As the Iranian uprising enters its seventh month and spurs the ruling regime's disintegration, the Iranian community in the U.S. is witnessing a peculiar sideshow. Some of the "Iran experts" who had relentlessly preached friendship and coexistence with the Iranian regime, in a bizarre overnight reinvention of themselves, are now riding the green wave and presenting themselves as the advocates of the regime's victims, the Iranian people. Chief among them is Tria Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
For the past twelve years, Trita Parsi has unremittingly lobbied the U.S. Congress to lift pressure off the Iranian regime. A short while ago, he advised the U.S. government to share the Middle East with the ruling mullahs. Now, supported by some influential circles in the U.S. and benefiting from his new PR agency, Parsi strives to present himself as a voice for the Iranian people and the green movement. Amazingly, just a few months ago, Parsi predicted the premature death of the Iranian uprising. In an article titled "The End of the Beginning," he wrote:
Iran's popular uprising, which began after the June 12 election, may be heading for a premature ending. In many ways, the Ahmadinejad government has succeeded in transforming what was a mass movement into dispersed pockets of unrest. Whatever is now left of this mass movement is now leaderless, unorganized -- and under the risk of being hijacked by groups outside Iran in pursuit of their own political agendas.
Parsi's new facade is primarily rooted in self-interested calculations. He is seriously discredited among Iranians, who know him as a lobbyist for the Iranian regime. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has served informally as a Western-based spokesman for Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossen Moussavi, recently told the Washington Times: "I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic." Parsi's sudden concern for the Iranian democratic movement is partly designed to cover up his twelve years' lobbying in favor of the Iranian regime. Furthermore, he is faced with an upcoming court appearance in Washington in which his lobbying will be thoroughly scrutinized. A year ago, in an effort to silence me and intimidate his critics, Parsi brought a defamation lawsuit against me. I was among many Iranians and Americans who believed that he lobbied in favor of the Iranian regime. During the discovery process, some of Parsi's communications were released and proved to be highly compromising to him. According to Washington Times, "Law enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents, say e-mails between Mr. Parsi and Iran's ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Javad Zarif -- and an internal review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act -- offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws." The content of these documents was serious enough that Senator John Kyl officially wrote to the U.S. Attorney General and pressed for an inquiry into Parsi's lobby. The reaction in the Iranian community has been outrage toward Parsi's activities in favor of the Iranian regime.
Parsi and human rights violations in Iran
Parsi's newfound passion for human rights in Iran is in sharp contrast to his deplorable record. He started his political career in 1997, when he founded a lobby organization called "Iranians for International Cooperation," or IIC. In 2002, he founded his current lobby organization, NIAC. From 1997 to 2007, there was not a single statement by Parsi or his organizations condemning the human rights violations in Iran. In fact when human rights activists in 2000 protested the appearance of and a speech by the Iranian ambassador, Parsi lashed out at the protesters for not being civilized! In an interesting document posted on their website, NIAC listed their entire statements about human rights violations in Iran. It is titled "NIAC Articles on Human Rights in Iran." Not a single statement before May 2007, when Parsi's lobby in favor of the Iranian regime was exposed and he was publicly denounced by the Iranian community. It is therefore logical to conclude that his 2007 sympathy for the human rights in Iran was designed to repair his disgraceful image. Not only did NIAC and Parsi not condemn the regime's brutality, but they also tried hard to distance themselves from anti-regime actions. In one of NIAC's internal documents obtained through the discovery process, we read:
A second challenge was a misquote by Agence Franc Presse, which accredited NIAC for organizing anti-Tehran demonstrations on the Mall in Washington DC on July 9. On learning about this mistake, NIAC immediately contacted AFP and convinced them to make a correction. AFP retracted the story, but it took them three days to do so, by which the story had been picked up by other news media. Although NIAC's has channels to inform certain parts of the Iranian government on the inaccuracy of the AFP report, the misquote can be used by other elements of the government to create obstacles. Furthermore, the parts of the government that NIAC has access to are steadily losing their influence in Iran.
This cordiality between NIAC and the regime continued under Ahmadinejad. Private communications between Javad Zarif (Ahmadinejad's ambassador) and Parsi suggest policy coordination and a high level of trust between them. Parsi regularly sent Zarif his articles, and Zarfi admired and praised Parsi's viewpoints and writings.
How could someone be so trusted and admired by Ahmadinejad's ambassador and at the same time genuinely defend the human rights of Iranians or defend the interests of the Iranian-Americans?
Repairing political discredit
Parsi's new pretense as a defender of Iranian democratic movement likely is also motivated by cunning political calculations. He and his peers have for many years argued that the Iranian regime is stable and that the U.S. government should adapt to this reality. The U.S. should, according to Parsi, seek coexistence with the mullahs and accept their hegemony in the region. In fact, the "coexistence" theory was entirely based on the solidity of the Iranian regime.
Two years ago, in November 2007, Parsi wrote an advisory report for the U.S. administration and tried to debunk seven common myths or misconceptions about Iran. The first myth was about the regime's stability:
Myth: Iran is ripe for regime change.
Trita Parsi: Not true. Although the ruling clergy in Iran are very unpopular, they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Then, in 2008, the same report was reedited slightly, cosigned by twenty other "Iran experts," and sent as a "Joint Statement" to the Obama administration. Once again, the "experts" rejected the idea that the regime could be frail and unstable.
The Iranian uprising has swept away these wrong and illusory ideas and has brought a significant blow to the credibility of these self-proclaimed "Iran experts." Therefore, Parsi's sudden "support" for the Iranian uprising is designed to repair this huge credibility deficiency. By getting back his credibility, Parsi and his organization would be able to influence Obama's policy toward Iran.
Currently, the main issue on the table is the upcoming sanctions against Iran. Parsi, NIAC, and similar groups continue their decade-long agenda to lift the pressure off the Iranian regime and minimize the scope and impact of future sanctions. Once again, Parsi tries to wrap his anti-sanction lobby in a human face and argues that the Iranian democratic movement will suffer under this new wave of sanctions.
Parsi's effort to humanize his lobby is part of a calculated strategy that he has meticulously applied for the past several years. In a secret document written in 2002 and sent to a Washington lobbyist, Parsi explained the need to give a human face to their lobby:
Although the mission of the proposed lobby should be to improve relations between the US and Iran and open up opportunities for trade, the initial targets should be less controversial issues such as visas and racial profiling/discrimination ...
Despite its predominantly business oriented constituency, it is essential that the lobby creates a "human face" for its aims and goals. AIPAC successfully painted the opponents of the Iran Libya Sanctions Act as "greedy businessmen who had no scruples when it came to doing business with terrorist regimes." The oil companies failed to characterize their campaign with "human concern for the well-being of innocent Iranians stuck with a dictatorial regime" or "support for the poor mid-Western family father who lost his job due the sanctions." The human element is essential both when it comes to attracting support among Iranian-Americans and when it comes to winning the debate and the votes on the Hill.
For more than a decade, Trita Parsi has worked hard to remove sanctions against the Iranian regime. He has professed continuously that the Iranian regime (regardless of who is in power) is stable, and hence warrants a friendly policy from the West. He developed close relations with Ahmadinejad's ambassador in the U.N. and reported to him the pulse of the U.S.'s political circles. He collaborated and coordinated with companies inside Iran who stand to benefit significantly from the lifting of sanctions. He lied about the number of NIAC members to garner false credibility in Washington towards advancing his cause. And now, he has reinvented himself as a pro-human rights activist who advocates "smart sanctions" against Iran. Should we believe that this sudden transformation is sincere, or is it a cunning but desperate attempt to gain lost credibility?