Documents: Hagel staffers met with ‘front group’ for Iranian regime

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Documents obtained by The Daily Caller show that staffers for then-Sen. Chuck Hagel met repeatedly with a controversial pro-Iran lobby group, and some met with the organization’s president.

Hagel is President Barack Obama’s choice to be the next secretary of defense. Arizona Sen. John McCain and other Republicans have conceded that a vote — and likely confirmation — will take place during the week of Feb. 25.

Iranian state-run media have referred to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) since at least 2006 as “Iran’s lobby” in the U.S.

It portrays itself in the media as an independent group of Iranian expatriates. But Sam Nunberg, director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum project, describes the NIAC as an Iranian “front group.”

And documents released during the discovery phase of a defamation lawsuit NIAC filed against Seid Hassan Daioleslam, editor of the Iranian American Forum and one of the regime’s most public critics, include correspondence with Mohammed Javad Zaif, then Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Nunberg’s organization is helping to represent Daioleslam.

The civil discovery documents also include a letter written by NIAC legislative assistant Babak Talebi describing Sen. Hagel as “generally on our side” regarding issues concerning the Islamic Republic.

A NIAC-authored portrayal of Iran-friendly politicians describes a meeting between Parsi and Hagel staffer Rexon Ryu in which Ryu “offered good advice.” It also describes meetings “at least twice” with a Ryu deputy “to get his feedback and ask for the Senator’s support.”

“Hagel’s moderate stance on immigration has also made him the recipient of IAPAC funds,” according to that NIAC-drafted summary.

IAPAC is the Iranian American Political Action Committee. Its website includes a thank-you note from Hagel, written after the 2006 election. “Please know,” Hagel wrote, “that I will always do my best and work hard to continue to earn your confidence and support.”

Describing a March 31, 2006 meeting with Ryu, which took place in Hagel’s office, an NIAC member wrote in a memo that “Hagel is concerned about the current path we are on. Rexon preferred not to see the imposition of punitive measures but rather a call for negotiations between both governments.”

Ryu, Hagel’s deputy, “noted that the military is stretched thin already,” the memo concluded, “and was open to pursuing constructive measures.”

Hagel, however, supports policies that are “aimed at strengthening civil society without aiding the Islamic Republic,” that memo said.

Ryu later went on to work on Iran issues at the National Security Council. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at the State Department.

Ryu met with NIAC president Trita Parsi on Jan. 10, 2008. And other Hagel staff met with NIAC, according to the group’s calendar.

On Dec. 19, 2008, Hagel staffer Paul Kong and Arlen Specter staffer Chris Bradish both met with NIAC to discuss Iran-U.S. relations.

And NIAC’s minutes of a July 7, 2006 meeting describe a discussion between Hagel legislative assistant John Lettieri and NIAC legislative director Shervin Boloorian.

“[T]he threat of U.S. action has prevented U.S.-Iran engagement,” Lettieri said, according to those meeting minutes.

“Engaging Iran directly is supported by Hagel who believes that basic areas of common interest exist,” those notes continue. “John [Lettieri] reiterated Hagel’s support for academic exchanges, humanitarian exchanges, and other confidence building approaches.”

The picture that emerges in the documents that the Iran lobby group released during its lawsuit is one of unwavering support for Hagel.

At the conclusion of one memo apparently designed to generate support among members of what the document’s title refers to as a “coalition,” NIAC quoted Hagel from remarks in June 2006 about a National Defense Authorization Bill that would have imposed new sanctions on Iran.

“This … amendment is a very irresponsible, dangerous distraction to take,” the group quoted Hagel as saying.

“Our best course of action is exactly where the President is going — that is engaging Iran. That is engaging with our allies. That is strengthening our alliances. If we’re not careful … we will find America isolated in the world at a very dangerous time. … Let’s be careful here.”

Discovery documents show that NIAC’s Trita Parsi has also visited the White House, met with Valerie Jarrett, and briefed the secretary of state and the CIA.

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Charles C. Johnson