Rise of the ‘Iran Lobby’

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Yet, among NIAC’s founders were Roy Coffee and Dave DiStefano, both Washington lobbyists who were later investigated by the Justice Department for activities conducted on behalf of Bob Ney. DiStefano was Ney’s Chief of Staff in the mid-late 1990s.  In fact, Rep. Ney, Amirahmadi’s long-time man on the Hill, was instrumental in helping their mutual protégé, Trita Parsi, launch NIAC and establish it as an influential player in Washington.  The regime in Tehran was thrilled.  In an August 5, 2008 interview with Parsi, Iran’s Aftab News openly described him and his organization as the successors to the AIC and its founder/president, Hooshang Amirahmadi.39

Another key NIAC co-founder and friend of Parsi is Siamak Namazi, the Tehran-based political analyst who graduated from Tufts University (B.A., International Relations) and Rutgers University (M.S. Planning). Namazi began his professional work at Tehran’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning from 1994-98. In 1998, he founded the Future Alliance International, a Washington-based consulting company with a focus on the risks of doing business with Iran.  This was a rather peculiar choice of venue for such a venture given that Executive Order 12959 of May 6, 1995 had banned all U.S. trade with and investment in Iran.

Namazi’s career really took off after he co-authored the 1999 Cyprus conference paper with Trita Parsi.

Doors in Washington opened and Namazi served in a succession of think tank appointments, including as a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and Intelligence Studies (CSIS), a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center (2005) and a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), where he studied the role of the private sector in promoting good governance. Namazi’s affiliation with Trita Parsi and NIAC, however, is curiously absent from the NIAC website.  The relationship is only fleetingly apparent online from a single photograph of Trita Parsi that is included in a photo gallery depicting Namazi’s August 2000 trip to Yazd, Iran.40

The relationship between the two men is important because Namazi is also a partner in and the managing director of Atieh Bahar Consulting – one component of the sprawling Atieh family business in Tehran. Indeed, Atieh is a major Iranian conglomerate, well-connected to the clerical regime, that does business in a range of key industries, including banking, finance, and energy.41  The depth of regime trust in Atieh is demonstrated by its multiple contracts to provide network and computer services for Iranian banks, the Majles (parliament), and other important national institutions.42

Also noteworthy is the fact that Muhammad Baquer Namazi, Siamak’s father and a former United Nations (UN) and UNICEF representative, is currently  the Director of Hamyaran, a so-called NGO Resource Center formed in March 2001.  Ostensibly, Hamyaran’s mission is to serve as an Iranian NGO umbrella group. In practice, it functions as the regime’s watchdog to monitor and control other NGOs.43

Against this backdrop, the financial support provided to NIAC by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) warrants close scrutiny. NED is a private non-profit organization created in 1983 “to strengthen democratic institutions around the world.” It receives an annual congressional appropriation for this purpose.

NED has provided thousands of dollars in grants to NIAC, ostensibly “to foster cooperation between Iranian NGOs and the international civil society community and to strengthen the institutional capacity of NGOs in Iran.” With that money, NIAC has conducted weeks of training programs on project design and grant writing for Iranian “civil society leaders” inside Iran.44  Iranian NGOs, though, are required to belong to the Hamyaran government umbrella organization – the one headed up by Muhammad Baquer Namazi, the father of Trita Parsi’s friend and partner, Siamak Namazi.

So, when U.S. taxpayer dollars provided to NED are granted to NIAC, the ultimate beneficiary is actually an organization closely affiliated with the Iranian regime. And NIAC, which channels these funds to Iran, is itself called an Iranian lobbying organization by that regime, whose purpose is to promote the positions of Tehran to Washington, policymaking circles.45   Under the leadership of Trita Parsi, and amply funded by a host of generally left-wing foundations, NIAC conducts an active agenda of interviews, lobbying, and outreach that has succeeded in developing a complex network of influence throughout the Washington academic, legislative, media, NGO, and policymaking communities. Thanks as well to an echo chamber it enjoys from a retinue of prominent American Middle East experts, an authority on Iranian matters has been conferred on NIAC that is unmatched by any opposing organization in the United States.

In particular, NIAC’s influence operations benefit from its association with others in the Iran Lobby network.  Under the leadership of Mr. Obama’s prospective National Intelligence Council (NIC) Chairman, Chas Freeman, the Middle East Policy Council has closely aligned with Trita Parsi’s NIAC in urging the U.S. to adopt an agenda of dialogue and rapprochement with Tehran. MEPC  group publishes a quarterly journal called Middle East Policy that often features vicious anti-Israel polemics presenting a completely skewed image of both Israel and U.S. foreign policy towards the Jewish State.

Center for Security Policy

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