Binding accountability for Iran’s suppression of its population to nuclear issues and Iran’s meddling in Iraq amounts to doing the bidding of the ruling ayatollahs.
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president Trita Parsi have organized a panel in the US House of Representatives on July 26th, 2007, titled “Human Rights in Iran and US Foreign Policy Options.”1 According to the published agenda, representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will participate. The sponsors of the program (NIAC and Trita Parsi) are key players in the lobbying enterprise of Tehran’s ayatollahs in the United States. The Iranian regime’s violations of human rights have reached unprecedented levels. Its barbaric suppression of women, workers, students and dissidents, and the stoning of a man after 11 years of imprisonment, have been the subject of broad international condemnation. The reason Iran’s lobby is organizing the program is twofold:
1. To present “human rights” as a negotiating item on the “engagement” table with hopes of having human rights entities argue for Tehran-friendly rapprochement, easing of sanctions, and tolerance of a nuclear Iran. In a nut shell, the lobby’s message is that the more the West pressures the regime, the more violent it becomes; hence, lift the pressure.
2. To keep the Ayatollahs’ friends and inner circle in control of international reaction to Tehran’s human rights abuses.
The Iranian regime’s lobby has continuously tried to justify Iran’s clerical behavior and especially its record of human rights violations, by arguing that its causes are external factors and coercive US policies. If Iranian-American scholars are arrested, blame the US administration for allocating funds for Iranian activists. If Ahmadinejad has embarked on a policy of total repression inside the country and antagonism abroad, blame the US administration for the famous axis of evil speech and not supporting Khatami.
At the infamous Holocaust conference, Ahmadinejad declared that “Israel should be wiped off the map.” Trita Parsi and his cohorts did not condemn this outrageous act, but rather launched a campaign directed by Siamak Namazi (Parsi’s main partner in Tehran) to blame the “neocon” media which allegedly misinterpreted Ahmadinejad’s declarations.2
The lobby’s PR tactic on the human rights issue in Iran is best presented in Trita Parsi’s own declarations. In 2005, he called for linking improvement of the human rights situation in Iran to a guarantee of security for the mullahs and the lifting of sanctions.3
While the world has focused on discussions over Tehran's nuclear capability, human rights in Iran have suffered severe setbacks . . . With the rest of the world distracted by the nuclear issue, anti-democratic forces in Iran have clamped down on the Iranian democracy movement . . . For Tehran, a nuclear arsenal is only really useful as a deterrent against possible US aggression. Iran does not need a nuclear deterrent against any other Middle Eastern country . . . Only security guarantees from the US, as part of a broader political arrangement, can convince Iran to agree to lasting compromises in the nuclear area.
The mullahs’ message in this article is clear: If the West does not guarantee their uninterrupted rule (“security”) by providing ample financial resources (elimination of sanctions) and allowing an unimpeded path to superpower status through development of nuclear capabilities, the regime will continue to suppress, kill and torture the Iranian people.
Binding accountability for Iran’s barbaric suppression of the population to nuclear issues and Iran’s meddling in Iraq per the demands of their US lobby, amounts to doing the bidding of the ruling ayatollahs. The participation of international human rights organizations in this charade would be a grave mistake.
NIAC, Trita Parsi and The Iranian Regime
Officially founded in 2002, NIAC is one of the Iranian regime’s lobbying arms in the US. In a recent article, I wrote about NIAC and its critical role as a lobbying node for Tehran’s rulers.4,5
In order to fully understand the relation between NIAC and Tehran, we should refer to several figures directly involved in NIAC's creation. First and foremost is Bob Ney, a current federal prisoner and former Ohio Congressman. Ney reportedly received bribes from lobbyists and two international arms dealers in a conspiracy to circumvent sanctions prohibiting the sale of US-made airplane parts to Tehran.6,7,8 At the time, Trita Parsi was Ney’s assistant for Iran-related matters.9
Then, there are two of Ney’s accomplices in his relations with the arms dealers. These two are well-known Washington lobbyists Roy Coffee and Dave DiStefano. Roy Coffee, in a letter to the Dallas Morning News in February 2006 justifying his relationship with Ney and the arms dealers, discussed their collaboration with Trita Parsi in creating an Iranian-American lobby in 2002.10 In this letter, Coffee described the events following the meeting of his former classmate Darius Baghai (who had just returned from Iran) with Bob Ney:
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.
One of the most important figures behind the creation of NIAC is Siamak Namazi, who along with his sister and brother, controls the Atieh Bahar enterprise, a major umbrella firm for several companies in Iran. Atieh’s customers include the foreign corporations who wish to do business in Iran and have no option but to bribe officials.
Recent fiascos involving Atieh’s customers’ corrupted dealings with the Iranian regime (such as Norway’s Statoil12 or the CEO of the French oil company Total SA13) has not changed Namazi’s prominent place inside the dominant spheres of power in Tehran. Namazi’s enterprise continues to provide networking and computer services for almost all Iranian banks, parliament, and other important institutions. Namazi’s groups monitor nearly all Iranian economic and political activities and have access to the country’s most sensitive data.14 One of the Atieh Bahar’s affiliated companies is Azar Energy, which is in partnership with the Iranian government in major oil projects and is a part of the Mullah’s oil mafia.15
In 1999, Trita Parsi, who was then living in Sweden, and Siamak Namazi, living in Tehran, presented a project in which they explained how to create an Iranian lobby in Washington. This roadmap for creating NIAC and its modus operandi was presented at the invitation and arrangement of Hossein Alikhani at a conference called “Dialogue and Action Amongst the People of Iran and America” (DAPIA) that Alikhani hosted in Cypress in 1999.16 Alikhani is a former felon who in 1992 pled guilty to charges of violating anti-terrorist sanctions and spent some time in US federal prisons.17 Recently Iran’s ayatollahs awarded him the deed for the US embassy complex in Tehran18 for his pain and suffering in American prisons. The true reason for this very generous $1.0 billion dollar reward should be sought elsewhere.
The roadmap for the lobby in the US is described in the paper titled “Iranian-Americans: The bridge between two nations.”19 This report comprises the manifesto and roadmap of the new Iranian lobby in the US. In this paper, the authors suggest 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” is AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee). The pillars of the road map are: to give 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 Iran’s cleric rulers for the Iranian Diaspora; and to improve the image of Iran’s government abroad.
Once NIAC was created in 2002, Roy Coffee and Distefano organized a lobbying training class for NIAC in a restaurant in Washington DC area.20,21 On January 29th, 2003, Bob Ney organized a fundraiser for NIAC.22 This was at the same time that the two London-based felons related to the Iranian government had hired the Washington lobbyists and were bribing Bob Ney.
On December 28, 2006, the governmental newspaper Aftab in Iran published an interview with Trita Parsi.23 In his introduction, the editor underlined the role of Parsi’s lobby on behalf of the Iranian regime. Next to Parsi’s photo, the article’s title seems interesting: “The Iranian Lobby Becomes Active.” The translation of parts of the paper follows:
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. The role of unofficial diplomacy (lobbying) has been correctly underlined by experts . . .
On September 19, 2006, the former head of the Iran Interest section in Washington, Ambassador Faramarze Fathnejad, raved about Trita Parsi and NIAC’s efforts, noting “the importance of relations 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.”24
To this date Trita Parsi and NIAC have tenaciously followed their declared roadmap and have worked hard to improve the image of Tehran’s rulers.
Trita Parsi and the Violations of Human Rights in Iran
In order to understand the Iranian regime’s goal of organizing the “human rights panel” in Washington, we should first examine Trita Parsi’s past activities on the issue of human rights in Iran. In this regard, Parsi has meticulously followed his boss, Bob Ney.
In his famous speech in June 2001 before the American Iranian Council (AIC), Ney criticized the US government and stressed that Iran “has a freely elected president and a parliament.” Ney promised the launching of a citizen’s lobby to educate the American lawmakers about Iran.25 In 2002 NIAC was founded. Over the next several years, Ney relentlessly opposed every single bill criticizing the Iranian regime. He countered such bills by presenting a rival bill. Naturally Trita Parsi’s role was to provide the “citizen’s support” through sending letters and contacting lawmakers. NIAC continuously assisted Ney’s defense of the Iranian regime.26
Parsi’s efforts have not been limited to helping Bob Ney. For instance, in 2000, the human rights activists protesting Kamal Kharazi’s presence in UCLA disturbed the Iranian foreign minister’s speech. While Trita Parsi had always refrained from condemnation of the torture, mass executions, rapes of women in prison, and stoning consistently carried out by Tehran’s mullahs, he was outraged by this event and the alleged deprivation of Kharazi’s rights. He wrote an article, “The need for genuine human rights activists.”
By selectively quoting statements of the U.N. Special Representative for Human Rights in Iran, Parsi painted a rosy picture of the human rights situation in Iran.
. . . significant progress has become evident in a number of areas and sums up the report with the following words: Overall, progress is certainly being made and, in the Special Representative's view, it is very likely to continue, perhaps even accelerate.
Parsi then harshly criticized the human rights groups that protested the speech of Tehran’s Foreign Minister at UCLA:
It is quite disturbing to witness groups that title themselves as Human Rights activists, openly and blatantly opposing the freedom of speech of an individual, no matter how despised he or she may be . . . Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that cannot be denied to anyone — including a person accused of violating other people's human rights or guilty of representing a government that continues to show inadequate respect for these rights. It was therefore a sad spectacle to witness the noisy opposition by these so-called Human Rights groups to Kharazi's right to free expression at UCLA.
For Mr. Parsi, “noisy opposition” at the speech of the envoy of an oppressive regime is a “quite disturbing” violation of “fundamental human rights” which “undermines the very idea” of human rights. He refrains from offering similar condemnation of the torture, mass executions, rapes of women in prison, and stoning that is consistently carried out by Tehran’s mullahs. Nonviolent verbal protests are, for Parsi, a “sad spectacle” of “intimidation” that we should deplore and denounce, but violent, misogynous, and well-documented oppression should be addressed with “respect and dialogue:”
We need to implement and nurture a culture of mutual respect and dialogue, and, once and for all, turn our backs on intimidation, verbal aggression and intolerance.
NIAC’s sister organization: CASMII: denying the violation of human rights in Iran
In December 2005, Abbas Edalat, a London-based computer engineer, along with several pro-regime activists, founded the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII).28
On January 6, 2006, Jon Tirman from MIT, one of Parsi’s guests for the July 26th event, hosted a meeting for Edalat to launch CASMII in the US. This new organization was primarily composed of Mr. Parsi’s circle. Six members of CASMII’s board and advisory (the majority at the time) belong to NIAC and Mr. Parsi’s former organization, Iranians for International Cooperation (IIC). These were M. Ala, S. Mostarshed, A. Patico, M. Navab, J. Fakharzadeh, and D. Pourkessali.29 Alex Patico, the US coordinator of CASMII, is also listed as one of NIAC’s founders and its treasurer.30 Indeed, CASMII is NIAC’s offspring.31,32
In step with Mr. Parsi, his cohorts have engaged in silencing the regime’s critics. Two short examples are adequate evidence. One example is included below. In May 2006, one of the anti-war movement’s groups released a petition called “Iran: Neither U.S. aggression, nor theocratic repression.”33 In this petition, there was a mild reference to the Iranian regime’s record of human rights violations. CASMII released a statement titled, “Opposing Theocratic Repression in Iran or Playing into Hands of US Warmongers?”, in which Mr. Parsi’s cohorts strongly condemned the petitioners’ stance against the Iranian regime:
It is regrettable that your petition caves into US propaganda by devoting more space in its text to condemnation of the Iranian regime, which is to a large extent based on fallacies, inaccuracies and exaggerations, than to opposing the US warmongers. As citizens or residents of western countries, our essential duty is to oppose the aggressive and imperial policies of our own elected governments which we face and can impact rather than present a misleading and condescending picture of the internal situation in Iran and promote our version of "democracy" for a country with a different culture than ours. Rather than joining the bias Western media and condemning Iran for human rights violations . . . The war crimes and the gross violations of human rights committed by the coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the human rights issues in Israel, and the Arab client states of the United Sates, as well as the violations of the U.S. Constitution, international renditions, Guantanamo Bay, and torture, will remain our main area of public focus.
CASMII’s chief in the U.S. is Rostam Pourzal, who like Edalat and Parsi is a strong advocate of Tehran’s rulers. For instance, in June of 2006 a women’s rally in Tehran was brutally crushed by the police. The police brutalities were widely reported by international media and human rights organizations. Pourzal came to the regime’s rescue, and in an article titled, “What Really Happened in Tehran,”:35
Contrary to dispatches by news services, I learned from an eyewitness whom I infinitely trust that he saw no beating or gassing of the demonstrators. Now I quote from his email directly: I witnessed a few women protesters being asked by some female police officers to walk away. In response the protestors [sic] started screaming hysterically at the officers and accused them of beating them, an accusation which looked unsound. "Why are you beating us?," shouted a woman protestor at a female police officer, who was visibly shaken and became speechless at such an accusation. Small crowds of bystanders would also converge on these places to see what is going on, as it is typical in the Iranian culture. I did not see any expression of sympathy by these bystanders and onlookers for the cause of the protestors. If, for example, equal rights for women are actually not as popular in Iran as we wish, we would be better off facing the facts and asking what we are doing wrong, instead of inventing excuses or blaming the messenger. I was stunned during a recent visit to Iran to find that President Ahmadinejad is quite popular among women from all walks of life.
Mr. Parsi’s cohorts in CASMII are so concerned about protecting the image of Tehran’s mullahs on the human rights issues that even Shirin Ebadi the Nobel laureate is not safe from their attacks. After her call to the international community to raise the human rights issue in their negotiations with the Iranian regime, Rostam Pourzal smeared her in his article titled “Dancing to Western Music.”
NIAC and its sister organizations have rarely raised the issue of human rights in Iran. Nonetheless, like clockwork, those rare occasions parrot several predictable claims, namely that the human rights situation in Iran is improving; that the main reason for human rights violations is pressure from the West or resistance from the victims and the oppressed; and that those who question the regime’s brutalities violate the rights of Iran’s rulers. Invariably, the recommendations are to increase kindness toward the ayatollahs, to offer more carrots, and to develop pundits of a more Tehran-friendly breed.
Endnotes = Original article
Hassan Dai is an independent researcher and writer who worked closely with two experienced investigative reporters inside Iran to explore and expose Iran's lobbying enterprise in the United States.firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more articles in Foreign Affairs, National Defense.
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