Myths vs. Facts, Continued

red x-1  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

green check  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.

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.”


red x-1  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.”

green check  Fact: 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.


red x-1  Myth: Clare Lopez’s report proves the rise of an “Iran Lobby”

green check  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 fringe 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 targeted. This includes officials such as Ambassador Dennis Ross, Vali Nasr, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Ambassador Richard Haas, and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Indeed, the paper even tries to prove that those who serve in the Obama administration or support its foreign policy work for the Iranian government.


red x-1  Myth: NIAC is hypocritical to oppose the Bush administration’s “Democracy Fund” since it itself received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy.

green check  Fact: 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 —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.


red x-1  Myth: NIAC lobbies more than the legal limit allowed for nonprofit organizations under the law.

green check  Fact: NIAC and its staff are in full compliance with all regulations and laws.

NIAC is a 501(c)(3) educational organization with an H election.  As a result, NIAC is permitted to engage in extensive lobbying activities. (For example, an organization with a $1 million budget can spend up to $175,000 on lobbying under IRS regulations.) Moreover, 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.

NIAC has been quite transparent about the issues we’ve lobbied on – you can read about our work here on our website. You can also view all of NIAC’s past tax filings, which are available on our Transparency in Finance and Governance page.