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Tracing Iran’s Web of Influence in European Politics

iran lobby expert regime (1)

Intense Campaign to Vilify Democratic Opposition

In a recent publication by Friends of a Free Iran (FoFI) at the European Parliament, a paper titled “Tracing Iran’s Web of Influence in European Politics: An Intense Campaign to Vilify Democratic Opposition” sheds light on the clandestine efforts of the Iranian regime. This study specifically delves into the intricate maneuvers orchestrated by the regime through the “Iran Experts Initiative” (IEI), revealing a systematic campaign to establish connections with influential academics and researchers worldwide. The paper unravels the extent of Iran’s web of influence within European politics, highlighting the alarming implications of these covert operations on the democratic opposition.

The full report of Friends of a Free Iran (FoFI) at the European Parliament:

Foreword:

In a world where the lines between truth and narrative are increasingly blurred, the decades-long policies toward Iran’s theocratic regime and its primary opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the principal member of the democratic coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), have been pivotal yet often misunderstood and misguided in the geopolitical arena. These policies have significantly influenced both U.S. and European approaches toward them.

In late September 2023, the revelation of email exchanges between a number of “Iran experts” and officials of the Iranian Regime’s Foreign Ministry was very shocking. It revealed a disturbing fact that European governments and institutions were relying on analyses and recommendations for their policy on Iran by the same experts who, according to this revelation, were part of a network set up by Iran.

These emails expose the Iranian regime’s covert initiative, under the pretext of the “Iran Experts Initiative” (IEI), which strategically infiltrated Western policy circles and media outlets to advance Tehran’s interests, including its nuclear program.

Initiated in the spring of 2014 by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the IEI represents a sophisticated effort to reshape Tehran’s global image and further its strategic objectives. At the helm of this operation were Iranian officials, including Saeed Khatibzadeh, advisor to former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who meticulously worked to cultivate relationships with overseas academics and researchers. This calculated engagement aimed to propagate Iran’s narratives within international policy forums and the media—a mission that would have profound implications for global diplomacy and security.

The leaked emails exchanged between Iranian diplomats and analysts span nearly two decades, from 2003 to 2021. These emails, once in the possession of Mostafa Zahrani, once a director-general of strategic affairs in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, uncover a network of individuals acting as conduits for Iran’s narratives. Among them were academics and researchers who later ascended to prominent positions in the U.S. government and European think tanks and institutions, subtly yet significantly influencing policy decisions from within.

The West’s illusion about a non-existent moderate faction within the theocratic regime in Iran and the subsequent conciliatory approach toward Iran had laid the ground for the regime’s influence operation through these experts.

The review of their analysis and political recommendations to European institutions, as well as their articles in media and posts on social media, reveals a two-pronged strategy: advocating Tehran’s narratives on various issues, including the nuclear issue or Iran’s malign activities in the region, without direct support for the regime, and disseminating a false notion that there is no united and viable opposition. This orchestrated campaign aims to demonize the democratic opposition of the NCRI and the main force for change, the MEK. The objective is to suggest that in the absence of a viable alternative, the only option is improving relations with the regime and ignore its malign and destructive activities.

It is very disturbing that Iran’s ruling theocracy was allowed to conduct this influence operation in Europe, partly being financed by European taxpayers to advocate the Iran regime’s narrative. Having said that, this operation also demonstrates the regime’s vulnerability from a political perspective and its fear of the democratic opposition, which it desperately tries to demonize.

The policy toward Iran’s regime has been, to say the least, one of ongoing engagement, often disguised as critical dialogue, constructive engagement, or containment. Meanwhile, the Iranian opposition, notably the PMOI/MEK and NCRI, has been largely disregarded as a credible alternative to this regime that not only oppresses its own people but also poses a major threat to regional and global stability. This threat is not just due to its malign activities beyond its borders but also because of its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

This foreword serves as a prelude to a paper that delves into the specifics of the IEI and explores the broader implications of such covert operations. It calls for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms through which foreign governments can exert influence and emphasizes the need for robust measures to safeguard democratic processes and institutions from such interventions. As readers embark on this journey through the shadows of international diplomacy, they are invited to reflect on the enduring impact of these revelations on our comprehension of global politics and the pursuit of truth in an increasingly interconnected world.

In conclusion, this report is a testament to the critical importance of transparency, vigilance, and accountability in the face of covert influence operations. The revelations surrounding the Iran Experts Initiative shed light on the complexities of global politics and the potential manipulation of public perception. As we delve into the detailed analysis within this report, let it serve as a call to action for policymakers, scholars, and the public alike to critically assess information sources and remain steadfast in the pursuit of truth and democratic values. The shadows may obscure, but with scrutiny and awareness, the path to clarity and accountability can be illuminated.

Having said that, it is time for European governments and all institutions, including the EU, to reconsider their past policies on Iran and the democratic opinions of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its principal member, the MEK, who have been the prime targets of a malicious disinformation campaign by the Iranian regime.

Javier ZARZALEJOS,

MEP, Spain

 

Introduction:

On September 26, 2023, “Iran International” and “Semafor” published a report unveiling the Iranian regime’s influence operation in the US and European institutions by individuals claiming to be Iran experts.

According to the report, in the spring of 2014, a discreet initiative emerged within the Iranian Foreign Ministry with the aim of reshaping Tehran’s global image and furthering its strategic interests, particularly regarding its contentious nuclear program. This clandestine effort, known as the “Iran Experts Initiative” (IEI), sought to establish connections with influential academics and researchers worldwide.

Iranian officials, including Saeed Khatibzadeh, an advisor to former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, embarked on a covert effort to establish connections with influential overseas academics. The goal was to ensure the propagation of Iran’s narratives across international policy circles and media outlets.

An investigation supported by leaked emails exchanged between Iranian diplomats and analysts unveiled the extent of the IEI’s concealed operation. These emails, spanning nearly two decades from 2003 to 2021, were initially owned by Mostafa Zahrani, a former director general of strategic affairs in Iran’s Foreign Ministry and an advisor to Javad Zarif. They contained a treasure trove of documents, including passport copies, resumes, conference invitations, visa applications, and extensive correspondence with foreign ministry officials, university staff, and students. On March 3, 2014, Khatibzadeh sent an email to Zahrani asking for his “financial and political support” for the convening of the IEI formation.

The evidence found in these communications underscores a troubling reality: the Iranian regime successfully penetrated policy circles in Washington and Europe, wielding considerable influence. Through the IEI, Iran orchestrated a strategic campaign to vigorously advocate for a favorable nuclear deal with the United States, and Europeans, ultimately resulting in the agreement reached in July 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

At the core of this effort were a select group of individuals, described by Saeed Khatibzadeh, as “distinguished second-generation Iranians” with affiliations in prominent international think tanks and academic institutions. Notably, among the participants in this network were individuals who would later hold influential positions within the U.S. government, and European think tanks. This includes Ariane Tabatabai, who currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Dina Esfandiary, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director and Senior Adviser to the President.

Vaez in an email to Javad Zarif on October 2, 2014, expressed his commitment to help advance the regime’s narrative. He wrote, “As an Iranian, based on my national and patriotic duty, I have not hesitated to help you in any way; from proposing to Your Excellency a public campaign against the notion of [nuclear] breakout to assisting your team in preparing reports on practical needs of Iran.”

According to these emails, one of the “experts,” Arian Tabatabai would report her activities to Zahrani in the foreign ministry and sought guidance for follow-up.

She wrote to Zahrani in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal — a former ambassador to the U.S. — who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. “I am not interested in going, but then I thought maybe it would be better that I go and talk, rather than an Israeli like Emily Landau who goes and disseminates disinformation. I would like to ask your opinion too and see if you think I should accept the invitation and go.”

Zahrani replied the same day: “All things considered, it seems Saudi Arabia is a good case, but the second case [Israel] is better to be avoided. Thanks.” Tabatabai answered a few hours later: “Thank you very much for your advice. I will take action regarding Saudi Arabia and will keep you updated on the progress.”

Simultaneously, the IEI extended its reach to European think tanks and established connections with some of their Iran analysts. This included individuals like Ellie Geranmayeh, the Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Rouzbeh Parsi, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI), and Adnan Tabatabai, the co-founder and CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO).

The correspondence reveals a striking level of coordination and collaboration between these IEI participants and the Iranian Foreign Ministry. They generated a substantial volume of op-eds, analyses, and media appearances, consistently advocating for a conciliatory approach toward Tehran on the nuclear issue. The extent to which this initiative manipulated discourse and influenced policy decisions remains a matter of grave concern.

According to the “Semafor” report, based on the emails, Iran’s Foreign Ministry, via its internal think tank called the Institute for Political and International Studies, contacted ten “core” members for the project. The purpose of this outreach was to facilitate communication over the upcoming 18 months, with a strategic goal of actively advocating for the advantages of a nuclear agreement between Tehran and Washington, which was ultimately concluded in July 2015.

“This initiative which we call ‘Iran Experts Initiative (IEI)’ consists of a core group of 6-10 distinguished second-generation Iranians who have established affiliations with the leading international think tanks and academic institutions, mainly in Europe and the US,” wrote Saeed Khatibzadeh, an Iranian diplomat based in Berlin and the future Foreign Ministry spokesman, to Mostafa Zahrani, the head of the IPIS think tank in Tehran, on March 5, 2014, as the project gained momentum.

A week later, on March 11, Khatibzadeh wrote once more, mentioning that he had secured backing for the IEI from two young academics, Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary, subsequent to a meeting with them in Prague. “We three agreed to be the core group of the IEI,” he added.

Tabatabai presently holds the position of chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations at the Pentagon, necessitating a security clearance from the U.S. government. Earlier, she worked as a diplomat on Robert Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team subsequent to the inauguration of the Biden administration in 2021. Esfandiary, on the other hand, functions as a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley led from 2018 to 2021.

Adnan Tabatabai, the co-founder and CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO), was also in communication with Iran’s Foreign Ministry, expressing his willingness to ghostwrite articles on their behalf. “Our suggestion could be that we as a group, work on an essay (2000 words) regarding the ongoing talks,” Tabatabai told Zarif in the same email. “It could, for example, be published under a former official’s name, through the CSR or IPIS — of course after you and your team revised the piece.”

Four days later, the foreign minister responded, with Zahrani included in the correspondence. Zarif approved the proposal and suggested that “these articles or Op-Eds” be attributed to a range of Iranian and non-Iranian figures abroad, along with former officials. The actual number of pieces published through this approach remains unclear.

The Iranian officials managing the IEI, Zahrani, and Khatibzadeh, proudly highlighted the achievements of the initiative to their superiors in internal emails. They monitored the frequency of contributions or references to the IEI academics in the media during the week following the initial nuclear agreement between Tehran and global powers on April 2, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland. The media-related information was disseminated to additional members within the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran.

“Following our phone conversation, I attached here for your review only a few of the most significant works some of our friends published during the week after the Lausanne framework agreement was reached,” Khatibzadeh wrote in Farsi. “We were in constant contact and worked vigorously around the clock. Some friends performed as resourceful as a media outlet all by themselves.”

On April 14, 2015, Khatibzadeh sent an email to Zahrani, who subsequently forwarded the message to Zarif and one of the foreign minister’s deputies on the nuclear negotiating team, Majid Takht-Ravanchi. Khatibzadeh included 10 distinct Word documents in the email, each detailing the media impact of the individual IEI academics. Among these were references to Ariane Tabatabai and Ali Vaez, both of whom have had close working relationships with Malley over the past decade, and Dina Esfandiary, who was recruited during her tenure at ICG.

Khatibzadeh, the future Foreign Ministry spokesman boasted in the email: “These are in addition to hundreds of tweets, posts and…on the internet that were definitely unique and trend-sending in their own right. It should be noted that these works were not only published in English but also in several other international languages.”

The list shared by Khatibzadeh showed that in one week, Ariane Tabatabai published four articles, including in Foreign Policy, and gave interviews to the Huffington Post and Iran’s Fars News agency, which is linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, mostly supporting Tehran’s views on the nuclear talks. In an article for the National Interest co-written with Dina Esfandiary, they argued that Iran was “too powerful” to be contained and that “Tehran doesn’t need any agreement to be empowered and to strengthen its foothold in the region.”

The Iran Experts Initiative, as revealed in this collection of emails and communications, unveils the Iranian regime’s covert efforts to shape American, and European policy and public opinion.

What these revelations represent is merely the visible surface of a much deeper and more intricate network.

In this report, our objective is to delve into the formation and activities of Iran’s influence network within Europe, shedding light on how it managed to influence the European government, European Parliament, think tanks, media, and universities in shaping Europe’s foreign policy.

Our research further reveals that members of IEI were also vigorously engaged in attacking the Iranian opposition group, People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), claiming that they have no support within Iran and slandering the movement with a range of allegations originated from Tehran. Thus, they argued that they should not be seen as a viable democratic alternative to the current regime in Iran.

In their writings and speeches, they specifically target the MEK, the primary component of the NCRI, yet their objective effectively encompasses the democratic alternative to the current regime.

Unveiling Adnan Tabatabei’s Role in Germany

adnan tabatabai (1)

At the forefront of the “Iran Experts Initiative (IEI)” operation in Germany stands Adnan Tabatabei, whose role as an advocate for the Iranian regime has raised concerns about the manipulation of public opinion and policy-making.

As the son of Sadeq Tabatabai, Iran’s first deputy prime minister in the new regime in 1979, and a relative of the regime’s first Supreme Leader Khomeini, Adnan Tabatabai wielded influence in the German media for years.

Tabatabei, renowned as the co-founder and CEO of the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO), has been an active participant in leading German media publications since 2016. His claims of being an Iranian living abroad with a profound understanding of the region through his work have granted him credibility and access to prestigious platforms. Invited as a key participant in several discussions on Iran, including those organized by prominent foundations such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Tabatabei has undeniably wielded considerable influence in shaping German perspectives on Iranian affairs.

Adnan Tabatabi has been an active participant in various events at the European Parliament, having been invited on multiple occasions. His participation includes the following notable instances:

Public Hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee “Strategic Partnership with the Gulf– 22 March 2022

Public Hearing of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence “The implementation of the NPT Safeguard Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran” 17 February 2020

European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations in Iran – 16 July 2020

Joint meeting between European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iran and Delegation for Relations with Iraq – 11 May 2016

“The EU Engagement and Human Rights in Iran” – hosted by MEP Guteland on 6 March 2018

“Iran, the Middle East, and Europe one year after the JCPOA” – hosted by MEP Weidenholzer on 1 February 2017

In addition to his active involvement, Adnan Tabatabi has authored several reports, including at least one for the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) The Quest to Launch Regional Integration Processes in West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula – 9 November 2020 which has been referred to in other EU policy reports.

However, recent revelations stemming from leaked documents and exchanges between the Iranian regime and these “experts,” uncovered by Iran International and Semafor, have exposed Tabatabei’s involvement with the IEI since 2014. These documents outline the objectives of the IEI, which chiefly revolve around maintaining the West’s policy of appeasement towards the Iranian regime, promoting the narrative that the current regime has no alternative, and advocating for the continuation of the nuclear deal while demanding the lifting of sanctions.

Despite his denials, Tabatabei’s alignment with the Iranian regime’s rhetoric has become increasingly apparent, particularly in his articles and Twitter activities, which reflect a consistent anti-opposition stance, echoing the sentiments of state-run Iranian media.

The implications of Tabatabei’s covert activities extend beyond mere political rhetoric. They underscore the intricate web of influence carefully woven by Iranian lobbyists, manipulating media narratives and policy decisions to safeguard the interests of the Iranian regime.

The case of Adnan Tabatabei serves as a stark reminder of the perilous consequences of unchecked influence in the realm of international politics. It calls for heightened vigilance and critical scrutiny of narratives propagated by seemingly authoritative sources, emphasizing the need to safeguard the integrity of public discourse from the subtle manipulations of hidden agendas. Only through a vigilant and informed public can the insidious influence of individuals like Tabatabei be curtailed, paving the way for a more transparent and balanced understanding of complex geopolitical issues.

German Federal Government’s financial assistance to Adnan Tabatabai and the Think Tank “CARPO”

Recent inquiries raised in the German Bundestag have highlighted the role of Adnan Tabatabai and his alleged connections to the Iranian regime. The German Federal Government, in response to a series of questions, has provided crucial insights into the nature of the organization’s funding and its engagement with various governmental bodies.

According to the government’s response [The answer was sent on behalf of the federal government in a letter from the Foreign Office dated December 12, 2022], “CARPO” has received substantial financial support from the Federal Foreign Office for several projects spanning a significant period. The projects, including “Tafahum – Security Roadmap for West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula” and “Tafahum wa Tabadul – Enhancing Multi-Track Dialogue and Cooperation in West Asia and the Arabian Peninsula,” received funding amounting to approximately 1.4 million euros and 900,000 euros, respectively, from 2018 to 2021 and beyond. Additionally, the organization was involved in other initiatives, such as the “kull:tour” project, aimed at networking with cultural workers in Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

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The Distorted Narratives of Adnan Tabatabai

Adnan Tabatabai’s writings, speeches, and public statements have been instrumental in shaping public perceptions, not only within German media and think tanks but also across various international platforms. A closer examination of his narratives reveals a systematic effort to discredit groups and activities advocating for Iran’s regime change while perpetuating a narrative that paints the regime in a favorable light.

Tabatabai’s portrayal of the reform process in Iran serves as a key element in his narrative, emphasizing the necessity of supporting the regime’s so-called reformers. In his writings, he strategically positions reformers as essential figures within the government, often painting them as critics or members of the opposition. He champions the notion that a policy change within Iran can be achieved under the leadership of figures like Rouhani [The answer was sent on behalf of the federal government in a letter from the Foreign Office dated December 12, 2022.], effectively glossing over the regime’s authoritarian practices and human rights abuses.

Furthermore, Tabatabai has been known to perpetuate misleading information, often fabricating positive poll numbers to bolster the regime’s popularity. He has unabashedly promoted close relations with the regime under the guise of cultural exchanges, downplaying the regime’s repressive policies and actions that have garnered international condemnation.

In the context of foreign policy, Tabatabai has consistently placed blame on the United States for destabilizing the Middle East and fostering a potential war with Iran. His persistent efforts to

present Iran as a stabilizing force in the region serve to bolster the regime’s international standing and foster closer economic cooperation with foreign nations. His depiction of Qassem Soleimani, the late head of the Quds Force, as a heroic figure and a peace mediator conveniently omits the well-documented role of the Quds Force in fueling regional conflicts and supporting terrorist organizations.

When addressing the Iranian opposition and protests, Tabatabai’s narratives take a particularly alarming turn. His deliberate attempts to vilify Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) through baseless accusations of terrorism and unfounded comparisons to extremist groups like ISIS and the Taliban aim to delegitimize any opposition to the regime. He conveniently downplays or ignores the mass executions in the 1980s, further obscuring the regime’s dark history of human rights violations.

In 2019, he was quoted by the regime’s Nejat Society (an anti-MEK and MOIS [Ministry of Intelligence and Security] front organization), as saying, “Because of its role in the Iran-Iraq war, the group is now more hated by Iranians than al-Qaeda and ISIS.” He added: “It is fatal to believe that such a group could positively influence the political process in Iran.”

Among other numerous accounts, in 2019, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung wrote, “Because of its role in the Iran-Iraq war, the group is ‘more hated by Iranians today than al-Qaeda and IS,’ says Iran expert Adnan Tabatabai. Since 1981, the group has used the euphonious name National Council of Resistance (NCRI), but the council is completely dominated by the MEK. Although the MEK had taken up the cause of democracy, freedom, and human rights after fleeing to France, this was above all rhetoric. ‘It is fatal to believe that such a group could positively influence the political process in Iran,’ says Tabatabai.”

In response to the Iranian people’s protests, Tabatabai has actively advocated for Western restraint, indirectly aligning himself with the regime’s harsh crackdown on dissenting voices. His attempts to undermine legitimate grievances by portraying protests as mere expressions of economic and social discontent have contributed to the delegitimization of the Iranian people’s calls for fundamental political change.

The patterns in Tabatabai’s narratives underscore the systematic nature of Iran’s propaganda machinery, employing sophisticated strategies to manipulate public perception both domestically and internationally.

Rouzbeh Parsi’s Impact on Europe’s Approach to Iran

One notable figure linked to the IEI is Rouzbeh Parsi. Parsi gained prominence for echoing the Iranian regime’s narratives across prominent European platforms, including the European Parliament, various media outlets, and influential think tanks. Parsi’s role in amplifying the Iranian regime’s stance on critical geopolitical issues served as a notable example of the IEI’s targeted efforts to influence European perspectives on Iran and its policies.

rouzbeh and trita parsi
Rouzbeh Parsi is the brother of Trita Parsi, former head of the NIAC

Parsi’s career as an expert on Iran and the Middle East has granted him access to prestigious European think tanks and platforms, allowing him to advocate for an approach of appeasement toward the Iranian regime. His appearances in the European Parliament and his contributions to reports for the same institution have sparked debates regarding the influence of the Iranian regime on Europe’s policy decisions.

Parsi has consistently presented issues related to Iran in a manner that aligns closely with the policy objectives of the Iranian regime. His emphasis on fostering a cooperative relationship with the regime and his purported downplaying of severe human rights violations by the regime were clear indications of his one-sided analyses.

In one of his reports for the European Parliament in 2016, titled “An EU Strategy for Relations with Iran after the Nuclear Deal,” Parsi emphasized the potential benefits of a structured relationship between the European Union and the Iranian regime. He also emphasized the necessity of Iranian involvement in resolving regional crises such as those involving ISIS and migration, suggesting that excluding Iran from these discussions would be unreasonably costly or practically infeasible.

These perspectives have led some observers to question the extent to which he has been advancing the Iranian regime’s interests within European policymaking circles.

Parsi’s connections to his brother Trita Parsi, the Iranian regime’s chief lobbyist and former head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) lobbying group in Washington, who now runs Quincy Institute, is another indication of the potential influence of the Iranian regime on European policy.

Who is Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi
Trita Parsi

Concerns and debates surrounding Iran’s influence in the United States have long been a prominent issue, with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) emerging as a significant lobbying group promoting the Iranian regime’s interests within the US government and media.

NIAC officially presents itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the Iranian-American community’s interests. However, its actions have often raised questions about its compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and other US laws, as it has consistently aligned itself with the Iranian regime’s objectives.

The roots of NIAC can be traced back to Trita Parsi, who initiated his pro-Tehran activities in 1997 with the establishment of “Iranians for International Cooperation” (IIC) in Sweden. Parsi’s involvement with US foreign policy became more apparent during his role as a foreign-policy advisor to former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, who faced corruption charges related to the violation of sanctions by facilitating the purchase of an airplane for the Iranian regime.

Following his move to the United States in 2001, Parsi assumed the position of development director at the American Iranian Council (AIC), a pro-Iran advocacy organization. His activities paved the way for the formation of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which aimed to lobby for a more favorable US policy towards Iran. However, controversies surrounding NIAC’s alleged ties with the Iranian regime triggered criticism within the Iranian-American community.

In 2008, a defamation lawsuit between NIAC and one of its critics resulted in the release of internal documents, which raised significant questions about NIAC’s connections to the Iranian regime. These documents revealed email exchanges between Parsi and Iran’s then-ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, suggesting that NIAC was operating as an undeclared lobby potentially violating various laws.

Moreover, Parsi’s direct access to senior Iranian regime officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, further emphasized the close relationship between NIAC and the Iranian government. Additionally, NIAC’s role in facilitating meetings between members of Congress and senior Iranian officials raised concerns about its involvement in high-level diplomatic discussions.

Despite these revelations, the Obama administration engaged with NIAC, using it as a conduit to establish communication with the Iranian leadership. This relationship helped legitimize President Barack Obama’s conciliatory approach towards Iran, solidifying NIAC’s position as a key player within the administration.

In 2019, with NIAC having been exposed and discredited as a lobby for Tehran, Trita Parsi and others launched the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, funded by George Soros and Charles Koch, with the goal of pursuing their objective under the guise of an independent think tank. The Quincy has been de facto advocating for a pro-appeasement approach to US foreign policy. The think tank’s publications and financial sources have led to allegations that it operates as a lobby group under the influence and control of Iran’s regime.

The Quincy Institute’s alignment with Iranian regime talking points has drawn attention and criticism, signaling the ongoing challenges posed by Iran’s influence within the US. With Iran and its allies using various platforms to advance their agendas, questions continue to surface about the depth and impact of their influence on US policies and public discourse.

Images of Trita Parsi with senior Iranian delegation
Trita Parsi in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2015 with the Iranian delegation
NIAC2
Lausanne, Switzerland, 2015, Trita Parsi (second from left) with Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani’s brother Hossein Fereydoon (right) and nuclear negotiator Majid Takht-Ravanchi (second from right) during the 2015 nuclear negotiations.

Rouzbeh Parsi’s Presence in European Policy Circles

“Rouzbeh Parsi, acknowledged as an expert on Iran and the Middle East, has played a crucial role in various meetings and conferences, striving to influence European policymakers on issues concerning Iran. Beyond these engagements, he has actively participated in several European think tanks and policy organizations, contributing significantly to the discourse on the Iranian regime’s relations with European countries.

Parsi’s presence in the European Parliament has been noteworthy, characterized by several high-profile appearances as a guest speaker. Alongside other IEI members Ellie Geranmayeh and Dina Esfandiary, Parsi notably participated in crucial discussions, including the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Public Hearings on the situation in Iran and the implications of the nuclear agreement. Furthermore, his involvement in preparing in-depth analyses requested by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee showcases his active engagement in shaping policy discussions.

ellie geranmayeh and rouzbeh parsi (1)
(L-R) Rouzbeh Parsi, and Ellie Geranmayeh, in European Council on Foreign Relations

During his tenure as a Senior Analyst for the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) from 2009 to 2013, he significantly influenced the Iranian regime’s narratives in prestigious European institutions. Notably, he authored over 61 policy papers, participated in media interviews, and contributed analyses on foreign, security, and defense policy issues. The recognition of his work is further highlighted by its citation in influential studies conducted by the French Defense Ministry Strategy Study Group (IRESM).

Parsi’s involvement with esteemed organizations such as the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) [ISPI: Iran After the Deal: The Road Ahead – The Middle East and the Deal: In Search of a New Balance – 28 Sep 2015] and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) has firmly established him as a key figure in discussions concerning Iran and European foreign policy. His published works, including policy papers addressing crucial topics such as the Iranian economy post the nuclear deal and the ramifications of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, consistently align with the policy objectives of the Iranian regime.

Beyond his involvement in think tanks, Parsi’s influence extends to his directorial roles in various European policy organizations, including the European Iran Research Group (EIRG), the European Middle East Research Group (EMERG), and his participation in the Iran Expert “Tiger Team” of the European Leadership Network (ELN).

Echoing the Iranian Regime’s Narrative

Rouzbeh Parsi’s demonization efforts against the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) serve as a clear reflection of his alignment with the Iranian regime’s narrative. Parsi consistently emphasizes the alleged lack of popular support for the MEK within Iran, echoing the longstanding rhetoric disseminated by the Iranian regime.”

In a 2011 policy paper for the European Union Institute for Security Studies, Parsi reiterated the Iranian regime’s accusations against the MEK, denouncing the group as a promoter of violence, and raising doubts about its commitment to democratic principles and human rights. His recent tweets, including one in September 2023, persist in dismissing the MEK’s popular support within Iran, suggesting that the group more closely resembles a religious-political cult than a genuine opposition force.

This persistent campaign to demonize the MEK, frequently echoed through his social media presence, reflects a narrative that aligns with the Iranian regime’s longstanding endeavors to undermine and delegitimize opposition groups challenging its authority.

Parsi, has used Twitter as a tool to discredit the MEK. His tweet dismisses the MEK’s significance, claiming, “If MEK is ‘main opposition,’ then it’s a sad state of affairs. In reality, it’s a fringe group with no base in Iran.”

Ellie Geranmayeh Shaping European Policy Through the Prism of Iranian Interests

Ellie Geranmayeh
Ellie Geranmayeh

Ellie Geranmayeh, another member of the IEI, has been recognized for her involvement in shaping Europe’s approach to various Middle Eastern dynamics, with a significant emphasis on Iran. As a senior policy fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Geranmayeh has been involved in key discussions regarding Iran’s role in regional geopolitics and its nuclear program.

Geranmayeh’s biography on the ECFR.EU Website highlights her extensive engagement in diplomatic efforts leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal. Her continued counsel to senior policymakers on effective containment strategies for Iran’s nuclear activities underscores her involvement in promoting rapprochements with Iran.

Despite her influential position within the European policy landscape, Geranmayeh, as an IEI member has been pursuing the narrative and interests of the Iranian regime. Her written works, often reflecting the Iranian regime’s stance, have raised concerns about the influence she wields in shaping European politics in line with the regime’s objectives.

For instance, during the Iranian people’s uprisings in 2022, while many European officials were advocating for increased pressure on the regime, Geranmayeh’s articles, ostensibly emphasizing the “importance of maintaining dialogue and engagement,” seemed aimed at alleviating pressure from the regime. Her views echoed the regime’s narrative, urging Western capitals not to yield to pressures from groups opposing the regime.

In one article dated September 30, 2022, Geranmayeh cautioned against isolating the Iranian regime, advocating instead for continued engagement to restore the nuclear deal. She emphasized, “This turmoil in Iran comes at a sensitive time for its relations with the West over stalled nuclear talks. As fears intensify over the Iranian government’s increasing use of violence against protesters, Western capitals are under pressure from groups that have long opposed diplomacy with Iran to scrap nuclear negotiations. Europe and the United States should not bow to these pressures. A diplomatic route to the restoration of the nuclear deal, rather than bombs or more sanctions, remains the best outcome – both for the West and for the Iranian people.”

Furthermore, she employed the notion of “moderate and hardline camps” from the regime’s old playbook to rationalize the West’s diplomatic approach, asserting that disengagement would only strengthen the hardline factions that thrive under isolation and sanctions.

“Beyond this, Iran hawks are piling pressure on Western governments to punish Iran’s leadership by walking away from negotiations aimed at restoring the nuclear deal. But this approach – as the last 43 years have shown – will only reward and strengthen the most hardline camps in Iran that have thrived under isolation and sanctions…Islamic Republic is unlikely to collapse if the West walks away from negotiations on the nuclear deal and returns to a maximum pressure campaign. Quite the contrary: abandoning diplomacy would only benefit the country’s hardline elites.”

Geranmayeh’s recommendations consistently called for European governments to avoid pressuring Iran while simultaneously advocating for appeasing the regime under the pretext of “diplomatic efforts.”

Geranmayeh participated in various critical meetings and gatherings, playing a significant role in shaping Europe’s stance on Iran. Particularly noteworthy is her participation, alongside another IEI member, Rouzbeh Parsi, as a key expert in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Public Hearing on “Iran: how the nuclear agreement could create opportunities” in October 2015.

She also took part in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s public hearing on “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): EU Policy Options in Case of U.S. Decertification” in April 2018, shaping the perspectives on the JCPOA’s implications for EU policy decisions.

Geranmayeh’s presence in international media outlets has further amplified her influence on European policy discussions. Her published works are in alignment with Iran’s objectives. Examples of her articles include “EU needs to act now to salvage Iran nuclear deal” in Euractiv in May 2018, “Reviving the revolutionaries: How Trump’s maximum pressure is shifting Iran’s domestic politics” in ECFR Policy Brief in June 2020, and “Biden should look beyond leverage to rejoin the Iran deal” on CNN in January 2021.

In her role at the ECFR since 2013, Geranmayeh has published over 140 articles, policy papers, interviews, podcasts, and other media regarding Iran policy. Her work has not only shaped European Parliament research and study documents on Iran but has also been referenced in various EU Council documents, underscoring her significant impact on European decision-making processes.

Beyond her individual efforts, Geranmayeh’s collaboration with Rouzbeh Parsi, another member of the IEI, raises further concerns about potential concerted efforts to sway Europe’s approach towards Iran. Their joint involvement as key experts in the aforementioned Foreign Affairs Committee Public Hearing sessions suggests a coordinated strategy to promote narratives aligned with Iran’s interests.

In addition to her role within the European Parliament and the ECFR, Geranmayeh’s active participation in conferences hosted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), recognized as Iran’s primary lobby group in the US, has sparked concerns about her extensive involvement in steering discussions favoring Iran. Her close association with NIAC and joint participation with Rouzbeh Parsi highlights the potential magnitude of her influence, extending beyond European spheres. These involvements within the main lobbying group shed light on the intricate web of Iranian influence that could significantly sway policy decisions and public perception.

zoom call ellie granmayeh bijan niac (1) zoom call ellie granmayeh niac

The Shadow Influence of Dina Esfandiary

Dina Esfandiary
Dina Esfandiary

Dina Esfandiary, a member of the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI), has played a significant role in influencing European countries’ policies in favor of the Iranian regime. Her extensive background and affiliations within renowned institutions, along with her wide-ranging publications, have drawn attention to the potential impact of her work on shaping policy decisions regarding Iran.

Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. She has written articles in reputable publications such as Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Washington Post as an influential voice in international affairs.

Collaborating with other IEI members, including Rouzbeh Parsi, Ariane Tabatabai, and Ali Vaez, her contributions to various articles, speeches, and reports have consistently favored narratives that resonate with the Iranian regime’s priorities. For example, her joint article with Ali Vaez following the election of Ebrahim Raisi as the president of Iran exemplifies her apparent support for the regime’s interests. In the article titled “The Hard-Liners Won in Iran. That’s Not All Bad News,” Esfandiary and Vaez advocated for Western engagement with Raisi, downplaying concerns about his human rights record and his involvement in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

Their argument to prioritize the nuclear agreement over addressing Raisi’s human rights records was encapsulated in their conclusion:

»For the Biden administration, the political cost of deal-making with Mr. Raisi is higher because the United States has imposed sanctions on him for his sordid human rights record. But Washington cannot choose its interlocutors and has plenty of experience negotiating with unpalatable counterparts. The alternative to negotiations — an exponentially growing Iranian nuclear program — threatens to set the United States and the Islamic Republic on a collision course where there will be no winners.«

One of her significant reports, co-authored with Rouzbeh Parsi, was “In-depth Analysis Requested by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee: An EU Strategy for relations with Iran after the nuclear deal,” published on June 23, 2016.

Furthermore, their joint collaboration on the report for the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and the Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), titled “So Close Yet So Far Apart: Facilitating Dialogue and Cooperation across the Persian Gulf,” published on October 26, 2020, highlighted the need for dialogue and cooperation in Persian Gulf region. The recommendations outlined in the report are also noteworthy for their apparent alignment with the narratives promoted by the Iranian regime, emphasizing the necessity for the West to engage with Iran.

In addition to her alleged involvement with Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a member of IEI, and her role in shaping European policy, Dina Esfandiary has been noted for her persistent efforts to demonize the MEK. She has been very active in promoting the Iranian regime’s narrative, asserting that the regime has no viable alternative and that the MEK lacks popular support. Esfandiary’s Twitter account, often filled with posts disparaging the MEK, has raised questions about the objectivity of her stance and the extent to which she is parroting the Iranian regime’s propaganda.

Her posts leave little room for interpretation, with one tweet emphatically stating, “If there’s anything all #Iran-ians agree on, it’s that the #MEK is NOT an alternative. Thanks for your insights, Mr. Pence. Please don’t bother next time.”

Furthermore, Dina Esfandiary’s active involvement with the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) has significantly reinforced her connection with a prominent organization lobbying on behalf of Iran. Her frequent participation in NIAC’s conferences has provided a substantial platform for advocating Iran’s narratives within Western contexts. Notably, she has lent her endorsement to several statements and letters organized by NIAC, under the leadership of its President, Jamal Abdi. All these documents align with the regime’s demands, urging the US to lift sanctions imposed on Iran and appealing to European nations to undertake more comprehensive and substantive measures in addressing the issue of sanctions relief.

Dina Esfandiary (second from left) at the NIAC conference. (1)
Dina Esfandiary (second from left) at the NIAC conference

Iran’s Influence in the European Parliament

In December 2022, a shocking corruption scandal sent shockwaves through the European Parliament. Termed “Qatargate,” this scandal brought to light a web of alleged corrupt dealings involving members of the European political body and Qatar. This investigation has led to charges of criminal enterprise, money laundering, and corruption, implicating members of the European Parliament.  One element of this probe is a parliamentary “adviser” with deep ties to the Iranian regime, long suspected of operating as a regime lobbyist in Europe.

The Belgian police, in charge of the investigation, have made several arrests. Since December 9, 2022, Belgian federal police have conducted a series of 20 raids across residences and offices in Brussels, seizing mobile phones, computers, and more than €1.5 million in cash.

In response to these developments, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament took action, suspending one of their political advisers, Eldar Mamedov, and referring him to Belgian authorities. This move was part of an internal investigation into alleged foreign interference in Brussels, as reported by POLITICO. Eldar Mamedov, a Latvian national, has been serving as an S&D adviser to Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. The S&D group is the second-largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Mamedov’s Role and Alleged Ties to the Iranian Regime

Eldar Mamedov’s tenure as an adviser extends over a decade, primarily focusing on Middle East topics, including Iran. Throughout this period, Mamedov has consistently taken pro-Iranian regime positions and maintained close connections with Trita Parsi. He worked with Parsi at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and authored numerous articles in line with the Iranian regime’s narratives.

eldar mamedov responsible statecraft (1)

He has also played an active role in vilifying the main opposition to the clerical regime in Iran, the MEK.

rafsanjani-mamedov-2013
Former Iranian regime’s president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (left) and Eldar Mamedov (right)

In his interactions with members of Parliament, Mamedov has echoed Tehran’s anti-MEK propaganda and authored numerous articles demonizing the MEK while downplaying the regime’s crimes and aggressive regional conduct.

According to the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, Mamedov is well-known in Brussels as an “Iran lobbyist.” Notably, he has traveled to Iran and has been photographed alongside regime officials, including former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

 

Trans-Atlantic Activities and Connections

Mamedov’s role as an Iran lobbyist in Europe is not confined to the European continent. His activities span the Atlantic and encompass close ties with Iranian regime lobbyists and apologists in Washington, D.C., notably Trita Parsi. His viewpoints are frequently published by the Quincy Institute, where Parsi now serves as the Executive Vice President. The Responsible Statecraft magazine, for which Mamedov writes, is an outlet of the Quincy Institute.

responsible statecraft mamedov article

Furthermore, Mamedov has publicly defended the NIAC and praised Parsi’s writings regarding Iran. He actively promotes Parsi’s events and discussions on Iranian politics and conducts interviews with prominent NIAC members and regime apologists in the U.S., such as Negar Mortazavi.

MEK Demonization and Regime Propaganda

In order to effectively advocate for Tehran’s interests, lobbyists like Trita Parsi and Eldar Mamedov are compelled to undermine the MEK. Over the past 13 years, Mamedov has authored numerous articles demonizing the MEK, reiterating the regime’s propaganda. He has lobbied against the organization within European circles, particularly the European Parliament, using stale regime talking points and unfounded accusations against the MEK.

responsible statecraft mamedov article 2

Mamedov’s claims, echoing Tehran’s narrative, downplay the MEK’s role and suggest that EU foreign policy decision-making bodies do not consider the MEK a viable alternative to the current Iranian government, alleging a lack of support among the Iranian population. He further argues that countering MEK propaganda is essential to diplomatic efforts with Iran, emphasizing the potential for government reform from within.

Mamedov also had a relationship with Rouzbeh Parsi, one of the recently exposed IEI members and the brother of Trita Parsi. In his anti-MEK tweets, Rouzbeh Parsi frequently mentions Mamedov and other paid agents and apologists of the regime.

Echoing the Iranian Regime’s ‘No Alternative’ Propaganda

One of the paramount objectives of the regime’s lobbying efforts in the United States and Europe is to propagate the falsehood that there is no viable alternative to the Iranian regime. Consequently, they argue that it is imperative to engage with and legitimize this regime. The Iranian regime has expended hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of this agenda, strategically enlisting sympathetic journalists within the mainstream media, cultivating relationships with influential think tanks in the United States and Europe, and garnering support from numerous apologists.

Central to this narrative has been the vilification of Iran’s principal opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its principal constituent the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). This concerted effort to tarnish the image of the MEK serves a pivotal purpose: by propagating the notion, both domestically and internationally, that Iran’s primary and largest opposition force lacks popular backing, the regime seeks to render the question of an alternative irrelevant.

To appreciate the significance of this issue to the Iranian regime, it is crucial to examine their relentless endeavors to demonize the MEK and promote this narrative.

The Iranian regime has persistently propagated a defamatory campaign against the MEK for more than four decades. This extensive effort aimed to depict the MEK as a marginalized cult within Iran, utilizing an array of over 198 films, documentaries, and TV series, alongside 538 books to vilify the organization.

Under the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), numerous front organizations like the Nejat Society and Habilian Foundation have perpetuated the regime’s propaganda. The Nejat Society, with branches nationwide, has disseminated a staggering 25,331 articles, while Faraq and Habilian websites have published 12,501 and 17,563 defamatory pieces, respectively, fueling the regime’s narrative against the MEK.

These relentless efforts underscore the regime’s deep-seated fear of the MEK’s influence, showcasing the comprehensive measures taken to undermine its credibility and reputation within Iran and abroad.

rouzbeh parsi tweet on MEK

IEI Experts and Iran’s Regime-Synchronized Efforts to Smear the MEK

Examining the Iranian regime’s position on this matter and aligning it with the viewpoints of the identified members of IEI, as well as the network of NIAC members and supporters in the United States and European media and think tanks, unmistakably reveals the presence of a coordinated narrative. These individuals have authored articles, policy pieces, and social media comments with the deliberate aim of tarnishing the MEK’s reputation. Their consistent narrative casts doubt on the MEK’s suitability as a viable alternative to the existing regime, implicitly advocating for the continuation of the current course, which involves sustained engagement with the ruling theocracy.

While dissecting influence operations that impact U.S. and European policy is of paramount importance, the concealed narrative becomes apparent when examining the role of key figures within the IEI in an elaborate campaign to vilify the MEK. Through various means, including articles, panel discussions, mainstream media comments, and social media engagement, these purported experts actively and vocally echoed the Iranian regime’s outlandish allegations and defamatory statements against the MEK.

Conclusion:

For decades, Iran has been engaged in an intricate dance of power, using various means to shape policies in both Europe and the United States. The recent exposé of the IEI project is just a fragment of the wider web of influence woven by the Iranian regime. Through substantial financial investments and the strategic cultivation of influential lobbies, Iran has persistently sought to sway the decision-making processes of Western institutions and governments. This relentless pursuit has been further facilitated by a longstanding policy of appeasement, revealing the deep extent of Iran’s influence over key Western policies.

An in-depth analysis of the IEI’s activities has uncovered two pivotal objectives pursued by Iran. Firstly, it has sought to mold the policies of Western governments, encouraging a path of appeasement that turns a blind eye to Iran’s alarming human rights violations and its destabilizing actions both regionally and internationally. Secondly, the operation has been strategically aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main constituent, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), presenting them as unpopular factions within Iran. This calculated move pursued the goal of positioning the Iranian regime as the sole plausible option for collaboration, urging continued appeasement from both Europe and the United States.

Despite Iran’s complex network of influence and substantial financial backing intended to sideline the Iranian resistance from the global political arena, the Iranian resistance movement, relying on its vast support in Iran, has garnered significant support from numerous lawmakers and former officials worldwide as the only force capable of delivering the fundamental change the Iranian people desire. This support has emerged as a beacon of hope, reflecting the resolute commitment of various international figures to the cause of democratic change within Iran.

Central to the NCRI’s plan is the comprehensive vision for a free and democratic republic of Iran, introduced by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi over two decades ago. This visionary Ten-Point Plan has garnered widespread support from various parliaments, elected representatives, former heads of state, and esteemed political figures. Many view the Ten-Point Plan as a potent guarantee for the eventual overthrow of the current regime and the establishment of a free and democratic Iran.

The resounding endorsements from 29 parliaments worldwide, over 3,600 people’s representatives from 40 countries, 61 legislative assemblies across Europe, North America, Australia, and Arab countries, along with the backing of 124 former world leaders and 75 Nobel laureates, testify to the growing international recognition of the NCRI’s cause. In a joint letter, former heads of state emphasized their belief in the fundamental right of the Iranian people to determine their own future, while also acknowledging the relentless pursuit of democratic change by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. They unequivocally lent their support to the Ten-Point Plan, commending its alignment with democratic values, including the promotion of free elections, freedom of expression, gender equality, religious autonomy, and a nuclear-free Iran.

As the world’s attention turns to the unyielding determination of the Iranian people for a better future, the international community’s support for the cause of a free and democratic Iran continues to reverberate, embodying a collective stand for fundamental human rights and democratic principles.

Appendix 1

Snapshot: IEI Members’ Tweets and Articles Resonating Iran’s Baseless Allegations against the MEK, Revealing Their True Mission

Ariane Tabatabai: An IEI-affiliated expert, Tabatabai’s inaugural article was notably against the MEK. A close examination of her work reveals striking parallels with regime propaganda against the organization.

Tabatabai’s anti-MEK writings have titles like “Beware of the MEK,” and copy allegations such as the following:

Ariane Tabatabai contends in a National Interest article that the MEK lacks popular support within Iran, has a history of human rights abuses, was responsible for anti-American actions in the past, and is manipulating its democratic image to exploit Western fears of the Iranian regime. Furthermore, the MEK’s true nature is depicted as a crypto-Shiite Communist group, and the author asserts that supporting it would not lead to the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program.

In March 2018, Ariane Tabatabai wrote an article saying the MEK is not a viable alternative to Iran’s current government and raises concerns about regime change as a policy approach.

In an article published by Foreign Policy in 2020, Tabatabai draws parallels between Iranian dissident groups, including the MEK, and QAnon, a conspiracy theory that has gained prominence in U.S. politics, in terms of their ability to use the internet and online platforms for dissemination.

In 2014, she wrote for the National Interest, “The voices supporting the MEK are ignoring the lessons of some of the most catastrophic U.S. foreign-policy mistakes in the past few decades, urging Washington to repeat history.”

In a RAND study that was presented before the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism on January 28, 2020, Tabatabai writes, “Although the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy has clearly suffered and popular discontent continues to grow, U.S. policy toward Iran must be based on reality. Clearly, the United States should seek to be prepared for all scenarios, including a potential collapse of the regime—which could bring about a friendly democratic government (which remains a low probability scenario for the foreseeable future) or lead to another authoritarian regime, such as one led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), an unlikely contender for power with a troubling history.”

Ariane Tabatabai and Jamal Abdi (1)
Ariane Tabatabai and Jamal Abdi, the President of NIAC, were both present at the conference of the ‘Coalition for Peace Action’

Dina Esfandiary, another integral figure within the IEI, has actively employed her Twitter platform to cast aspersions on the MEK’s legitimacy. Her posts leave little room for interpretation, with one tweet emphatically stating, “If there’s anything all #Iran-ians agree on, it’s that the #MEK is NOT an alternative. Thanks for your insights Mr. Pence. Please don’t bother next time.

Some of her tweets are as follows:

“If there’s anything all #Iran-ians everywhere, inside and out, agree on (and getting Iranians to agree on anything is mission impossible) is that the #MEK is NOT an alternative. Thanks for your insights, Mr Pence. Please don’t bother next time.”

“Yes-RT @borzou :1 thing binds #Iran’s liberals, Islamists, leftists, monarchists, jews, Bahais, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Azeris=hatred of #mko #mek”

“#MEK is “Stalinism minus the vodka”

“‘Enemy of my enemy is my friend’ doesn’t work in this case says @ArianeTabatabai on #Iran and #MEK”

“In case this @nytimes op-ed was missed, the reason why the #Iranian #MEK is so hated: http://nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion…”

Rouzbeh Parsi:

In 2011, he wrote in a policy paper for the European Union Institute for Security Studies: “It should be stressed here that the MeK is not a viable and legitimate interlocutor. The group advocates violence and has a dubious track record when it comes to understanding and espousing democracy and respect for human rights.”

He tweeted as recently as September 2023 (translated from Swedish), “Mujahedin-e Khalq has no popular support in Iran and can almost be described as a religious-political cult.”

Some of his tweets are as follows:

“If MEK is ‘main opposition’ then it’s a sad state of affairs. In reality it’s a fringe group with no base in Iran.”

“Thorough report on the position and history of MeK, the cult-like organization dressed up as resistance against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“@thekarami interesting that they were adamant that #mek is not a viable opposition group, nor democratic.”

“A good report on the weird cult of the #MeK/MKO and its Western political groupies http://goo.gl/YaiGKO @tparsi@Ali_Gharib @mashabani”

“If State dep. delists #MEK that would be a serious setback for any attempt to achieve progress on the diplomatic track with #iran. @eu”

Adnan Tabatabai:

Adnan Tabatabai has not shied away from leveraging Twitter to propagate negative sentiments about the MEK. In one of his scathing tweets, he asserts, “People of #Iran despise #MKO arguably even more than #ISIS or #ALQAEDA, and you think M Rajavi speaks for the people of #Iran? This is pathetic.”

In 2019, he was quoted by the regime’s Nejat Society (an anti-MEK and MOIS-affiliated front organization), as saying: “Because of its role in the Iran-Iraq war, the group is now more hated by Iranians than al-Qaeda and ISIS.” He added: “It is fatal to believe that such a group could positively influence the political process in Iran.”

Some of his tweets are as follows:

“People of #Iran despise #MKO arguably even more than #ISIS or #ALQAEDA, and u think M Rajavi speaks for people of #Iran? This is pathetic.”

“This is beyond ridiculous. #Albania hosts the terrorist cult #MKO/#MEK which #Bolton has declared its favourite #Iran|ian “dissident” group. From #Albania the #MKO/#MEK run social media manipulation ops, as reported by @Channel4News, @AlJazeera_World and others.[1]

Interestingly Tabatabai, quote tweets Trita Parsi’s tweet in this regard:

“Meet Maryam Rajavi, Chairwoman of the Digital Republic of Botistan… …oh, plus a bunch of uniformed female cult members in the room.”

“Make sure to watch all vids. @RichardEngel sheds light on the terrorist cult known as the #MEK/#MKO. Despite being run like a militant sect, it is courted as an #Iran|ian opposition group in DC, and has just been emboldened (or “em|#Bolton|ed”) by President Trump’s NatSecAdvisor.”

“Ginrich, Giuliani and Bolton are regulars at MEK parades. كثافتها”

“Here is an eye-opening report on the bot factory run by #MKO/#MEK to distort and poison the #Iran debate on @Twitter with scores of fake accounts. Outstanding work by @will_yong. https://youtu.be/JKfSFa5tE_w”

These direct quotes from their Twitter accounts, speeches and articles underscore the strategic and coordinated effort by these IEI members to disparage the MEK’s credibility within the public sphere. It is crucial to critically analyze the sources and motivations underlying these narratives as they continue to shape the broader discourse surrounding the MEK.

Appendix 2

Adnan Tabatabai and Javad Zarif’s Close Ties

According to leaked emails, Adnan Tabatabai maintained a close relationship with Javad Zarif, the former foreign minister of Iran. In an email dated May 19, 2014, Tabatabai proposed to ghostwrite articles on behalf of Iran’s Foreign Ministry. He suggested, “Our suggestion could be that we, as a group, work on an essay (2000 words) regarding the ongoing talks.” Tabatabai further proposed that the article be published under the name of a former official through the CSR or IPIS, subject to Zarif’s and his team’s revisions.

Four days later, the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, responded to the email, with Zahrani copied in. Zarif accepted the proposal and recommended the publication of these articles or Op-Eds under the names of various Iranian and non-Iranian individuals abroad, as well as former officials.

Apart from the leaked emails, a brief examination of some of Adnan Tabatabai’s tweets indicates his close ties with Zarif.

When you run out of what to sanction you go for diplomats. This will further boost. @JZarif‘s popularity in #Iran.

#Iran’s FM @JZarif reacts to Supreme Court demanding $2bn by #Iran’s Central Back for US victims of 1983 bombing.

Praise for #Iran‘s  @JZarif  from the person far too many falsely believe (and wishfully claim) is the foreign minister‘s staunch antagonist. He is not.

#IRAN Today many dailies have @JZarif on frontpage covering his remarkable speech at #Majles yesterday. Even his opponents were impressed.

Unsurprisingly, bots have “joined” the #Twitter debate on @JZarif ‘s resignation. cc: @geoffgolberg @marcowenjones @BBCMonitoring

‌‌Beyond pathetic!!! @SenTomCotton ‘s four tweets of masculinity challenging #Iran’s FM @JZarif

#Iran’s FM @JZarif  at it again Recalling value of #JCPOA, need for defense capabilities.

https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/zarif-what-critics-get-wrong-about-iran-and-the-nuclear-agreement/2016/04/20/7b542dee-0658-11e6-a12f-ea5aed7958dc_story.html

FM @JZarif is embodiment of foreign policy shift president Rouhani intends to implement. http://lobelog.com/nuclear-talks-paradigm-shift-in-iran-foreign-policy/ #Iran

Tweets by #Iran’s FM @JZarif on the occasion of the #JCPOA’s first anniversary.

Appendix 3

The Unified Efforts of IEI Members in Promoting Ties with the Iranian Regime

The members of “Iran Expert Initiative” (IEI) worked together in a coordinated fashion, engaging in numerous meetings, conferences, television interviews, and collaborative articles. Their collective efforts aimed to promote a conciliatory approach towards the Iranian regime, essentially utilizing the collective voice of multiple “Iran experts” to validate their stance.

Notably, Dina Esfandiari actively participated in various meetings alongside other IEI members such as Ali Vaez, Rouzbeh Parsi, Ellie Geranmayeh, and Arian Tabatabai. Additionally, they collaborated with each other on several joint articles published in the media.

A cursory review of photographs from these meetings and articles provides evident support for this claim.

wpr dina esfandiary ali vaez article (1)

wpr dina esfandiary ali vaez article 2 (1)

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The International Institute: Dina Esfandiary (middle) and Rouzbeh Parsi (right)
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Ali Vaez and Ellie Geranmayeh
wpr dina esfandiary ali vaez article 4
Article in New York Times by Dina Esfandiary and Ali Vaez

wpr dina esfandiary ali vaez article 3

Adnan Tabatabi (right) and Rouzbeh Parsi (left)
Adnan Tabatabi (right) and Rouzbeh Parsi (left)
Adnan Tabatabi (far right) and Rouzbeh Parsi (far left).png
Adnan Tabatabi (far right) and Rouzbeh Parsi (far left).png
Panel (from left to right) Dina Esfandiary, Laura Rockwood, Ariane Tabatabai
Panel (from left to right) Dina Esfandiary, Laura Rockwood, Ariane Tabatabai
Dina Esfandiary (middle) and Ariane Tabatabai (right)
Dina Esfandiary (middle) and Ariane Tabatabai (right)