In a greeting to the Iranian people on the occasion of the traditional New Year (Nowruz) holiday last week, Secretary of State John Kerry exposed a secret that journalists and academics have been agonizing over for the past six weeks: the fact that his daughter has married an Iranian-American who has extensive family ties to Iran.
“I am proud of the Iranian-Americans in my own family, and grateful for how they have enriched my life,” Kerry said in the official statement. Kerry also said he was “strongly committed to resolving” the differences between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, “to the mutual benefit of both of our people.”
Politicians like to keep their families off-limits to the press, a decorum enforced vigorously when it comes to politicians who are in favor with the national media but ruthlessly discarded for others. But in Kerry’s case, there could be larger ramifications.
Since its inception, the FBI has vetted U.S. government officials involved in national security issues, and it generally won’t grant clearances to individuals who are married to nationals of an enemy nation or have family members living in that country, for fear of divided loyalties or, more simply, blackmail.
Behrouz (Brian) Nahed and Vanessa Kerry Nahed are both resident physicians at Mass General in Boston. An Iranian government website first published pictures of the married couple in February, just as Kerry was up for confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Dr. Nahed’s parents live in Los Angeles, but he has relatives still in Iran. The Iranian website reported that shortly after their marriage, the young couple visited those relatives in Iran.
Was the Iranian publication itself a subtle form of blackmail, aimed at letting Kerry know that the regime is fully aware of his son-in-law’s extended family in Iran? The Islamic Republic systematically puts pressure on family members of prominent Iranian-Americans (for example, individuals who work at the Persian service of Voice of America), to make sure that they do not engage in hostile statements or activities against the Tehran regime.
Certainly, Secretary Kerry has long favored a U.S. rapprochement with the Islamic Republic. He has repeatedly appeared with groups such as the American Iranian Council (AIC), and has taken money from Iranian-Americans for his political campaigns, including at least one illegal donation from an Iranian woman who did not have a green card. So he didn’t need to have an Iranian-American family member to believe that the United States should forge direct relations with the Islamic Republic or ease U.S. pressure on the regime.
Kerry may have figured that by revealing the family tie himself he could diffuse the situation, and make it more difficult for the regime to put pressure on his son-in-law’s family. Of course, that’s assuming Kerry in fact plans to do anything that angers the regime.
But what if the regime simply decides to round up Nahed’s family members and torture them? Or sends its goons to visit them at home? Or exerts some form of more subtle pressure on them that gets no publicity, and then makes it known they want the United States to release Iranians jailed in the United States on terrorism charges or for attempting to procure weapons technology or military spare parts?
In any other administration, such a complicated situation would have been considered an unacceptable security risk for a cabinet-level officer. My guess: Now that the cat is out of the bag, a fawning left-wing media will attempt to gin up public sympathy for Secretary Kerry, and lionize him for bravely reaching out to Tehran.
While that might send shivers down the leg of a Chris Matthews, it won’t resolve the very real security risk. The mullahs in Tehran and their goon squads won’t hesitate to exploit this messy situation for their own benefit.
One can only sympathize in advance with Behrouz Nahed’s family in Iran, and wonder at the audacity, naiveté and hubris of an American politician who apparently thinks his position (and positions) put him above it all.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the founder and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.