Opinion

Iran Lobby Playing Defense Full-Time

James Lee Columnist

In Las Vegas earlier this month, the “Fight of the Century” took place with Floyd Mayweather winning the welterweight championship over Manny Pacquiao with a display of his textbook defensive boxing skills that kept his aggressive opponent at bay, earning him the unified title. While Mayweather raked in a reported $200 million for a night’s work, Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian-American Council, was also hard at work playing defense, earning his money protecting the Iranian regime’s façade of “moderation”.

In Politico, Parsi was ducking questions over some rather bizarre comments made in Iranian state media, including the whopper that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was caught meeting with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and self-declared caliph of ISIS. The photo used by Tehran to “prove” its ludicrous charge was so clearly doctored it would be laughable were it not part of a recurring pattern of propaganda efforts by the regime to portray Iran as aggrieved, threatened, and beset upon by the U.S. Such a posture gives Iran the ability to take actions — propaganda and otherwise — in the name of defending the Islamic nation from its enemies, real or imagined.

In an even more bizarre twist, after months of dithering the Iranian regime finally accused imprisoned Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian of espionage, but ironically charged him with working with the NIAC as proof of his spying. The regime claimed conversations Rezaian had with Parsi through Twitter was evidence enough.

Parsi was left in the uncomfortable situation of having to deny that Rezaian was working with the NIAC, while at the same time correcting the New York Times characterization of the NIAC as being “supportive of Iran” on all issues. Mayweather has nothing on this guy.

Granted it’s been a tough year for Parsi and company. They had a defamation suit they filed to combat charges that they colluded with the Iranian regime thrown out of court. Parsi was sanctioned for $183,000 for misconduct during the trial, including withholding key pieces of evidence.

Parsi has long been a stooge of Tehran. In the summer of 2007, Parsi embarked on a campaign to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s terrorist list. The designation of Iran’s Guards Corp was in response to Iranian infiltration in Iraq, and in particular their direct role in killing hundreds of American soldiers by supplying Shia extremists with improvised explosive devices (IED).  Parsi argued: “The White House’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization could deal a double blow to efforts to utilize diplomacy with Iran to stabilize Iraq.  Not only does the designation risk undermining the important yet limited talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad, but it may also negatively impact the next U.S. president’s ability to seek diplomacy with Iran by further entrenching U.S.-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity.”

Parsi is also plagued with highly selective judgment. In an interview with the Loyola Marymount University’s Asia Pacific Media Center, he claimed the charges against the Post’s Rezaian were all part of a plot to undermine nuclear negotiations with Iran and the P5+1. One would think Iran’s provocative attempt to ship arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen via armed convoy was enough to undermine talks, or Iran’s seizure of an unarmed cargo vessel might be enough to trouble negotiators. But Parsi failed to criticize both of these acts.

Parsi was on the ropes again with disclosures by the Washington Free Beacon that he had met with the White House several times between 2013 and 2014 to pressure for a nuclear deal with the regime. Interestingly, the Free Beacon also reported links between these meetings at the White House with Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a group trying to sell a nuclear deal, which has also provided generous funding to NIAC. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ploughshares has spent more than $7 million funding groups such as NIAC and experts like Parsi who have publicly defended making concessions to Iran’s mullahs as part of a nuclear deal with Iran.

All of that money has certainly helped enrich regime allies such as Parsi, who just upgraded his lifestyle after selling his old house for $705,000. Not a Mayweather-sized payday, but it’s good to know playing defense can be so lucrative.

Michael Tomlinson is a journalist and blogger who writes on Iran, counterterrorism policy development and human rights.