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State Department the bastion of appeasement toward Iran

Hassan Dai, Kayvan Kaboli, 17 November 2012

State Department's continued support to NIAC and its assistance to the Iranian regime's officials to come to the US, recycle as scholars in the best universities and lobby if favor of regime shows a desire to maintain back channels to the Iranian rulers and appease them

In early 2009, when newly elected President Obama was forming his administration, there were some indications that Dennis Ross would be selected as the "Iran envoy" in the State Department. This nomination was bad news for a coalition of groups that lobbied hard to impose a friendlier policy with Iran. They considered Ross to be pro-Israeli and therefore hawkish towards Tehran. They started a large scale campaign to prevent his entry to the State Department.

This coalition was the “Campaign for a new American policy on Iran” (CNAPI) that brought together USA*Engage (pro-trade lobby, representing large US corporations), Open Society, peace and religious groups. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) coordinated this coalition and its lobby. The coalition considered itself to be the “center of gravity on Iran issue” in the Congress.

CNAPI launched a successful lobby and prevented Ross's nomination and consequently, John Limbert, close to CNAPI and a member of NIAC advisory board  took office as the senior Iran official at the State Department.

In a May 2008 memo, discussing CNAPI's recommendation policy paper for the US administration, the coalition partners opposed the inclusion of the issue of human rights violations in Iran because "the language might make it more difficult for the Campaign members who have developed and maintain contacts with government officials inside of Iran."

CNAPI's campaign to prevent Ross's entry to the State Department was not surprising. A cursory review of the State Department's role in designing the US policy with Iran in the past three decades reveals consecutive failed overtures including President's Obama's extended hand in 2009 while millions of Iranians were in the streets challenging the regime, suggests that this Department is probably the last stronghold to abandon the appeasement policy with the Iranian regime. Thus, it is much cherished and protected by CNAPI, NIAC and other similar groups.

In fact, a few days before the October 2009 meeting between US and Iran, Hillary Clinton dined with a group of "Iran experts", to discuss the US policy. Almost all the invitees (except one), were supporting friendship with the Iranian regime.

The State Department's attitude towards the Iranian regime and the policy it preaches is well illustrated in its special and privileged relation with NIAC and the apparent effort to promote this organization as the representative of the Iranian-American community. NIAC and its president Trita Parsi are called "the Iranian lobby in US" by governmental press in Tehran and are strongly criticized by Iranian-Americans because of their close relation and collaboration with Iranian officials. Two of NIAC's partners, CASMII and FOR (Iran program) openly work with Ahmadinejad's office in Tehran. (See documents)

A few weeks ago, NIAC lost a defamation lawsuit it had brought against one of its critics. The court dismissed the suit and in a second ruling, the judge punished NIAC for discovery abuses and ordered them to pay a significant part of the defendant's legal expenses.  NIAC's internal documents released during the lawsuit, reveals its lobby in favor of the Iranian regime.

While there are approximately 1.400.000 Iranians living in the US, the State Department continues to support NIAC that represents only a few hundred members after 10 years of existence, millions of dollars spent and services from the best public relation firms, media coverage and financial and political support from the most powerful circles in Washington.

The more NIAC is discredited within Iranian community, the more it is revered by the State Department. While NIAC's relation with the Iranian regime has caused profound disdain towards this organization, for the State Department, NIAC's connection to the regime is valued and promoted. 

Under such circumstances, NIAC and Parsi appreciate the "value" of this connection in the Washington Bazaar. In an email sent by Parsi in 2006 when he was coordinating his lobby with the Iranian ambassador at UN, he asked for funds and wrote: "Few analysts in Washington have the access of Dr. Parsi to decision makers in Iran."

Furthermore, Parsi and NIAC facilitated the track II meetings between the US delegation and Iranian officials in 2008-2009 in Europe, including meeting with Ahmadinejad's deputy Hashemi Samareh. In a series of astonishing emails we can see the State Department officials coordinates a joint lobby in Congress to raise funds for an initiative that would allegedly facilitate better relation between Iran and the US.

In another series of emails, the US Consular official based in Dubai is asking NIAC to help the Consulate in its outreach program towards Iranians. This is by itself highly problematic but the American official goes further and suggests funding NIAC through a detour in order for the funds to be untraceable.

The complicity between the State Department and NIAC is beyond comprehension in another series of emails. A State official asks Parsi about the Iranian regime's motivations in foreign policy and how best the US can approach the regime. Parsi burst into an emotional defense of Tehran and depicts the regime as a victim of US belligerent policies. Strangely enough, the State Department official agreed with Parsi.

NIAC is the administration's main interlocutor on Iran issues, US embassies continue to invite Parsi to speak at events organized and sponsored by their embassy, he is invited to brief the State Department officials, teach classes for them (paid for) and most prominent State's officials speak at NIAC's event.

State Department's support of NIAC is mainly due to its desire to have a back door channel to the Iranian regime. This further explains why so many Iranian diplomats and high ranking officials come to the US, are recycled as scholars in the best universities and get political and financial support to lobby in favor of the Iranian regime.

Two recent examples are Hossein Mousavian, former ambassador to Germany at a time when his embassy was the operational center for a vast campaign of assassination against Iranian dissidents. He is currently a fellow in Princeton University. Abbas Maleki, former deputy foreign minister and advisor to the Supreme Leader is a fellow in MIT after he finished a fellowship in Harvard.

The State Department's policy to support NIAC and host Iranian officials and the illusion that they will help the US administration to find a reasonable and moderate faction or official in Iran is naiveté at best. This illusion has been the root cause of US failure toward Iran. In September 2008, the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had been personally involved in dealing with Iran from the very inception of the Islamic Republic, gave a speech in Washington  and masterfully defined the dominant aspect of US policy towards Iran in the past three decades: (official transcript)

 “I have been involved in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate for 30 years. (Laughter.)... Every administration since then has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed. Some have gotten into deep trouble associated with their failures, but the reality is the Iranian leadership has been consistently unyielding over a very long period of time in response to repeated overtures from the United States about having a different and better kind of relationship.” 

While Secretary Gates' audience burst into laughter, the United State’s inability to develop a cohesive policy toward Iran has been devastating.  The cost of this confusion and inaction has been significant loss of credibility and influence in the region, loss of the trust of the Iranian people, and last but not least the loss of  life of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.