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The Iranian Regime Appeasement Lobby

A brief story of "appeasement lobby" and its influence in Washington. Launched by US corporations in 1990s to lift sanctions, it created proxy "Iranian-American" organizations, helped emergence of Tehran fabricated groups and high jacked the anti war movement

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The Iranian Regime Appeasement Lobby

 

 

Prepared By: Hassan Dai

November 2012,  iraniansforum.com

 

 

 

Table of contents


Background: The center of gravity in Washington                                            

 

Introduction:

Three decades of US policy with Iran: Naiveté and failure                                  

Jack Abramoff scandal and revelations about Iran lobby                        

The defamation lawsuit and lobby's internal documents                        

 

Story

Oil and trade Lobby campaign                                                                    

NIAC, and Iran's oil mafia                                                                

Track II meetings                                                                              

High jacking the peace movement                                                             

Money, lobby and political influence                                                        

Conclusion Thoughts     

                                                                                     

 

The Center of Gravity in Washington

On December 18, 2008, shortly after Barack Obama’s election, representatives of some 20 groups held their monthly meeting to discuss their lobby efforts to influence US policy toward a friendlier stance with Iran. The coordinator of this coalition declared that the group had become the “center of gravity on the Iran issue” in Congress.

This coalition was called the “Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran” (CNAPI), which brought together USA*Engage (a pro-trade lobby group representing large US corporations), Open Society, as well as peace and religious groups. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) coordinated this coalition and its lobby.

NIAC has been referred to as "the Iranian lobby in US" by the governmental press in Tehran and two of CNAPI's coalition partners, the Campaign Against Military Sanctions and Intervention in Iran (CASMII) and FOR, openly work with Ahmadinejad’s office in Tehran. (See documents)

An instance that showed CNAPI's influence was its successful lobby to prevent the nomination of Dennis Ross by President Obama as the Iran envoy in the State Department. The coalition prevented Ross's nomination, stating that he was considered to be hawkish towards Iran and finally, John Limbert, who is close to CNAPI and is 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 US administration, the coalition partners opposed to include 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 was active between 2007-2010 but many of the groups and individuals that participated in this coalition or supported its lobby have been active for the past two decades to shape US policy with Iran. They continue to work together and enjoy considerable influence in think tanks, the media and the US government. Since 2010 and the failure of Obama's overture toward Iran and start of tough sanctions, this lobby has been weekend but remains a determining force in Washington.

Introduction: Three decades of US policy with Iran: Naiveté and failure

Two words best define the policies of the United States toward Iran in the past 32 years: naiveté and failure.  The US policy towards Iran has been a failure.  Fundamentalists rule Iran with an iron fist. Their attitude toward the world has been demeaning, abusive, and hostile.  Their illegal, unwelcomed and malicious influence has been broadening in the region.  Their terrorist exploits is reaching way beyond the region to Europe and the Americas.  Iranian ayatollahs are at the door step of becoming a major nuclear player in the international arena.

The US policy toward Iran has been plagued with naiveté.  The US has given every dictator in the theocratic regime of Iran benefit of the doubt.  For three decades, administration after administrations held the ill-conceived hope that a moderate will emerge from the gloom of tyranny in Tehran who will extend them the olive branch.  

In September 2008, the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has been personally involved in dealing with Iran from the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, gave a speech in Washington  and masterfully defined the dominant aspect of US policy toward 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.” 

The “illusionary search for moderates” as Robert Gates put it, has driven American officials to being the subject of public mockery.  In 1986 President Reagan who sought friendship with “moderate” Rafsanjani secretly sent his National Security Advisor to Tehran.  In addition to the supplying arms requested by the Iranian regime, McFarlane also offered as souvenir a cake in the shape of a key, symbolizing a new opening in the US-Iran impasse. 

Later, Clinton’s illusions about “reformist” Khatami pushed him to ridicule when he addressed the UN general assembly in 2000.  The administration hoped for an “accidental” friendly encounter with the Iranian president at the UN.  The idea was to break the taboo of “engagement” and break the ice. What happened next was humiliatingly bizarre.  While Clinton was waiting in the UN hallways to shake hands with the Iranian president, Khatami hid in the men's room refusing to come out! 

But probably the most dramatic example of the American gullibility occurred in 2002-03 when George Bush’s representatives coordinated  the invasion of Iraq with the Iranian envoys. This invasion gave the clerical rulers of Tehran a historic and golden opportunity to strengthen their fundamentalist influence in Iraq, challenge the US presence, shape the future of this country and finally strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East.

President Obama is not an exception to this rule. In 2009, in the middle of the Iranian uprising, while millions were challenging the regime, he sent his delegates to sit down with the Supreme Leader’s envoys for futile nuclear negotiations.  In order to prepare for this meeting Obama had sent several secret messages, public letters and video greetings to the Iranian dictator. He had refrained from offering full support to the regime’s opponents. 

Obviously, at every turning point when the US policy makers arrived at an impasse with Iran and were ready to examine alternative policies, strangely, they were given advice and fresh hope that a new pragmatist, moderate, realist or reformist leader will emerge in Iran and would resolve US concerns. At every defining moment that the US should have changed the course, it was driven dragged back to the same path of failure and naiveté.

Are the US government, think-tanks, intellectuals and policy makers so inept that they cannot even learn from their repeated mistakes?  Are the Iranian ayatollahs so shrewd that they have outsmarted us constantly for more than thirty years?  The answer to both of these questions is no. 

This paper offers a new perspective: that the US foreign policy is influenced by various and opposing interest groups and lobbies. While the public attention has been primarily focused on Israeli lobbies and their influence in Washington, other lobbies including the powerful oil lobby have remained unnoticed and relatively ignored.

In 1997, large US corporations launched a vast lobby and media campaign promoting a friendlier policy with Iran and urging the government to remove sanctions. This business-oriented lobby created a favorable political environment for other lobbies and political organizations that opposed a harsh policy with Iran to become more active and vocal. In such an environment, groups and lobbies created by or tied to the Iranian regime mushroomed in Washington and became part of the political landscape.

This formidable political force with influence in mainstream media, think tanks, and academic centers, in addition to the US government, has been instrumental in the campaign to prevent any pressure against Iran and has gradually morphed into an Iran appeasement lobby. In many cases, this lobby has been pursuing the interests and wishes of the Iranian regime at the expense of US national interests.

A key player in this lobby is the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a small lobby organization in Washington, specifically its president Trita Parsi, who is in close relationship with the White House and the State Department.

Jack Abramoff Scandal and Revelations About the Iran Lobby

In 2005, the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal became public. Abramoff and his partners operated a most elaborately fashioned web of money for political favors. One of his main accomplices was Bob Ney, the former Congressman from Ohio.

On October 13, 2006, Ney pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison.

As the extent of Ney's corruption was revealed, many Iran policy observers who knew the Congressman and of his relentless efforts in favor of a "soft" policy with Iran asked a very simple question:  Why would a person that so readily made his services available to the highest bidder so passionately care for the Iranian rulers? What were Bob Ney's motives to advocate on behalf of the Mullahs? For almost ten years, Bob Ney had a young Iranian-Swede called Trita Parsi in his office working as foreign policy advisor.  Why would a lawmaker with no official role in foreign policy have a foreign policy advisor on Iran? (For Ney-Parsi relation see documents)

The Abramoff and Ney scandal revealed three affairs that were directly related to Tehran.

VIP airplane for Iranian leaders: The first affair involved Bob Ney's relation to two London-based businessmen who worked for the Iranian regime that tried to buy a VIP airplane for the Iranian leaders. Since the airplane's transfer to Iran was prohibited by US sanctions, they hired two Washington lobbyists, Roy Coffee and David Distefano to resolve this issue. Coffee was a top Washington lobbyist close to George Bush and was his former deputy campaign manager. Distefano was Ney's former chief of staff. (See documents)

The two lobbyists went to Congressman Ney for help to resolve the sanction issue and facilitate the deal. Ney travelled twice to London and was bribed by the two businessmen. In his plea agreement, Ney admitted receiving bribes from them.

An Iranian PAC to lobby against US sanctions on Iran: The second affair was revealed by Coffee. In a letter to the Dallas Morning News in February 2006, he explained his collaboration with Trita Parsi to create a lobby in Washington and remove sanctions against Iran.

"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 and that the US was missing out because we were the only country imposing sanctions on Iran since 1979. …  From this, I took Darius into 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, but we found that most Iranians do not want to get involved in politics because of their experiences in Iran during and after the revolution."

Among NIAC's internal documents released during the defamation lawsuit, there are several documents related to this affair including Parsi's memo written for Coffee titled: "Towards the Creation of an Iranian-American Lobby" in which he explained their strategy to use Iranian- Americans in a lobby campaign against US sanctions on Iran.

Iranian 2003 offer for grand bargain: The third affair was the alleged offer by Iran for a grand bargain with the US in 2003. Once again, Trita Parsi and his boss Bob Ney were at the center of this affair. In April of 2003, Sadegh Kharazi, the Iranian ambassador to France asked Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, to take the Iranian proposal to the US government. Strangely, the Swiss ambassador overruled his superior orders and instead of sending the proposal to the Swiss embassy in the US, travelled to Washington, met with Bob Ney and gave him the Iranian offer and Ney asked Trita Parsi to take care of  this issue. (See also Parsi's book p.246-247 and draft of Parsi's book obtained during the lawsuit)

According to Guldimann’s memo, the Iranian offer was so secret that only four people in Iran were informed:

"Kharazi told me that he had two long discussions with the leader on the roadmap. In those meetings which both lasted two hours, only President Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi were present. The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed.”

The secrecy implied that the Revolutionary Guards, the National Security Council, the cabinet ministers, and the Iranian parliament were all kept in the dark on this historical shift in Iranian foreign policy. Under such conditions, we note the unusually extraordinary level of trust between the Iranian regime, Bob Ney, and Trita Parsi which justified their role in this affair. (See this report)

The defamation lawsuit and NIAC's internal documents

These questions were the starting point for me, the present paper's author, to investigate Ney and Parsi's ties to the Iranian regime. In April 2007, I published the result of my investigation in an article titled “Iran’s Oil Mafia, Penetrating US Political System” detailing how Trita Parsi and his organization were supported, promoted, and trusted by the Iranian regime.

Immediately, six newspapers and websites inside Iran and close to the regime stepped forth to defend NIAC and Trita Parsi, attacking my reputation and accusing me of being an agent of the New Conservatives, AIPAC and Israel. The ultra-radical Ghods Daily wrote: "the Neocons attack the Iranian lobby in the US."  Then, Parsi and his colleagues in NIAC publically accused me of being a terrorist and warmonger.

But these accusations did not stop me and a growing number of critics. Consequently, in April 2008, NIAC filed a defamation lawsuit to crush me under the legal expenses and make an example out of me, shutting up other like-minded critics.

In 2009, the discovery process began and a small part of NIAC's internal documents became available. They showed the extent of NIAC's lobby in Washington and revealed the close ties and collaboration between Trita Parsi and Iranian officials. Twice, NIAC asked the judge to block the release of these documents to the press. The Judge denied NIAC's demand and the Washington Times published some of these documents in a front page story.

Senator Jon Kyl then sent an inquiry to the US Attorney general asking to investigate the group’s ties with the Iranian regime. NIAC's documents have since been arranged in a fact book posted on the Iranian American Forum website and are partly used in the present report.

The Verdict

On September 13, 2012, 53 months after the suit was filed, the court dismissed the case and the Federal Judge wrote:

"In sum, none of the communications from editors or other journalists provide any evidence that defendant had subjective doubts about his articles or willfully avoided the truth. (p.19)

... That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, shared blame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime. ..  After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime’s reputation in the United States." (p. 12)

In a second ruling, the court sanctioned NIAC for discovery abuses and untrue declarations to the court. The judge wrote:

"There is no question that plaintiffs have repeatedly tried to evade their discovery obligations... In awarding sanctions, the Court is mindful not just of the need to compensate defendant, but also of the need to deter plaintiffs from future discovery abuses." (p. 23)

 

 

 

The Story

Oil Lobby 1997

In 1992, Iran offered a $1 billion contract to US oil giant Conoco to develop offshore oil and gas fields in the Persian Gulf. At the time, Iran was also supporting terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in a campaign to destroy a US sponsored Israel-Palestine peace plan. The Iranian terrorism extended well beyond Middle East, namely the massacre of Jewish civilians in Argentina in 1994.

The US Congress and public opinion did not view the Conoco deal favorably and therefore the agreement was kept secret. The company started a lobby campaign to soften this opinion and convince the administration to give a green light to the deal.

Gary Sick, a Carter national security official, and Hooshang Amirahmadi carried this lobby. The Gulf 2000 project was launched and regular conferences were held. Op-eds appeared in newspapers in favor of better relations with Iran.

In March 1995, Conoco made its Iranian deal public but the Clinton administration intervened and issued an executive order to kill the deal. A year later in June 1996, Iranian terrorists bombed US military barrack in Khobar, Saudi Arabia and in September, the Congress passed Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). The horizon for Conoco and other US giants became bleak.

In 1997, Mohammad Khatami became president of Iran and the political environment was changed in favor of a new and friendly attitude toward Tehran. The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), representing more than 500 US corporations, launched an official lobby organization called USA*Engage to remove sanctions against Iran and Libya. Oil companies also became very active and helped create the American Iranian Council (AIC), an advocacy group led by Hooshang Amirahmadi who in an interviewwith a government newspaper in Iran called himself the "Iranian lobby in the US." In another interview, he declared that his lobby begun in early 1990s after consultation with Iranian ambassador to UN. In another interview, Amirahmadi told that he met Iranian President Ahmadinejad and ambassador to UN Zarif and asked  for support.

AIC's board included CEOs and Vice Presidents from Chevron, Conoco, Exxon and other oil corporations. AIC was mainly funded by these giants and between 1997-2001, this lobby was a determining force in Washington and influenced President Clinton's friendly attitude toward Iran.

AIC's activities and the large number of "experts," journalists and politicians, who participated in AIC's campaign exhibit the influence of oil lobby in Washington. (See image galleries)

This anti-sanction lobby reached its summit in 2001 when Congress planned to extend the ILSA. Oil CEOs met with George Bush, travelled to Tehran, and an unprecedented media and public opinion campaign was launched to prevent the extension of the sanction bill. Finally, the Congress extended the law and the lobby was defeated.

NIAC, and Iran's oil mafia

In 1999, Hossein Alikhani, an Iranian oil businessman living in Cyprus and chairman of "Center for world dialogue" organized a conference to discuss how to improve US-Iran relations and remove sanctions. Alikhani had been previously arrested by the FBI in 1991 and jailed in the US for violating the sanctions against Libya. In 2005, in a show of support to Alikhani, a court in Tehran demanded that the US embassy compound in Tehran be sold and the funds be given to him. (See documents)

Among participants in the 1999 conference were Richard Sawaya, chief lobbyist at oil giant Arco, Farrokh Mostofi, representing Shell company, and Bijan Khajehpour, chairman and founder of Tehran based Atieh Bahar, a consulting company that helps foreign oil companies and multinationals do business in Iran. (For Atieh Bahar, see documents)

The portfolio of Atieh shows a potpourri of engagements and partnerships with the Iranian regime including joint ventures, consulting, organizing policy conferences, facilitating the convergence of foreign and Iranian oil enterprises, in addition to representing and guiding the multinational foreign companies in their dealings with the Iranian regime. Atieh's Iranian customer list includes high level Iranian institutions like various banks and the parliament. Its subsidiaries have unmatched access to sensitive electronic data from government banks and institutions. Atieh is part of Iranian economic mafia controlled by various factions of the Islamic regime.

In the Cypress conference, Siamak Namazi (Atieh Bahar's managing director) was also present and, together with Trita Parsi, presented a project which argued that an Iranian-American lobby should be created to influence US policy with Iran and eventually remove sanctions. In their recommendations, they detailed how the Israeli lobby operates in Washington and suggested that its model should be followed:

1. Seminars in lobbying for Iranian-American youth and intern opportunities in Washington DC.

Arguably an Iranian-American lobby (which is different from a lobby group purely pursuing the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran) is needed in order to create a balance between the competing Middle Eastern lobbies. Without it, Iran-bashing may become popular in Congress again."

2. Increased awareness amongst Iranian-Americans and Americans about the effects of sanctions, both at home and in Iran.

3. The taboo of working for a new approach on Iran must be further legitimized.

In 2001, Parsi was hired by AIC president Hooshang Amirahmadi and moved to the US from Sweden. Soon after, he started consultation to create the grassroots lobby he had planned with Namazi. Consequently, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) was founded in late 2001 and officially started work in 2002.

Assisted by Washington lobbyist Roy Coffee and Congressman Bob Ney, Parsi tried to launch NIAC's lobby and recruit Iranian-Americans. But after 9 months of effort, they failed to attract Iranian-Americans and their lobby did not actually start until 2005 when Ahmadinejad became president.

NIAC's activities include lobbying in Congress against US sanctions, cooperating and coordinating with other groups that seek better relations with Iran, and providing an "Iranian voice" to the large-scale lobby by US corporations to lift the sanctions.

NIAC's internal documents clearly show that Tehran-based individuals who worked with the Iranian government helped Parsi to create NIAC. While Parsi was president of NIAC and lobbied in the US Congress, he was simultaneously hired and paid by Atieh Bahar in Tehran. (Also see, NIAC collaboration with Atieh)

NIAC's activities include lobby in Congress against US sanctions, cooperation and coordination with other groups that seek better relation with Iran (joint lobby with USAEngage). NIAC provides an "Iranian voice" to the large scale lobby by US corporations to lift the sanctions. (To see some example of NIAC lobby see, 1 - 2- -3- -4 -5 - 6)        

The internal documents show that Trita Parsi coordinated his activities with Iranian officials and Tehran based oil consultants. The US government cooperates with NIAC and some of court documents show that State Department asked NIAC to lobby the Congress on behalf of the administration regarding initiatives related to Iran. Parsi and NIAC brief and advise the government regularly, are invited to the White House and State Department officials participate in NIAC's event and speak at their conferences. (See report)

Track II meeting

The "Iran appeasement lobby" and its efforts to lift US sanctions were pushed back in 2001 when ILSA was extended for five years and the September 11 terrorist attacks created an unfavorable environment for a pro-Tehran lobby.

However the lobby did not remain inactive and continued their work in the media and think tanks and were present in the government. They launched Track II meetings with Iranians. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund that previously funded the AIC lobby became the main sponsor of these meetings that took place between 2002 and 2008 with 14 occurring in Sweden.

The Track II continued after 2008 and US representatives met several times with Iranians in Europe. The Iranian delegation even included M. Hashemi Samareh (Ahmadinejad's deputy). Trita Parsi facilitated these meetings and William Perry (Obama's National Security advisor in his election team), together with several lawmakers and officials, participated from the American side.

These meetings, combined with other initiatives, affected US policy with Iran as the illusion was kept alive that the Iranian regime would eventually compromise and US-Iran hostilities would be resolved.  Arguably, these meetings also influenced Obama in his 2009-2010 overture toward Tehran and his decision to not support the Iranian uprising in 2009 as he was most likely persuaded that a deal with Iran was within reach.

High jacking the peace movement

With the US invasion of Iraq, a vast and popular anti-war movement was created in the US that opposed George Bush's foreign policy in general and his Middle Eastern policy in particular. When Ahmadinejad became president and Iran resumed nuclear activities, hostilities between Iran and the West increased and the fear of a new war in the region became more real. Peace organizations believed that Bush's drive to invade Iraq stemmed from his hostility toward Iran and concluded that Washington sought a pretext to attack Iran.

The "Iran appeasement lobby" that was so far unable to attract and "use" the Iranian community in its "grassroots" lobby, profited from this new situation and launched a vast campaign to support and organize (highjack) the US peace and anti-war movement for its cause.

In a document obtained during the lawsuit titled "lobby groups" that was sent by Trita Parsi to his partner in Tehran, Siamak Namazi, its is possible to see how Parsi and his lobby partners planned to ally themselves with anti-war organizations and gradually morph them into their lobby partners. (See also: this report)

In 2006, the Iranian regime created a new organization in Europe and US called CASMII (Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran). With apparent "anti-imperialist" positions, CASMII was designed to recruit left and anti-war groups for the Iranian cause.

Most of CASMII's board members were also NIAC's members and the two organizations collaborated to penetrate and take over the peace movement. Hundreds of activists were selected and sent to Iran through organized tours to visit the country and meet targeted people. Upon their return, many of the activists became "full time" lobbyists for the Iranian cause. Many websites, radio programs, tours, conferences and rallies were organized in the US to portray the Iranian regime as the victim of US warmongering intentions. Iran's nuclear program was presented as peaceful and Iran’s involvement in terrorist activities was advertised as a lie fabricated by right wing media to demonize Iran and prepare for an invasion of the country.

The alliance between part of the American anti-war movement and the Iranian regime was best shown during Ahmadinejad's visit to New York in September 2008, when nearly two hundred peace leaders met with him, praised him, and promised to help Iran combat US belligerence. Even today, media outlets controlled by American left and anti-war organizations act as PR agencies for the Iranian regime.

NIAC and CASMII's efforts enabled the "Iran appeasement lobby" to launch CNAPI (the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran) and use these activists and their social networks in its pro-Tehran lobby enterprise.

Money and influence

Since 1993 and the start of an "organized" lobby in the US for a friendlier policy with the Iranian regime, the oil companies and US corporations have played a key role in providing political and financial support. AIC was a clear example of this support. USA*Engage, representing US corporations, has played an important role in this lobby and documents show NIAC-USA*Engage collaboration and joint lobbies in an effort to lift the sanctions.

The American trade lobby needs the presence of the Iranian community to justify a more friendly approach toward the Iranian regime. In 1998, the Associated Press reported on this issue and wrote: "Gary Marfin, Conoco's manager for government affairs, said the company's alliance with Iranian-Americans is part of its general opposition to economic sanctions...."

Additionally, Peter H. Stone wrote in the National Journal that: "Red Cavaney, the president of the American Petroleum Institute and his allies are in the midst of a lobbying campaign aimed at persuading members of Congress and Administration officials to relax sanctions against investments in Iran an. oil behemoths such as Chevron Corp., Conoco, Exxon-Mobil Corp., and Phillips Petroleum Co. have been working aggressively alongside big business coalitions, such as USA*Engage, a group of 670 U.S. companies, to fight unilateral sanctions... For extra help on the issue, oil companies are also banking on a grassroots organization of Iranian-Americans to lend a hand.”

In Trita Parsi's memo to Roy Coffee, he explained the role of US corporations in this lobby. He wrote:

"Although the mission of the proposed lobby should be to improve relations between the US and Iran and open up opportunities for trade, the initial targets should be less controversial issues such as visas and racial profiling/discrimination...

Nonetheless, despite its predominantly business oriented constituency, it is essential that the lobby creates a “human face” for its aims and goals. AIPAC successfully painted the opponents of the Iran Libya Sanctions Act as “greedy businessmen who had no scruples when it came to doing business with terrorist regimes.” The oil companies failed to characterize their campaign with “human concern for the well-being of innocent Iranians stuck with a dictatorial regime” or “support for the poor mid-Western family father who lost his job due the sanctions.”  The human element is essential both when it comes to attracting support among Iranian-Americans and when it comes to winning the debate and the votes on the Hill.

FINANCING

Iranian-American organizations have in the past targeted the oil companies for financial support. This strategy has been a two-egged sword. On the one hand, the oil companies have been relatively dedicated to the cause and have been generous supporters of groups such as AIC. On the other hand, oil companies have a bad reputation among Iranian-Americans and are easily depicted as greedy and insensitive to human rights concerns in the media.

It would be a wise strategy of the proposed lobby to seek limited support from US oil companies. Oil companies should not be the initial sponsors of the lobby and their share of the lobby’s budget should perhaps not exceed 10 per cent. Diversification is the key.

The lobby should target business with positive images that have a strategic interest in trade with Iran. These companies include Motorola, who would benefit greatly from the 70 million strong Iranian telecom market, IT companies who could benefit from Iran’s cheap yet highly skilled labor (just as they do in India), construction and irrigation companies, soft drink companies (displeasure with US policies in the Middle East has allowed Iranian soft drink companies to grab market shares from Coca Cola and Pepsi in many Persian Gulf countries) and fast food chains."

However, it is difficult to track the money flow from the business sector to NIAC since they do not use a transparent and direct route to do so. A good example is the large donation made by a London-based Iranian businessman to the US-based Brookings Institution.

Vahid Alaghband is the chairman of the Balli group in London with multiple large holdings inside Iran. He was sanctioned by the US treasury for violation of the sanction laws and selling three US aircrafts to Iran. (See also, Iranian web of influence )

In a series of emails obtained during the lawsuit, Alaghband asked a cultural foundation in California to receive his $900,000 donation and then send that money to Brookings Institution where Suzanne Maloney leads a program and campaigns in favor of lifting sanctions on Iran.

In a separate series of emails obtained during the lawsuit, it is clear that the US government also used the same "detour" to fund designated organizations. In 2007, NIAC became the target of public outrage when it was revealed that the organization was receiving Congressional funds while simultaneously lobbying the Congress to cut funds designated for human rights and civil society organizations that opposed the Iranian regime.

As a result, NIAC declared that it would deny further government funding. Meanwhile, the US Consulate in Dubai decided to hire NIAC in its outreach program toward Iranians (this is by itself highly problematic). We see in email exchanges between the two groups that US government tried to mislead the public, hiding the origin of funding by giving the funds to NIAC through a detour.

There are two main foundations that support the NIAC in the US, the Ploughshares Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Their millions of dollars in grants go to the organizations, media outlets, journalists, Iran experts, and programs that campaign in favor of an alliance with the  Iranian regime.

This support is justified by "conflict resolution" claims, but it goes beyond this and flirts with direct support for the Iranian regime. A clear example is the Ploughshares fund (a main contributor to NIAC) and its financial support to Hossein Mousavian, Iran's former ambassador in Germany in the 1990s, when his embassy was the headquarters  for the coordination of a vast campaign of terror against Iranian dissidents throughout Europe.

The Ploughshares Fund has been funding Mousavian at Princeton university, helping him write a memoir and even organized a series of lecture programs in which Mousavian "uniquely" lobbied in favor of the Iranian regime.

Another example is its financial support for an Iran program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where for the past several years, many fellows, grantees, and guests have campaigned in favor of friendship with Tehran. Shockingly, this funding has given Atieh Bahar firm officials from Tehran the opportunity to be invited to the center’s events numerous times, and Namazi even received funds from the center.

Concluding Thoughts

The United States’ inability to develop, implement and sustain a cohesive, balanced, and prudent policy toward Iran has been devastating.  The cost of this confusion and inaction includes significant loss of credibility and influence in the region, loss of commerce, loss of the trust of the Iranian people, and last but not least, the loss of life of American men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.    

A root cause of this confusion is the persistent efforts by NIAC to redirect the American policy to benefit them. As US decision makers weigh the options toward Iran, it is necessary to reassess past policies and failures and in this regard, the first step is to examine the influence of the “appeasement lobby.”