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Myths vs. Facts: Fighting the Smears

Ever since NIAC has become a recognized and effective voice for the Iranian-American community in Washington DC, opponents of NIAC's efforts have engaged in a defamation campaign, seeking to silence the organization by falsely connecting it to the Islamic Republic.

Below is NIAC's response to those unfounded allegations. BBC Persian has also done an in-depth investigation of the allegations against NIAC, and the political motivations behind them, which can be viewed on Youtube [Persian/Farsi].


Myth: NIAC is a lobby for the Islamic Republic of Iran

Fact: NIAC is not a lobby for the Islamic Republic. NIAC is an American organization that represents the majority viewpoints of Americans of Iranian descent, as reflected in numerous polls. NIAC is funded exclusively by the Iranian-American community and grants from major US foundations, such as the Ploughshares Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

NIAC has repeatedly criticized the Iranian government's human rights abuses and called for greater freedoms. During the June Iranian Presidential elections, NIAC played a key role in educating the US public and decision-makers on developments in Iran and the Iranian people's demands for their votes to be counted and their rights to be respected.

NIAC has also been on the forefront calling for Washington to address Iran's human rights record in its diplomatic engagement with Tehran.

Those accusing NIAC of supporting the Iranian government do so not on the basis of any evidence, but due to their disagreement with our support for diplomacy with Tehran, opposition to war, and support for a negotiated resolution to the nuclear stand-off.

As Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic has said, "The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious."


Myth: NIAC President Trita Parsi acted on behalf of the Iranian government in revealing the 2003 proposal for renewing dialogue between the US and Iran

Fact: Trita Parsi obtained the 2003 proposal in 2003 through American sources as explained in his book, Treacherous Alliance - The Secret dealings of Israel Iran and the US.

While in the process of writing the book, Parsi interviewed several Iranian officials about the proposal. In the Spring of 2006, fearing that the US and Iran were increasingly likely to go to war, Parsi sought to help avoid a military conflict by revealing the proposal to the US media to show that there was a basis for a negotiated resolution to US-Iran conflicts. In that effort, Parsi conducted several interviews with Iranian officials involved in drafting the proposal, as well as with US officials, to ensure that as many facts as possible would come to public light.

The proposal and the background story that Parsi had researched was then given to several journalists in DC on Parsi's own initiative. The revelation of the proposal was covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times and USA Today, to name a few, and it fundamentally changed the debate in Washington on how to handle the Iranian challenge. It helped reduce the risk of war with Iran significantly, much to the chagrin of proponents of war.


Myth: The people behind the accusations against NIAC are concerned Iranian-American supporters of democracy in Iran

Fact: The campaign against NIAC is coordinated by far-right neo-conservatives and figures associated with the Iranian terrorist organization the Mujahedin-e Khalq. While their attacks have been directed against NIAC, the larger target of the campaign is President Obama and his efforts to pursue a new foreign policy in the Middle East.

The aim to prevent Iranian Americans from contributing to US foreign policy on Iran was clarified by neoconservative Middle East scholar Martin Kramer at a panel at an AIPAC conference in the spring of 2009.

Kramer argued that Iranian-Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran. Describing the arrest of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, Kramer said:

"The entire episode suggests the ways in which Iran can have behind the scenes leverage over Iranian Americans, many of whom occupy key positions in the think tanks and are even being brought now into the administration...What this means is that we have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation."

Neoconservative activists and the MEK supporters working with them long for a resurgence of the heavy-handed, pro-war and anti-diplomacy approach of the Bush years - an approach that is sure to fail and destroy any real chance of democracy in Iran. That is why they are engaging in a smear campaign: to win back political influence by any means necessary. By destroying the reputations of individuals and groups that support Obama, the goal of neoconservative activists is to undermine Obama's whole presidency and begin paving the way for their own return to power.

For more information on who's behind the smears, click here.


Myth: Trita Parsi dined with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the June 12 elections

Fact: Trita Parsi did not attend any dinner or function with Ahmadinejad after the horrific clampdown on pro-democracy protesters in Iran in 2009. Like many other academics and foreign policy experts, he boycotted the events with Ahmadinejad in New York in the fall of 2009.

Trita Parsi has interviewed numerous Iranian, Israeli and American officials for his award-winning book, Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US. During the Bush administration, Parsi was part of  three large delegations of more than 50 American academics, foreign policy experts, think-tank officials or Iranian Americans who met with Ahmadinejad, in which Parsi challenged the Iranian President on human rights abuses in Iran and his Holocaust denial.


Myth: NIAC doesn't speak out about the Iranian government's human rights abuses

Fact: NIAC has issued public statements - both prior to and after the June election - condemning the Iranian government's record on human rights. In fact, NIAC has a long history of working closely with reputable international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and of bringing Iran's human rights abuses to the attention of US decision-makers.

On July 26, 2007, NIAC and Amnesty International held a joint conference on Capitol Hill titled "Human Rights in Iran and U.S. Policy Options." The panel attracted a diverse crowd consisting of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, congressional staffers, journalists and scholars of international affairs. Panelists included representatives from the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, MIT's Center for International Studies and Amnesty International. Copies of the transcript and video can be found here.

NIAC's guiding principles on human rights, issued in August 2008, can be found here.

The following are a selection of statements NIAC has issued recently, calling for an end to the human rights abuses:

For more of NIAC's coverage of human rights in Iran, click here.


Myth: Clare Lopez's report proves the rise of an "Iran Lobby"

Fact: The April 2009 report "Rise of the Iran Lobby: Tehran's Front Groups Move On - and Into - the Obama Administration" by Clare M. Lopez - who served as the Executive Director of a group seeking to get the Iranian terrorist group the Mujahedin-e Khalq removed from the US Terrorist List - attempts to disclose a "Who's Who-style catalogue" of individuals and organizations that presumably make up an "Iran Lobby."

The paper was developed as part of a much broader smear campaign seeking to defame anyone who supported President Obama's pro-engagement position with respect to foreign policy.

The paper argues that NIAC, alongside other distinguished American policymakers, intellectuals and administration officials, are part of an imaginary "Lobby" which spawns myriad organizations with the purpose of advancing Tehran's policy agenda in the U.S. 

The paper, published by the neoconservative organization Center for Security Policy, received little to no attention when it was originally released and was immediately dismissed as neoconservative propaganda due to its shameless partisanship and outrageous claims, including the fact that the author used the writings of Hassan Daioleslam as the basis for the majority of her argument.

NIAC is not the only organization that is under attack. In fact, almost every distinguished American policymaker, intellectual and administration official that supports Obama's pro-engagement policy in the Middle East is being targeted. This includes:

  • Ambassador Dennis Ross - Currently serving in the U.S. National Security Council
  • Vali Nasr - Senior Advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Tufts University Fletcher School Professor and Middle East Scholar
  • Ambassador Thomas Pickering - Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President Clinton, and former Ambassador to Israel
  • Ambassador Susan Rice - Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Barbara Slavin - Former Editor for World and National Security at the Washington Times
  • Ambassador Richard Haas - President of Council on Foreign Relations Committee

The paper tries to prove that those who serve in the Obama administration or support its foreign policy work for the Iranian government. But a claim like this is too incredible to be taken seriously. It is critical to keep this perspective in mind when determining the truthfulness and validity of these types of accusations.


Myth: NIAC lost its anti-defamation lawsuit against Hassan Daioleslam

Fact: The lawsuit is ongoing and is expected to go to trial in 2010. Daioleslam's motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied by the US District Court in November 2008. "The Court concludes that defendant's statements are capable of conveying a defamatory meaning," the Judge ruled.


The following corrects numerous inaccuracies in an article written by Eli Lake, with the assistance of Hassan Daioleslam. Readers can view an in-depth investigation of the allegations against NIAC, and the political motivations behind them, by BBC Persian [Persian/Farsi]. 


Myth: NIAC opposed the appointment of Dennis Ross to the Obama administration because NIAC "feared their long-running effort to persuade American officials to lift sanctions could wind up in tatters."

Truth: NIAC was skeptical of the appointment of Dennis Ross as the special envoy to Iran because his record of advocating an Iran policy close to that of the Bush administration. This would be a familiar and hawkish approach to diplomacy with Iran that would be misguided and counterproductive. NIAC does not lobby American officials to unilaterally lift the broad economic sanctions against Iran. NIAC does not believe that the broad economic sanctions against Iran should be lifted unless the government of Iran ceases its reprehensible activities. In addition, NIAC has argued that additional sanctions are not a substitute for diplomacy and their inevitable failure would put the United States back on a path to war with Iran.


Myth: NIAC should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act because "E-mail correspondence between Mr. Parsi and [former Iranian Ambassador] Mr. Zarif show Mr. Parsi suggesting that the Iranian diplomat meet with members of Congress."

Truth: From 2006-8, NIAC worked tirelessly to prevent a US-Iran war. In its meetings with Members of Congress, US lawmakers often complained that the Bush administration didn't listen to anyone and that to prevent a war, lawmakers needed to take matters in their own hands by initiating a dialogue with Iran or even going to Iran. Though NIAC continued to advocate that lawmakers pressure the White House to pursue diplomacy, Trita Parsi and NIAC staff were on occasion asked if they could advise lawmakers on how they could pursue their own diplomacy. Parsi suggested that the first step towards such diplomacy would be to talk to the Iranian UN ambassador in New York. On a few occasions, US lawmakers asked if Parsi could introduce them to the Ambassador, since Parsi had interviewed him on numerous occasions for his book. Parsi obliged and did make introductions. He did not, however, arrange any meetings. In his email to the Iranian ambassador, Parsi also made it very clear that the introduction was solely made due to NIAC's hope to prevent a US-Iran war. Again, the email was sent at the request of those Members of Congress - not the Iranian government. NIAC has never and will never work on behalf of the Iranian government.


Myth: NIAC does not represent the majority views of the Iranian American community.

Truth: The fact that NIAC's positions reflect the views of the majority of Iranian Americans was reaffirmed in November 2009 by a national poll of Iranian Americans conducted by Zogby International. NIAC represents the majority view of the Iranian-American community, who according to numerous polls oppose war, oppose broad sanctions, support human rights and support diplomacy.


Myth: NIAC lobbies more than the legal limit allowed for nonprofit organizations under the law (20% of the organizational budget).

Truth: NIAC is a 501(c)(3) educational organization with an H election.  As a result, NIAC is permitted to engage in lobbying up to 20% of its budget. NIAC and its staff are in full compliance with all regulations and laws. The issues NIAC has lobbied on are nevertheless quite transparent - NIAC has opposed and helped kill a resolution that would pave the way for war between the US and Iran; in 2008, NIAC favored a resolution supporting an incidents-at-sea agreement between the US and Iran; NIAC opposes additional broad economic sanctions on Iran due to the inability to resolve US-Iran tensions through sanctions, to name a few.

Educational activities and advocacy for general policies, such as opposition to war - as opposed to specific legislation - are not lobbying under the law. If at any point a 501(c)(3) organization were to exceed the permitted lobbying quota it would be fined by the government. If the violations are persistent, its tax status could be withdrawn. However, NIAC is in full compliance with all regulations and laws.


Myth: NIAC only condemned Iran's human rights abuses after the June 12, 2009 elections.

Truth: Per the vote of its membership, NIAC has been a vocal critic of the Iranian government's human rights abuses for years. While NIAC's extensive coverage and repeated condemnations of the Iranian government's brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators did garner significant media attention this summer, our work on human rights started much earlier. When NIAC made the decision to seek peaceful solutions to the US-Iran crisis, NIAC also decided to educate lawmakers and the general public on Iran's human rights abuses. NIAC has issued countless statements condemning the government of Iran or calling on it to respect basic human rights. Additionally, NIAC has held two major conferences on Capitol Hill to focus attention on Iran's human rights abuses. Our speakers have included representatives from Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Amnesty International, and Members of Congress.


Myth: NIAC is hypocritical to oppose the Bush administration's "Democracy Fund" since it itself received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Truth: With the support of grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, NIAC conducted nonpolitical trainings for non-governmental organizations (NGO's) in Iran to help foster a stronger Iranian civil society. Subsequently, in 2006, the Bush administration started the Iran "Democracy Fund" - a program explicitly intended to use Iranian NGO's to overthrow the Iranian regime. We witnessed firsthand how the atmosphere in which Iranian NGO's operated inside Iran became drastically worse due to these funds. Even though most Iranian activists and human rights defenders refused to take any politicized funds, all Iranian NGO's and their employees came under suspicion and threat from the Iranian government after the Fund's creation.

Prominent Iranian pro-democracy and human rights activists -- such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, Woodrow Wilson scholar Haleh Esfandiari and Human Rights Watch -- have all come out forcefully against any politicized US government funding for organizations inside Iran, because of the additional security risk these funds pose to on-the-ground activists. NIAC believes that it is critical for the United States to take the concerns and perspective of pro-democracy human rights activists inside Iran seriously. NIAC believes that any effort by the US government to help the Iranian people must be supported by the Iranian people, and must not endanger their lives.

For more information, see this report by the BBC.


Who's Behind the Smears

The writings of Seid Hassan Daioleslam have formed the basis for nearly all the smears against NIAC, including those made by Clare Lopez, Kenneth Timmerman and Iranian satellite TV stations based in California. NIAC has responded by suing Daioleslam for defamation. While important progress has been made in the lawsuit, the attacks against NIAC have intensified further as NIAC has grown and groups have increasingly seen NIAC as a threat to their agendas. A look at those radical agendas reveals why the attacks have been propagated by these individuals:


1. Seid Hassan Daioleslam

Seid Hassan Daioleslam has been identified by former members of the Iranian terrorist organization Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) as a member and operative of the organization. His sister and brother are high-ranking officials of the Mujahedin. They are currently in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the base set up by Saddam Hussein for the MEK on Iraqi territory.

According to Mohammad Sobhani, a former member of the MEK, "Hassan Daioleslam, who is also considered as a member of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation (Rajavi Cult) had been under harsh criticism for a long time by the cult leader Massoud Rajavi because he would not leave the USA and join the cult under the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But now, in the new circumstances in which the remnants of the Rajavi cult after the fall of Saddam Hussein find themselves in western countries, Hassan's social position and his ability to speak English has grabbed the attention of Rajavi."

Daioleslam has authored numerous articles with fictitious accusations against NIAC. The articles were originally published on Mujahedin websites in Persian and then on neo-conservative magazines and blogs in English.

2. Clare Lopez, Author of "The Rise of the Iran Lobby"

Clare Lopez is the former Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee, a group that lobbies to get the Iranian Mujahedin (MEK) a terrorist organization removed from the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Despite the fact that the MEK is a known terrorist group, Lopez has authored numerous articles praising them. In 2006, she wrote that "the MEK's battle for freedom and democracy in its homeland has never wavered in over 35 years of struggle, first against an autocratic monarchy, and since 1979, against a radical Islamist ideology that supports terrorism..." ("True Monsters of Iran: Terrorist Theocrats, Not the Mujahedeen-e Khalq" Global Politician, January 31, 2006).

In a speech in 2007, Lopez said that, "It is baffling why we would not at least turn for assistance to those democratic Iranian opposition groups-especially the MEK-that not only have established an extensive clandestine intelligence network inside Iran...but also espouse commitment to democratic, free market principles..." (Speech given by Clare M. Lopez at the 9th Intelligence Colloquium at Notre Dame College on 10 July 2007)

Lopez's report was published by the neo-conservative organization Center for Security Policy.

3. Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq, is an outspoken proponent of the war with Iraq and opponent of diplomacy with Iran. Rubin has been a leading advocate of increased U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. At AEI, he is a colleague of John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz, architects of the invasion of Iraq and proponents of war with Iran.

Rubin is a strong proponent of aggressive and confrontational policies towards Iran, and a strong opponent of diplomacy. In a March 2007 speech at the University of Haifa, Rubin argued that "U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq are diametrically opposed, and will continue to be until one side wins and the other loses." ("In the Debate Over Iran, More Calls for a Tougher U.S. Stance," By: Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 9, 2007.)

Rubin is opposed to Iran's reform movement, accusing Green Movement leaders such as Moussavi and Khatami of not speaking for Iran's democrats. In an interview with National Review Online, he said: "Reformists are part and parcel of the regime and do not speak for the democrats." (National Review Online, April 25, 2006).

Rubin's reputation as a scholar came under scrutiny when the New York Times revealed that he had been involved in producing propaganda articles on behalf of a defense contractor in Iraq in support of the Bush administration's policies.

Rubin has attacked NIAC and its staff - including interns - in numerous articles, seeking to smear the organization by accusing it of being the de facto lobby of the Islamic Republic.

4. Kenneth Timmerman

Kenneth Timmerman is a conservative writer and activist. Timmerman has also been a member of a number of neoconservative organizations, including the Committee on the Present Danger and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

In January 2006, Timmerman advocated for a naval blockade of Iran. ("Next Steps on Iran,", January 23, 2006). In 2008, NIAC helped defeat a Congressional Resolution that called for a naval blockade of Iran, since such a blockade is tantamount to a declaration of war.

Timmerman strongly opposes diplomacy with Iran and has authored several articles with fictitious accusations against NIAC.