an unofficial outline for a ‘grand bargain’ with Tehran that would cover everything from Iran’s nuclear program to its support for militant groups in the region.”

Mousavian chooses his words carefully: He is careful not to say what partisan American pundits like Nicholas Kristof or agenda-driven former journalists like Barbara Slavin so often declare: That the United States had dismissed an Iranian “grand bargain” offer.

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Earlier this month, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian penned an op-ed in the New York Times offering advice about how to negotiate with Iranians. The piece was full of the usual sophistry, but one sentence caught my eye: “Following the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador to Iran reached out to Washington with an unofficial outline for a ‘grand bargain’ with Tehran that would cover everything from Iran’s nuclear program to its support for militant groups in the region.”

Mousavian chooses his words carefully: He is careful not to say what partisan American pundits like Nicholas Kristof or agenda-driven former journalists like Barbara Slavin so often declare: That the United States had dismissed an Iranian “grand bargain” offer.

I explain here the genesis of the so-called offer and the illogic of those who, apparently motivated by their animosity toward George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, undercut their own professional credibility. What I did not know then—but only discovered with the release of the National Iranian American Council leader Trita Parsi’s emails as a result of a courtroom discovery process—was that an Iranian official had told Parsi point blank that the 2003 offer wasn’t Iranian. Parsi ignored that revelation and peddled fiction to journalists and in his books. Sometimes politics sells more than truth.

How ironic it is, then, that Kristof, Slavin, Parsi, and others embrace the idea that the Iranians offered a deal when both the Iranians dismiss it and senior officials sympathetic to engaging Iran like Richard Armitage and Condoleezza Rice also dismiss it.

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross’s] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
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As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross’s] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: [email protected] [mailto:[email protected]] On Behalf Of [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: [email protected]; [email protected]
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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