Rise of the ‘Iran Lobby’

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For example, recent screeds include nasty criticism of Israel’s military tactics during its latest incursion into Gaza that the journal likens to Nazi-style tactics and allege that American politicians fail to criticize Israel out of fear of being labeled “anti-Semitic.”46  The visceral antipathy and extreme bias against Israel on display in this journal would be deeply disturbing from any editor; when that editor may be the next chairman of the National Intelligence Council,  there are grounds for serious concern.

The Middle East Policy Council’s National Advisory Committee compounds such misgivings. The Committee includes Georgetown University’s Dr. John. Esposito; his colleague at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Dr. Yvonne Haddad; and Gary G. Sick, Senior Research Scholar and adjunct professor at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Esposito and Haddad both attend events sponsored by NIAC’s ally, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Esposito has in the past called CAIR (an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trials) “a phenomenal organization.”47  A January 2008 meeting organized by the Middle East Policy Council and entitled “Iran’s Strategic Concerns and U.S. Interests” was held in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The panel featured presentations by Professor Sick, Council on Foreign Relations Iranian scholar Ray Takeyh, Barbara Slavin (then a U.S. Institute of Peace fellow and USA Today reporter),48  MEPC’s Chas Freeman and Trita Parsi –every one an advocate for a U.S. government policy of more concessions, dialogue and accommodation with the Iranian regime.

To focus on just one of the experts on this panel, the positions and connections of Prof. Gary Sick illustrates the broad reach of the AIC-NIAC network. A former member of the AIC Board of Directors and currently at Columbia University, Sick served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He was the principal White House aide for Iran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution and ensuing hostage crisis. He is a member of the Board of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York City and chairman of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch/Middle East.

Prof. Sick was also the executive director of Gulf/2000, an international research project on political, economic, and security developments in the Persian Gulf conducted at Columbia University from 1994-95 that was partly financed by oil interests.50   The Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation and Exxon/Mobil Foundation were among the major funders.51  Sick’s appearances at other conferences together with Iranian regime insiders such as Tehran’s former Ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, are representative of his cordial connections to the Iranian regime.

Through influential positions and relationships such as these, Prof. Sick has developed over the decades an extensive network of contacts with access to both Iranian and U.S. policymaking circles at the highest levels. To his American audiences, he routinely promotes the interests of Iran’s clerical rulers, finding  ways to excuse their terrorism, advocate more understanding on the part of the U.S. government and encourage accommodation with Tehran.

For example, Sick excuses Iranian support for Hamas terrorist activities: “Iran’s support for terrorist activities carried out by Hamas is a matter of dispute. Iran claims that its support for Hamas is no different than the Saudi’s support. They give money for clinics and medical needs, but that money is used for terrorism. Iran has a different view on this. So it’s a matter of dispute.”52  About the 1992 and 1994 Iranian-directed terrorist bombings against Jewish targets in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the professor suggests that rogue elements of the Iranian secret service were responsible, with “little interference by the central authorities and no apparent coordination with Iran’s foreign policy agenda.”53  Such statements are contradicted by specific evidence that the attacks were, in fact, coordinated out of Iran’s Embassy in Buenos Aires. Fawning comments about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laid the groundwork for Sick’s key role in securing the invitation for the former to speak at Columbia University following his 2007 appearance at the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York.

In yet another example of NIAC President Trita Parsi’s success in network-building, on April 8, 2008, he moderated a speakers panel entitled “Breaking the U.S.-Iran Stalemate: Reassessing the Nuclear Strategy in the Wake of the Majles Elections.” Speakers included Dr. Hans Blix, currently chairman of the UN’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Dr. David Albright, the founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security; Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who delivered the keynote address; Ambassador Thomas Pickering; and Barbara Slavin. Slavin is notable for her trips to Iran on visas she unabashedly admits are at least in part dependent on her willingness to follow her hosts’ agenda.54

Ambassador Pickering is a member of NIAC’s Advisory Board, a position he shares with former Rep. Wayne Gilchrist (R-MD). In December  2008, Congressman Gilchrist co-authored a letter to the newly installed speaker of the Iranian Majles, former Islamic Republican Guard Corps commander, and nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijni, to congratulate him on his election to that post and to urge dialogue between Iranian and American lawmakers.55

On February 22, 2008, Amnesty International (AI) sponsored an event in Los Angeles, under the title “Human Rights in Iran: How to Move Forward.” It is striking that, AI chose Trita Parsi to be one of their panelists. After all, at the aforementioned January 2008 meeting on Capitol Hill, Parsi publicly denied that NIAC had a human rights role. In response to a question about why NIAC never takes any meaningful stand against human rights violations in Iran, Parsi responded: “NIAC is not a human rights organization. That is not our expertise.”56  Instead, he defends continuity for the mullahs’ regime and rejects any struggle for democracy in Iran, claiming that “…The current choice Iranians face is not between Islamic tyranny and democratic freedom. It is between chaos and stability.”57

Center for Security Policy

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