In 1996, Parsi, an Iranian-Swedish student living in Sweden met Siamak Namazi from Tehran, a partner and director at Tehran based firm Atieh Bahar, a group of companies that help foreign corporations to do business in Iran. Atieh Bahar has close ties to the regime and maintains numerous joint ventures with the government.
Parsi's lobby over the past 15 years has been shaped by his ties to Atieh Bahar and Namazi family. He worked for them and was paid by them, they planned and worked together to create a lobby in US, advance this lobby and Parsi sent regular reports to Atieh Bahar's directors about his lobby.
In 1997, a year after he met Siamak Namazi, Parsi founded a small lobby organization called "Iranians for International Cooperation" (IIC), to pressure US Congress to lift sanctions and adopt a friendlier policy with Iran. This small lobby organization was limited to send letters and petitions to the Congress.
Parsi's main partner was Bob Ney with whom he coordinated this lobby. Parsi knew Ney since early 1990s when he came from Sweden to US as an exchange high school student and was hosted by then Ohio Senator Ney.
In 1999, Parsi and his Atieh Bahar partners planned for a bigger role in US-Iran policy arena in Washington. Parsi and Siamak Namazi co-wrote a project that they presented in a conference in Cypress. In this paper, they argued that an Iranian American lobby should be created in Washington to compete with AIPAC and legitimize a friendlier policy with Iran.
The Cypress conference was organized by Hossein Alikhani, an oil businessman who spent some time in US prison for violating US sanctions against Libya. In Cypress conference, Bjan Khajehpour, the chairman of Atieh Bahar and Baquer Namazi, Siamak's father were also present.
In 2000, Parsi went to Iran and together with Atieh Bahar directors and Baquer Namazi, elaborated on their plan to create an Iranian American lobby in Washington.
Creation of NIAC
In 2001, Parsi moved to US and started consultation for creating a lobby to remove sanctions against Iran. In a document obtained during the lawsuit, Parsi declared that Baquer Namazi from Tehran instructed him in his efforts to create this lobby. At that time, Baquer Namazi worked with an Iranian deputy minister.
In October 2001, Parsi and few friends created NIAC as a 501c nonprofit organization with legal restriction to lobby. Parsi planned to create a parallel organization that would undertake the lobby activities of NIAC and started to work with two Washington lobbyists Roy Coffee and Dave DiStefano. At the time, both lobbyists were also working with Bob Ney to help a London based arm dealer to remove US sanctions and purchase a VIP airplane for Iranian leaders.
In a letter to Roy Coffee, Parsi wrote that his lobby aims to remove sanctions against Iran but focusing on other issues such as discrimination against Iranians would help to acquire credit in the Iranian American community.
Parsi's collaboration with two lobbyists failed to get sufficient support and after 9 months, they stopped their plan.
2006: Start of NIAC lobby
In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in Iran and the regime adopted a more confrontational policy over the nuclear issue and the prospect for UN and American sanctions against Iran increased.
At this time, Trita Parsi assisted by Siamak Namzi from Atieh Bahar and Javad Zarif the Iranian ambassador to UN, started a large-scale lobby to influence US administration and prevent harsher policy and sanctions against Iran.
This time, Parsi had much more favorable political environment to advance his lobby as the US invasion of Iraq has created a strong opposition to US policy in the region and the anti war and left organizations had become more vocal against confrontation between US and Iran.
NIAC's internal documents show that Parsi and his lobby partners joined these anti war groups and successfully morphed their campaign to become a lobby endeavor entirely in favor of the Iranian regime that asked the removal of all pressures against Tehran and depicted Israel and AIPAC as the root cause of hostility between US and Iran.
During 2006-7, Parsi coordinated his lobby with Javad Zarif then the Iranian ambassador at UN. After meeting him several times, Parsi launched "Iran negotiation project" and lobbied the Congress members for negotiation with Iran and arranged the meeting between American officials and the Iranian ambassador.
In 2006, Zarif gave Parsi a copy of the so-called "grand bargain" offer that was supposedly sent by Iran to US in 2003. Parsi gave the document to the press and launched a campaign to depict Iran as the party that seeks dialogue and peace and the US as the party seeking confrontation and war. This campaign was successful to influence public opinion and help to prevent harsher policy against Iran.
During 2008-2009, Parsi and NIAC facilitated the meeting between US officials and Ahmadinejad's delegation. Several meetings were held in Europe and in New York and NIAC lobbied the Congress members to meet with Iranian officials.
During the 2008-2010, NIAC coordinated a large coalition of some 20 groups known as CNAPI (Campaign for New American policy on Iran) that brought together representatives from USA*Engage (pro-trade lobby), Open Society, left, peace and religious groups. Two of the coalition members FOR and CASMII, with close ties to NIAC, have been collaboration with the Iranian government and was assisted by the regime to attract the American peace groups and use them in a large scale grass root lobby aimed at easing pressure against Iran.
CNAPI enjoyed considerable influence on US policy and was successful in its campaign to prevent the nomination of Deniss Ross as the Iran coordinator official at the Department of State.
Following the Iranian uprising in 2009 and the Iranian regime's unwillingness to respond to Obama's extended hand, the policy preached by NIAC and its lobby partners have been deeply discredited and therefore their influence has diminished in Washington.
However, NIAC remains the leading voice in Washington to ask for a friendlier policy with Tehran and in its campaign, NIAC is supported by interest groups that seek accommodation and friendship with the Iranian regime.