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Gary Sick and Iranian regime, a case study

Hassan Dai, 20 Jan. 2013

Since 1993 when Sick was supported by oil giants and started his advocacy for friendship with Tehran, he has remained the most constant defender of Iranian regime

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Once again, the Iranian regime has found itself in the hot seat and as usual, an army of lobbyists and self-proclaimed Iran experts have embarked on damage control. In early January, the Library of Congress released a new report on Iran's infamous intelligence ministry, its operational web and its 30.000 staff. The report is supposed to help the US government and Congress to counter the Iranian threat and defend US national security.  But Gary Sick a former National Security staff and a leading voice in the pro-engagement circles, vehemently criticized the report and declared that "the entire Federal Research Division study has all the appearance of a very cheap piece of propaganda and should not be trusted."

Just a week earlier, when President Obama enacted a law to check Iran’s influence in Latin America, Sick declared that "there is some parallels with the 1950s, when many American politicians saw a communist under every bed, now they see an Iranian under every bed.”

For Sick, the threat posed by the Iranian Mullahs is exaggerated or non-existent. Regarding Iran's nuclear program he wrote in last November that "The hysteria about what might happen with a nuclear Iran — quite apart from the improbability of that actually happening — is hugely exaggerated."

A year earlier, when Iran was caught in plotting a terrorist attack in Washington, Sick was again defending the Iranian regime. He declared: “I find this very hard to believe. In fact, this plot, if true, departs from all known Iranian policies and procedures. To be sure, Iran has plenty of reasons to be angry at both the United States and Saudi Arabia. They attribute the recent wave of assassinations of physics professors and students, as well as the intrusion of the Stuxnet worm, to the U.S. and Israel. And the king of Saudi Arabia is reliably reported to have called for the U.S. to bomb Iran."

Sick is a revealing example of those who constantly mask  the danger posed by the Iranian regime and as a result, prevent appropriate policy to defend US national security. A good case is Iran's involvement in Iraq. Since the US invasion in 2003, every US ambassadors, military commander and envoy to Iraq has publicly affirmed that since day one, Iran and its Ghuds forces have played a key role in fueling the sectarian civil war, killing Americans and destabilizing the country. At the same time, Sick and some others falsely assured US that Iran was the good guy in the neighborhood ready to help. Sick declared:

"On the Iraqi side, the Iranians have been extremely helpful. They are pursuing what they regard as a very enlightened policy in Iraq... Iran gets delegations almost weekly from the top leadership from Iraq. Kurds and others are consulting on future policy. Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader [and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council], said a few days ago in Washington that Iranians were being "very positive," and he said they have the capacity to create mischief in Iraq but have not done so." (CFR interview, 1.27.2004)

Better for business

In August 2000, Sick wrote a positive article about Bush-Cheney candidacy for the White House titled: "better for business" in which he detailed Cheney's penchant for a friendlier policy with Iran and removal of sanctions. Sick was hoping that the large scale lobby by him and US large corporations will finally succeed and the doors will open to business with Iran.  

This lobby had started in early 1990s. In 1992 Iran and US oil giant Conoco started behind the scene negotiation for a 1 billion dollar contract to develop offshore oil and gas field in the Persian Gulf. But the US Congress and public opinion did not favorably look at the Conoco deal and therefore, the pre-agreement was kept secret. The company started a lobby campaign to soften the opinion and convince the administration to give a green light to the deal.

Gary Sick and Hooshang Amirahmadi, supported by oil companies worked together and were the vanguards of this lobby. Amirahmadi is a pro-Tehran advocate who in an interview with 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 his ambassador to UN Zarif and asked  for financial support. Not to forget that the Rutgers university's department under Amirahmadi management has been largely compensated by Iranian regime's Alavi Foundation. (See also Amirahmadi's CV, p. 4-5)

Sick started Gulf 2000 project and together with Amirahmadi, they organized conferences (See also 1- 2) and wrote op-eds in newspapers against the sanctions and in favor of better relation with Iran. The goal was to present a positive image of the Iranian regime and prepare the public opinion for a friendlier policy with Tehran. A good example of this "positive" spin was Sick's 1993 article in Washington Post:

"Iran was instrumental in freeing the Western hostages in Lebanon, using its leverage with the Hezbollah gangs and reportedly paying substantial sums of money to the hostage-takers.

Iran's new policy of responsibility, however, extends beyond the hostage issue. Iran condemned Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and, at least until last month, respected the sanctions imposed on Iraq by the U.N. Security Council, even though Saddam tried to bribe Iran to break the economic boycott. Iran played a constructive role in helping to fashion a cease-fire in Afghanistan and in supporting elections for a new and more pluralistic political order in Lebanon. In each of these cases, Iran had the capacity to sow dissension. Yet it opted for compromise solutions that were consistent with the interests of the United States, the U.N. and Iran's Arab neighbors.

The reality, however, is that Iran is in no position to mount a sustained foreign policy challenge outside its own borders and will not be able to do so for years to come… Iran's military budget has declined steadily to the point where it is one of the least militarized countries in the region by almost any measure. (Washington Post, 4.4.1993)

In March 1995, Conoco made its Iranian deal public but Clinton administration intervened and issued an executive order and killed 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, other US oil giants and their lobbyists became bleak.

But in 1997, Mohamad Khatami became president in Iran and political environment changed in favor of new attitude toward Tehran. NFTC, representing more than 500 US corporations launched an official lobby organization called USA*Engage to remove sanctions against Iran and Libya.

Oil companies became also very active and helped the creation of American Iranian Council (AIC), an advocacy group led by Hooshang Amirahmadi in which Gary Sick was an active board member. AIC's board included CEO's and vice presidents from Chevron, Conoco, Exxon and other oil corporations. (See this report, also, this passage of book: US and Iran, Sanctions ... also, See image galleries))

In a 1997 Interview Sick declared "a huge array of experts and former officials, republican and democrat, now believe that U.S. policy toward Iran should change...  A lot of them are consultants for major oil interests in Central Asia and elsewhere in the region."

This large scale lobby by US corporations created a favorable political environment for other lobbies and political organizations that oppose harsh policy with Iran to become more active. In such environment, groups and lobbies created by or tied to the Iranian regime mushroomed in Washington and became part of political landscape.

Since its creation in 1990s, this formidable political force with influence in mainstream media, think tanks, academic centers and US government has been in forefront to prevent meaningful pressure or sanction against Iran. In many cases, this lobby has been pursuing the interests and wishes of Iranian regime at the expense of US national interests. And Gary Sick has been a leading voice in this lobby campaign.