The Future of the Iran Lobby

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


Led by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and a coalition of peace and security groups, Iranian Americans from around the country called, emailed, wrote, and visited their members of Congress... NIAC and the coalition groups worked hard to make this a full-fledged media concern, placing op-eds in prominent newspapers like the Washington Times and providing expert commentary for media sources from around the country

According to Congressional sources, the bill was set to be placed on the House calendar on three separate occasions. In all three instances, it was removed at the last minute due to intervention by organizations like NIAC and its partners. In the end, the bill was never allowed to be brought up for a vote on the House floor, nor was it even considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks to groups like NIAC working behind the scenes with members of Congress to discourage consideration of the bill.."

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

"We here in the U.S. supported Mr. Ahmadinejad and his policy in any possible way we thought would help the Iranian people. Because we respected the Iranian's choice (electing Ahmadinejad as president, emphasize is mine), we confronted any and all disrespectful and unfair behavior aimed at him as the elected president during the past four years. We joined rallies in support of Iran.

We met with our senators and representatives where we defended Iran and its president (and his speeches). We wrote many articles in his defense, including his New York City trip in September 2007 when he was attacked in many U.S. media and treated discourteously by the president of Columbia University. When he returned to the U.S. in September 2008 to attend the U.N. General Assembly, we applauded when he was interviewed on "Larry King Live" and we organized a respectful meeting for him with participation of many national peace organizations and activist groups to encourage and promote direct dialogue. We wanted to let everyone know that we do not support the U.S. government's policies of "threatening Iran."

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:

"The Iranian regime retains enormous capacity for control over society and appears to be firmly entrenched in power for the foreseeable future. ... The Islamic Republic is unpopular at home, but revolutionary change remains unlikely.

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:   

Suzanne Malony:

"The events in Iran: "have challenged all that we thought we knew about Iran... The Islamic Republic has entered a new and ultimately unpredictable phase of its perpetually gripping history. Iran and the regime is now forced to contend with an almost unprecedented array of internal challenges that are both complex and interconnected. ..

The events since June 12th have changed Iran in profound and irreversible fashion, and it would be fruitless, even counterproductive, to precede as though this weren't the case. The United States must adjust both its assumptions about Iran and its approach to dealing with our concerns about Iranian policies.13


"The convergence of these two challenges -- mass mobilization and elite infighting -- has produced the most serious threat to the survival of the Islamic Republic since the early years of its existence. However the election turmoil plays out, it has irreparably shattered the Islamic Republic's most important underlying assets -- elite cooperation and popular participation -- and left the state dependent upon a vicious but inherently narrow power base."14

David Ignatius, Washington Post:

"On one side you have all the instruments of repression in Iran, gathering their forces for a crackdown. On the other you have unarmed protesters symbolized by the image of Neda Agha Soltan, a martyred woman dying helplessly on the street, whose last words reportedly were: "It burned me."

Who's going to win? In the short run, the victors may be the thugs who claim to rule in the name of God: the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij militia and the other tools of an Islamic revolution that has decayed and hardened into mere authoritarianism. But over the coming months and years, my money is on the followers of the martyred Neda."15

Roger Cohen, New York Times:

"I've been hearing about Khamenei's fear of "velvet revolutions" for months now. There was nothing velvet about Saturday's clashes. In fact, the initial quest to have Moussavi's votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself... Iran has waited long enough to be free."16

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

"With regard to the United States and the West, nothing would prevent them in principle from dealing with an illegitimate authoritarian government. But this election is an extraordinary gift to those who have been most skeptical about President Obama's plan to conduct negotiations with Iran... In their own paranoia and hunger for power, the leaders of Iran have provided an invaluable gift to their worst enemies abroad."

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

"For the Obama administration, the developments of the past week in Iran represent perhaps the worst possible outcome... A win for the reformists would have added real energy to the effort, both within Iran and here at home, in the excitement over shifting ideological tides in Tehran and the inclusion of Iranian leaders who were both capable of and prepared to countenance serious negotiations. A plausible Ahmadinejad victory, while unwelcome, would at least have offered Washington the prospect of dealing with a consolidated conservative government that might have felt confident enough to pursue a historic shift in its relationship with an old adversary.

Instead, Washington now faces a newly fractured Iranian polity... That does not bode well for Iran's capacity to undertake serious talks and eventually engage in historic concessions on its nuclear program and support for terrorism."

Gary Sick offered the same analysis in his interview with CFR:19

It's clear that the task of starting some kind of discussion or negotiations with Iran is going to be infinitely more complicated than it was before. It wasn't easy from the beginning-and anybody who thought it would be an easy task didn't understand the problem.  But now after this internal coup and all the coverage it has received, those people in the United States and particularly in Israel who really opposed the idea of having negotiations with Iran-who favored a pressure strategy to build up more sanctions and so on-are now going to use their clout in Congress and elsewhere to slow down or stop the process."

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

"On the whole, West should prepare itself for facing two different behaviors from the Iranians: one is adventurous and intent to progress non-stop, even with closed eyes, and the other is a soft approach which avoids defeat and is ready to give and take.

The circumstances testify to the higher possibility of the first option. Moderates are sidelined in Iranian politics and radical principlism is bearing its fruits. Negotiation-favoring ideas are rejected, repressive measures are adopted, preparations are made for a likely gasoline sanction, veto-wielding China and Russia have received economic bonuses, state-run media talk of velvet revolution supposedly supported by West, military forces stay alert to counter threats, media are controlled and information circulation is stalled; clear signs that the tenth administration is staging a confrontational policy."


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: ; His English website:  

1. For last year's receptions, read "Dining with Ahmadinejad" at:

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:

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.

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

9. For a cursory review of debate in the US left groups, you can read Reese Elrich article

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

12. Parsi's article, IPS, April 18, 2008

13. Suzanne Maloney's testimony before the House Foreign Affaire Committee, July 22, 2009

14. Maloney's article in Foreign Affaires, June 19, 2009

16. Roger Cohen, New York Times, June21 , 2009

17. Gary Sick'e weblog: "Gary's Choice", June 13, 2009, Iran's political coup

18. Maloney's article: "An absurd outcome", June 2009

19. Sick's interview with CFR, June 14, 2009

"Iranian Diplomacy"'s article on Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, "Moving on the Beaten Path" August 27, 2009 at: 

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