August 30, 2009
The Future of the Iran LobbyBy Hassan Daioleslam
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York, in late September to attend the United Nation General Assembly, he will find his advocate lobby in the US as devastated as the Iranian regime itself. The Iranian Lobby in the US is shaken to its foundations and is facing a bleak future. Ahmadinejad will certainly get a fundamentally different reception this year compared to last year's warm hospitality by friends.1
The pro-Iranian lobby in the US is spearheaded by NIAC, (the National Iranian American Council) and is assisted by several American peace organizations and some powerful political circles that seek a friendly approach to the Iranian regime. NIAC is labeled by the governmental press in Tehran the "Iranian lobby in the US".2
The lobby background: the case of H.R 362
For the past several years, a coalition of groups, mainly the left and anti-war organizations have been lobbying to lift the pressure and sanctions against Iran. In late 2007, an official coalition was launched called the "Campaign for a New Policy on Iran" (CNAPI). NIAC coordinates this lobby that includes the Open Society and USA-Engage.3
This lobby has strived to counteract the White House or Congressional measures against Iran. An example of the function of this lobby is its campaign against congressional advisory H.R. 362 introduced last year. H.R. 362 called for tougher sanctions on fuel supplies to Iran. The large scale campaign launched by CNAPI included conferences, articles and interviews, contact with lawmakers in districts, direct lobby in the Congress and many other activities. The peace organizations provided the "grass root" to back NIAC and its professional employees inside the Congress who led the direct lobby and contacts with lawmakers.
The Resolution was finally shelved by the US Congress and NIAC claimed the honor for having led this lobby. In an interesting article, a NIAC member explained the details of this large scale lobby:4
We should clarify that NIAC intentionally exaggerates its own role, and downplays the effect of their American cohorts.
The recent mockery of presidential election in Iran and the ongoing political crisis have created a fundamentally different situation that undoubtedly diminishes the capacity of this Iranian lobby in the US. Here, we review the five key factors that negatively affect the future of the pro-Iranian lobby.
1- The purge of Rafsanjani faction will distress the Iranian lobby
The pro-Iranian lobby has been mainly associated with Rafsanjani band and reformists' factions in Iran.5 Since 2006, Ahmadinejad vacillated between purging this lobby and getting along with it. The recent events in Iran and Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's decision to get rid of the competing factions will result in an escalating degree of purge inside the regime, and hence internal fighting inside the Iranian lobby in the US. The outcome will be a fragmented and weakened lobby that reflects the very image of the Iranian power inside the country.
2- This Iranian lobby is losing the anti-war movement
During the past four years, segments of the left and the anti-war movement in the United States have channeled their critique of the war and the George Bush administration to support a lobby that served the Iranian regime. These American personalities and groups willingly or unintentionally advocated one of the most notorious dictatorships of the modern history, with no regards for the Iranian people, the prime victims of these dictators.6
Leila Zand is the Iran Program Director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She is a leading figure in the pro-Tehran lobby who works inside the CNAPI coalition.7 She manages the so-called "Citizen diplomacy" or the organized trips for peace activists to Iran. Recently, she elaborated on the nature of her lobbying role alongside with the US peace organizations:8
The Iranian people's uprising and the regime's brutal repression, has taken the masks off their dictatorial rule. Consequently, a good part of the peace movement is disillusioned and feels abused and deceived. A simple review of the left magazines and websites demonstrates the depth of their disarray. There is no doubt that a good part of peace activists will desert any lobby in favor of the Iranian regime.9 This simply means that the grass root part of the Iranian lobby has lost its army of foot soldiers.
3- The Obama factor
The NIAC and CNAPI's lobby was built around the motto that the Iranian regime has been seeking negotiation and peace with US but George Bush administration, supported by Neoconservatives and Israeli lobby refused to deal with Iran. This misinformation campaign was successful due to the Iraqi war and George Bush's foreign policy. This line was the key to attract the peace organizations to participate in the pro-Iran lobby.
With Obama in the White House and his repeated overtures and goodwill gestures toward Tehran, no longer, the US is accused of being hawkish and warmonger. This situation has totally invalidated the many years of campaign by NIAC and cohorts to present the Iranian regime as a victim, rather that responsible for US-Iran impasse.
4- The Iranian regime's future is uncertain
A main component of the campaign to justify a friendly approach to the Iranian government has been the assumption that the regime is stable for the foreseeable future, and the US sanctions and pressure will have no impact on the Iranian course of action. Naturally the alternative would be that the US should seek to accommodate and coexist with Iran.
It is precisely for this reason that every single advisory report to Obama that demands a more friendly policy toward Tehran contains some argument about the strength and stability of the Iranian regime. For example, for the last year's advisory report about US policy in the Middle East that was prepared by the Council on Foreign relations and Brookings Institution, Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh co-wrote section 3 of the report on Iran.10 They argued about the Iranian regime's stability:
Similarly, Trita Parsi's had a similar advice for the administration. He wrote that talk about the regime's fragility is a myth. He asked whether "Iran is ripe for regime change" And answered: "Not true. Although the ruling clergy in Iran are very unpopular, they are not going anywhere anytime soon."11
Based on such assumptions, Parsi advised the US to recognize the failure of its policy toward Iran and accept the Iranian zone of influence in the Middle East. In an article titled: "Can the U.S. and Iran Share the Middle East? He wrote: "Sooner or later, Iran and the U.S. must learn how to share the region".12
However, the Iranian uprising and its ongoing consequences have clearly demonstrated the fragility of the Iranian power. The same experts, who repeatedly praised the regime's stability, are now warning against its uncertain future. A few examples:
David Ignatius, Washington Post:
Roger Cohen, New York Times:
A weakened and fragile Iranian regime reduces the prospect of viable agreement over its nuclear program. As the prospect of engaging Iran faints, the possibility of harsher policies toward Iran becomes more real. This will negatively affect the NIAC and CNAPI capacity to lobby in favor of more friendly policy toward Iran.
5- Regime can not and will not enter serious negotiations
The Iranian uprising has resulted in a fractured and weakened regime in Tehran. This weakness has radically diminished the regime's ability to enter serious negotiations over its nuclear program. Iran would probably accept to negotiate but only to acquire legitimacy.
A large majority of Iran-experts agree on this point. Gary Sick, an ardent defender of engaging Iran elaborated on this issue:17
Suzanne Maloney was also affirmative that a fractured regime is incapable of achieving any meaningful negotiation with US. In her article titled "an absurd outcome" she wrote:18
Gary Sick offered the same analysis in his interview with CFR:19
But the best analysis comes from Tehran. The "Iranian Diplomacy", a website managed by former high Iranian diplomats wrote an editorial about the future of Ahmadinejad foreign policy and described it as one with no illusion, more radical than the past four years with no hope to accommodate international exigencies:20
Prospects for a deal with a fractured, weakened and delegitimized Iranian regime are fainting. This will lead to a new momentum in the Congress to change direction and adopt harsher policies toward the dictatorial rule in Tehran. This environment will substantially diminish the space for NIAC and its coalition partners to lobby and influence White House and Congressional policy towards a friendlier approach to the Ayatollahs.
Hassan Daioleslam is an independent Iran Analyst and writer. He is well published in Farsi and English. He frequently appears as an expert guest in the Voice of America-TV as well as other Persian media. His Farsi website: http://www.iranianlobby.com/ ; His English website: http://english.iranianlobby.com/
1. For last year's receptions, read "Dining with Ahmadinejad" at:http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/75314
Read also "Peace groups meet Ahmadinejad" at:
See also a collection of letters written by the peace groups to Ahmadinejad prior to their 9.24.2008 meeting, at: http://www.iranianlobby.com/pfiles/Peace_Movement_meeting_with_Ahmadinejad.pdf
Read also FOR's blog about this meeting at: http://forpeace.net/blog/ethan-vesely-flad/two-big-meetings-president-ahmadinejad-%E2%80%93-plus-third
2. Immediately after the publication of my first English article about NIAC on April 16th 2007, several governmental newspapers inside Iran came forward to defend Trita Parsi and NIAC. Ghuds Daily called NIAC the "Iranian lobby in the US". See four following newspapers
3. CNAPI's website has been closed. For info on CNAPI, go to the following links:
4. NIAC beats AIPAC, Sasan Dehghan, 10.7.2008. Iranian.com http://www.iranian.com/main/2008/niac-beats-aipac
5. Read my article: "Trita Parsi, Bob Ney, and Iran's Oil Mafia: Penetrating the US Political System"
6. Return from paradise, 9.20.2007
See also the document gathering the letters written by the Peace representatives to Ahmadinejad, September 2008:
7. FOR (Fellowship Of Reconciliation) and CNAPI http://www.forpeace.net/tag/campaign-new-american-policy-iran
8. Leila Zand's declaration: http://forpeace.net/blog/leila-zand/irans-crisis-does-it-feel-velvet
9. For a cursory review of debate in the US left groups, you can read Reese Elrich article http://www.campaigniran.org/casmii/index.php?q=node/8145
10. The Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution: "Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President"1 the third chapter of the book (34 pages) is "Pathway to Coexistence: A New U.S. Policy toward Iran". By Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh
11. Read Trita Parsi's November 2007 report at http://www.niacouncil.org/images/PDF_files/seven%20myths%20about%20iran.pdf
12. Parsi's article, IPS, April 18, 2008 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=42044
13. Suzanne Maloney's testimony before the House Foreign Affaire Committee, July 22, 2009 http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/0722_transcript_sadjadpour_hearing.pdf
14. Maloney's article in Foreign Affaires, June 19, 2009 http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65163/suzanne-maloney/clerical-error?page=2
15. Davis Ignatius, Washington Post, June 23, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/23/AR2009062303318.html
16. Roger Cohen, New York Times, June21 , 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/opinion/21tehran.html?ref=opinion
17. Gary Sick'e weblog: "Gary's Choice", June 13, 2009, Iran's political coup
18. Maloney's article: "An absurd outcome", June 2009 http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-06-13/an-absurd-outcome/full/
19. Sick's interview with CFR, June 14, 2009 http://www.cfr.org/publication/19622/
20. "Iranian Diplomacy"'s article on Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, "Moving on the Beaten Path" August 27, 2009 at: http://www.irdiplomacy.ir/index.php?Lang=en&Page=21&TypeId=12&ArticleId=5344&BranchId=28&Action=ArticleBodyView