Founded in 2002 as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 entity, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.” Pursuing this mission “through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building,” NIAC is recognized as a lobbying organization by the Iranian regime in Tehran.
NIAC’s roots can be traced back to the 1990s. In 1997, Trita Parsi, a 23-year-old Iranian native residing in Sweden, established a small organization called Iranians For International Cooperation (IIC), which lobbied members of the United States Congress to take “a more Iran-friendly position” and to support “the removal of U.S. economic and political sanctions” against Iran. But IIC was never able to gain much political traction or influence.
Meanwhile, Parsi’s friend Siamak Namazi, who was three years older than Parsi, was working as a political analyst for Tehran’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning from 1994-98. In 1998, Namazi founded Future Alliance International (FAI), a Washington-based consulting company that aimed to promote business opportunities in Iran – even though all U.S. trade with Iran had been banned by the American government since 1995. Namazi was also the managing director of Atieh Bahar Consulting, a major Iranian conglomerate active in the fields of banking, finance, and energy, and closely tied to the theocratic Islamic regime in Tehran.
In 1999, Parsi and Namazi collaborated to co-author and publish a seminal paper titled “Iranian-Americans: The Bridge Between Two Nations.” Echoing the central themes of IIC’s “Iran-friendly” orientation, this document advocated the formation of an influential, Washington-based Iranian lobby to promote Tehran’s interests in Congress while opposing the agendas of the Israeli lobby group, the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Parsi and Namazi presented their paper at a Cyprus conference organized by the Iranian regime.
In 2001, Parsi moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. While enrolled in his doctoral program, Parsi also found work as managing director of the American Iranian Council (AIC), a pro-Iran advocacy organization backed by the Iranian regime and funded by U.S. oil companies eager to gain access to Iran’s oil fields. One of AIC’s chief objectives was to fight for the removal of American sanctions against Iran. In addition, Parsi took a second job as a foreign policy advisor to Republican Congressman Robert Ney, who in 2007 would be convicted and sentenced to federal prison for accepting bribes from political lobbyist Jack Abramoff and two foreign businessmen – in exchange for helping them to illegally circumvent U.S. sanctions forbidding the sale of American-made aircraft parts to Tehran.
In 2002 Parsi and Namazi formally co-founded NIAC, bringing to fruition the principal aims laid out in the paper they had co-authored three years earlier. Joining them as founders of NIAC were a pair of Washington lobbyists, Roy Coffee (former director of the Texas office of State-Federal relations) and Dave DiStefano (Rep. Robert Ney’s chief of staff in the mid-to-late 1990s). Parsi served as the fledgling organization’s first president.
The regime in Tehran was delighted by NIAC’s creation.
One of NIAC’s key advisors in its earliest days was Siamak Namazi’s father, Muhammad Baquer Namazi. The elder Namazi was the director of Hamyaran, a watchdog group that helped the Iranian regime monitor and control the activities of non-governmental organizations.
Not long after NIAC’s formation, a blogger named Hassan Daioleslam (a.k.a. Hassan Dai) exposed the organization’s links to the Iranian regime – i.e., the elder Namazi’s ties to Hamyaran, the younger Namazi’s position with Atieh Bahar Consulting, and Parsi’s connection with AIC.
In 2008, NIAC and Parsi filed a defamation lawsuit against Daioleslam, but their case ended ignominiously. Internal NIAC documents that were obtained as part of the discovery phase of the lawsuit, showed that NIAC was indeed intimately linked to Tehran. As The Washington Times stated in a November 2009 front-page article: “Law-enforcement experts who reviewed some of the documents … say [that] 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…”
Particularly notable were email exchanges between Jayad Zarif and Trita Parsi. In April 2006, for instance, Zarif gave a copy of the so-called “Iranian 2003 offer for grand bargain” to Parsi, who in turn offered the document to the press as evidence of Iran’s purported willingness to engage in respectful and productive dialogue with the United States. By logical extension, Parsi argued, Iran could also be trusted to develop a nuclear program for purely peaceful, rather than militaristic, purposes.
Ultimately, in 2012 a court dismissed NIAC’s defamation lawsuit against Daiolesla. It also punished NIAC and Mr. Parsi for abuses they had committed during the discovery process—including false declarations to the court—and ordered them to pay a significant portion of the defendant’s legal expenses.
According to a lengthy exposé by Hassan Dai in Tablet magazine, NIAC’s professed devotion to improving relations between the American and Iranian people is a farce. “The group spends very little of its time or energy working with Iranian Americans,” the article states. “Instead, it works to pressure the U.S. government to adopt a friendlier policy with Tehran and lift economic sanctions against the Iranian regime.”
Equally “deceitful and fraudulent,” says Dai, is NIAC’s claim “that it is the largest Iranian-American organization in the United States, and hence best equipped to represent the views of more than one million Iranian-Americans.” In 2005-06, Parsi falsely claimed that NIAC consisted of some 10,000 members. But according to evidence culled from various documents, board meeting minutes, and sworn testimony, NIAC’s membership rolls between 2005-11 consisted of no more than about 1,100 people. “The reason for NIAC’s unimpressive membership numbers,” states the Tablet piece, “may be simple: NIAC doesn’t represent the views of Iranian Americans, the vast majority of who[m] oppose Iran’s clerical regime and reject appeasement policies toward Tehran. As a result of its unpopularity among its presumed base, NIAC’s primary source of income is not dues-paying Iranian-Americans, but American foundations.”
Notably, NIAC’s leading donor is the Ploughshares Fund, a philanthropy with a long record of supporting anti-American causes. From its inception in 1971, for instance, Ploughshares backed the nuclear-freeze movement, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to further solidify the nuclear and military superiority which the USSR had gained during the post-Vietnam War era. Moreover, Ploughshares adamantly opposed NATO’s decision to place medium-range missiles in Europe—a decision that was made in response to an aggressive Soviet military buildup, and to the USSR’s then-recent deployment of SS-20 Missiles in Eastern Europe. Also during the Cold War, Ploughshares claimed that U.S. militarism—particularly that of the Reagan administration—was far likelier to spark a nuclear holocaust than anything the Soviet Union might do. Identifying U.S. belligerence and aggression as the chief source of tensions between America and the USSR, Ploughshares pressured the United States but not the Soviets to initiate disarmament measures.
Over the years, NIAC has depicted Israel and AIPAC as bellicose agitators guilty of persistently trying to bully Iran and undermine its interests. In 2006, for instance, Parsi asserted that “Israel is playing hardball to prevent Washington from cutting a deal with Tehran that could benefit America, but deprive Israel of its military and strategic supremacy.” Two years later, Parsi condemned Israel for demonizing Iran as a nation governed by “irrational” clergymen with “suicidal tendencies” and an “infatuation with the idea of destroying Israel.” “Washington started to adopt the Israeli line on Iran,” Parsi added, “in response to Israeli pressure—and not to Iranian actions.”
When President Obama took up the reins of the U.S. government in 2009 with an aim toward improving American relations with Iran, he sought NIAC’s help in shaping public opinion in favor of such a move—a task that became particularly challenging after the Iranian regime brutally crushed a popular uprising among its people in 2009-2010. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the streets of Iran, while thousands more were arrested, beaten, raped, and tortured—all while the Obama administration kept a silent, hands-off approach. As a onetime Obama administration official later explained: “The core of it was we were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters.”
NIAC, for its part, dutifully churned out rhetoric designed to give a patina of legitimacy to Obama’s approach toward Iran. Parsi, for one, wrote an article in June 2009 stating that: “The White House’s position has been on the mark. The Iranians want to make sure that the world knows and sees what is happening on the streets of Tehran and other cities. And they want the U.S. to stay out of the fight.” In a similar spirit, NIAC policy director Patrick Disney published a July 2009 article titled “On Iran, the Power of Obama’s Silence,” which said: “For now, the Obama administration is just taking a step back and assessing the situation, and rightly so.” By October 2009, while the Iranian uprising was still active, the Obama administration had joined the leaders of five other countries in initiating high-level talks that would eventually evolve into the Iran Nuclear deal of 2015.
In addition to praising President Obama’s approach to US.-Iran relations, NIAC echoed both Tehran and the White House in arguing that economic sanctions against Tehran always had been, and always would be, counterproductive. While then-Foreign Minister Zarif derided “the futility of sanctions against Iran” in March 2015, and President Obama said that “the sanction [had] always led to Iran making more progress in its nuclear program” in April 2015, NIAC was busy orchestrating a large-scale media campaign that portrayed President Obama as a force for peace, and advocates of sanctions as paranoid, dangerous warmongers.
During a congressional briefing in June 2014, NIAC research director Reza Marashi declared that Iran was seeking to improve its acrimonious relationship with the United States because: “Simply put, both sides need each other right now, and the reason why they need each other is because they have tried to achieve their interests at the expense of the other … and what have we seen? The region has gotten worse, not better.” In a similar vein, NIAC said in a memo published in April 2015: “The nuclear deal now signals a degree of American acceptance of Iranian power in the region, and if the lifting of sanctions ends Iran’s status as a pariah state,… Iran is more likely to pursue a less aggressive foreign policy going forward.” And in a July 2015 statement supporting the nuclear agreement, NIAC declared that: “This deal provides the Iranian people with the space to push Iran in the right direction: an Iran that respects human rights and pursues moderate policies internally and externally.”
Because NIAC’s view of U.S.-Iranian relations was very much in line with that of the Obama administration, the organization became a highly influential working partner of the White House. Parsi’s status in particular moved from one of relative obscurity, to that of an “expert” whose views reflected those of a broad American constituency. As Hassan Dai puts it:
“The convergence of views between the Obama administration and the pro-Iran lobby helped NIAC and its partners to evolve from a pressure group to a high-level White House player. Philip Gordon, special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region spoke at the NIAC 2014 annual conference, and in September 2016 Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes spoke at the NIAC conference to highlight the White House alliance with the organization. Similarly, Alan Eyre, the State Department’s Persian-language spokesperson regularly participated as a keynote speaker at the NIAC conferences, and, even more amazingly, the State Department and U.S. embassy in Jeddah organized a series of speeches for Trita Parsi in Saudi Arabia about U.S.-Iran relations. It was therefore not surprising that Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a former NIAC employee, became National Security Council Director for Iran. According to official records, NIAC President Parsi visited the White House 33 times between 2013 and 2016.”
In February 2016, Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was now running for U.S. President, attended a campaign fundraiser hosted by Twitter executive Omid Kordestani, his wife Gisel Hiscock, NIAC board member Lily Sarafan, and Ploughshares Fund executive Noosheen Hashemi.
NIAC’s pro-Democrat, anti-Republican stance continued unabated as the Obama administration gave way to the that of the newly elected U.S. President, Donald Trump. In January 2017, NIAC condemned an executive order by which Trump sought to place a temporary moratorium on the issuance of visas for people seeking to travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations that were known to be hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. “Donald Trump is making good on the most shameful and discriminatory promises he made on the campaign trail,” said NIAC. “He called for a Muslim ban and is now taking the first steps to implement one. This will not stand. The American people are better than this.” Lamenting that the President’s executive order represented a “fundamental challenge to what America represents,” NIAC added that “Donald Trump appears intent on … taking us down a slippery slope towards a dark future.”
In July 2019, NIAC supported a resolution that Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky, and David Price introduced in the House of Representatives, calling for the United States to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal from which President Trump had withdrawn the U.S. in May 2018. “Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal has put the U.S. on the brink of war with Iran and threatened to undo the hard won constraints against Iran’s nuclear program,” said NIAC president Jamal Abdi. “Thankfully, many Members of Congress recognize that there is no military solution to the present crisis, and that the best way to de-escalate is for the U.S. to return to compliance with the nuclear deal. Representatives Lee, Schakowsky and Price should be commended for their years of leadership in advancing peace and diplomacy, including by introducing this important resolution…. We proudly supported the DNC’s adoption of a resolution committing to return the U.S. to its [nuclear deal] commitments. And we advocated for and welcome the strong majority of Democratic Presidential contenders who have also committed to returning to our diplomatic obligations — including [Elizabeth] Warren, [Bernie] Sanders, [Kamala] Harris, [Pete] Buttigieg, [Joe] Biden, [Tulsi] Gabbard, and [Beto] O’Rourke.”
On January 8, 2020, NIAC members joined Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in a “strategy call” with Democrat Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. Following President Trump’s then-recent decision to have the U.S. military kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, leader of the terrorist Quds Force division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, both Lee and Khanna were pushing measures designed to restrict Trump’s ability to respond militarily to future Iranian provocations. Also participating in the call were members of MoveOn, Win Without War, Indivisible, and About Face: Veterans Against the War.
The day after the aforementioned “strategy call” —January 9, 2020—NIAC joined a coalition of progressive groups that staged nearly 70 marches across the United States to protest President Trump’s “push to wage war on Iran.” The same four organizations that had taken part in the January 8th “strategy call,” were among those who marched in these protests.
NIAC is not in any way whatsoever the “nonpartisan” organization it claims to be. It is a highly partisan entity that diabolically wraps its unwavering commitment to the agendas of the Democratic Party, in the vestments of “peace,” “understanding,” and “diplomacy.”