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Iranian regime lobby: Tehran’s men in Washington

The following is the English translation of excerpts of an investigative report published in Arabic language daily Asharq al-Awsat on May 6 on the activities of the Iranian regime’s lobby in Washington.

by: Hossein Abdol-Hossein

Since the mid-90s Tehran’s approach has been working to form lobby groups in Washington with financial backing from Iran, and with the direct supervision of Iranian Mission to the United Nations.

Iran has been establishing these lobbies, with Zoroastrian Iranian-Swedish mulattos in Washington leading the pack, hoping to defeat the mightiest lobbies in the U.S., and above all the pro-Israel lobby.

In my office in Washington I received an invitation from the prestigious ‘Woodrow Wilson Center’ asking me to take part in a seminar entitled ‘Iran, the Next Five Years: Change or More of the Same?’

The Iran topic is hot and these types of seminars often attract the attention of a crowd of concerned American officials, experts, and reporters.

I opened the invitation, I knew one of the speakers, an American journalist writing about the Middle East with some objectivity. The other speakers were not American and this prompted me to carry out research into them.
One of them is an Iranian by the name of Bijhan Khaje-Pour, who runs a consulting firm. It appears that this firm is supposedly is based in Austria, but I have been reading his name as a speaker in special seminars about Iran here in the US capital.

Through a quick follow up, I learned that the alleged consulting firm is called ‘Atieh International’, a subsidiary of the ‘Atieh Group’ in Tehran, presenting itself on its website as an expert in offering ‘support and advice to foreign firms to enter and be successful in Iran’s markets”.
The second speaker is a French researcher named Bernard Hourcarde on whom my research led me to an interview with Euronews in April. In this interview he said: “We have been saying every day for 34 years that the Islamic republic is on the verge of crumbling. However, this Islamic republic remains intact. In fact it is the most stable government in the Middle East and we see this especially after the Arab Spring, and this is a country will continue to progress”.

Horcard then goes on to ask that Iran be given a chance to enrich uranium, and that reaching a deal with will lead to sanctions being lifted and relations normalized with the West, especially the US.

The third speaker was Roberto Toscano of Italy, who was his country’s ambassador to Iran from 2003 to 2008. In an article in Huffington Post, Toscano downplayed the Iranians’ ‘Down with America’ slogan and wrote that it is better for the US to not pay any attention to the regime’s anti-United States rhetoric and continue to open their arms to them, or else the only way left will be war. In this case the Iranians will unite behind their leader, and their ‘Death to America’ slogan will find a true meaning.

Toscano ends by saying: “When Iranian-Americans (I am thinking in particular of those adhering to the National Iranian-American Council -NIAC) say ‘don’t bomb Iran’ they are not saying it because they are soft on the regime, but because they know that would give the regime a new lease on life, and at the same time would turn anti-Americanism from regime liturgy and rhetoric into an authentic and popular phenomenon.”

However, the seminar director, as stated in this invitation, is an Iranian American by the name of Hale Esfandiari. She is the director of the Middle East program at the institute and the Iranian regime detained her for four months in Evin Prison’s solitary confinement in 2007. Then they released her and from then on Esfandiari has been insisting on the necessity for the US to open up its relations with Iran, lift sanctions on Tehran and allow it to continue its nuclear program. That is why Esfandiari holds seminars in the center where she works and runs petitions to have the sanctions lifted.
Changing the Future

Therefore, without going to the Iran seminar, I could have guessed the events beforehand. A group of Iranians, some of whom have obtained American and/or European passports, and Europeans supporting unconditional openness with Iran, gave speeches for two hours on changing the future with the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president, and that the chance must be taken and opportunity seized to open up relations with Iran. They warn and argue against the consequences of the US stonewalling attempts to reach an agreement, even if Iran is unanimous and sticks to its own nuclear conditions, adding that no deal means definite war. And this is something that does not please Americans after two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Apparently Toscano, who has accepted responsibility to improve Iran’s image and warn about war, begins to applaud and compliment the NIAC, and he has published his piece by supporting this council; a council that is run by an Iranian-Swedish individual living in Washington by the name of Trita Parsi, who periodically writes pieces in this website.

For a decade, Parsi has been a close friend of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. From the time when Zarif was his country’s permanent representative in the UN in New York, in the mid-2000s, he was accused by Iranian dissident Hassan Dai’al-Islam of taking part in activities in favor of the regime’s interests.

Parsi himself filed a court suit against Dai’al-Islam. The court ordered Parsi’s e-mail account to be opened for it to be clarified that he was in contact with Zarif, and he had been arranging meetings between Congressmen from both sides of the house with this Iranian official.
Facts proven by US courts

His E-mails clarified that Zarif and Parsi met for the first time back in March 2006. Zarif gave Parsi a document entitled “The Grand Deal’ which the Iranians had given to the Americans during the Iraq war in 2003, and Washington had rejected.

Court documents showed Tehran gave this document to the Swiss ambassador in Iran, who is responsible for the interests of the United States, and he passed it on to the Americans.
Later on, he claimed that American Flynt Leverett and his wife also received this document from the Iranians and they transferred it to the US government. Leverett is the writer of a book on the life of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and he has good relations with Damascus and Tehran.

In an interview with the writer Lee Smith, he says he is amongst those few Americans that periodically visit Iran without a visa. Smith believes that Leverett is certain that if an agreement is reached between the US and Iran, he will be amongst the first people benefiting from future financial agreements, in a way that Smith has named Leverett ‘Iran’s Man in Washington’.

In Parsi’s e-mails revealed by the court, there was an arrangement between him and Zarif on a conference in Congress with the cooperation of the ‘New America Foundation’ under the framework of a project Parsi was undertaking in 2006 named the ‘Iran Talks Project’.

Parsi, in his e-mail to the Iranian representative, estimated the cost of this six month long project, which included inviting 10 to 15 experts on Iran from across the globe, at over $100,000. In September 2012 the court issued a ruling against Parsi condemning him to pay a $185,000 fine to Dai’al-Islami.

Iran’s permanent representative to the UN in New York supervises Iran’s lobbies in Washington. In fact, according to a quote from the Christian Science Monitor citing two US federal inspectors in November 2009, it also supervises the work of the “Alavi Foundation”.
The Alavi Foundation was established by the Shah of Iran in 1973 under the name of the “Pahlavi Foundation”. In 1979, its name was changed to the “Mostazafin Foundation” and later on it was known as the “Alavi Foundation”.

In February 2012, New York’s undercover police exposed documents related to 2006 revealing ‘Iranian intelligence organs in the US active through numerous foundations, including the Alavi Foundation’.
This is an allegation that this foundation continues to deny on its website and says its fundamental mission is to ‘inform on Islamic culture, the Farsi language, literature and civilization’. In other pages of its website this foundation believes its goal is supporting the ‘Shia culture’.
This foundation has a skyscraper in downtown New York and its huge rent costs bring in massive profits, which it uses to finance 30 educational institutions across the US. Experts believe Tehran uses these assets to compensate those professors that write in its favor and/or training organs that publish research in favor of Tehran’s interests.
However, despite the ‘Alavi Foundation’s’ denial saying it has no relations with Tehran, the FBI office revealed the head of this foundation, Farshid Jahedi, destroyed documents proving this foundation paid for parts of the Tehran’s Meli Bank property belonging to the Iranian government. Some of this property may have been used in Iran’s nuclear program.

In April 2010, the New York federal court issued a ruling of 3 months in prison on charges of stonewalling the investigation and preventing due process against Jahedi. Furthermore, it has pointed to a large portion of the assets and property of this foundation. This foundation is still active, but cautious.