Monday, October 2, 2023

NIAC Alumni Promote Tehran’s Agenda

Opinion & InterviewOpinionNIAC Alumni Promote Tehran’s Agenda

The National Iranian American Council, long accused of being a front for the Islamic Republic of Iran, has worked tirelessly to silence critics of a theocratic regime that has ruthlessly murdered thousands of its own citizens over the past few decades. Despite a U.S. District Court once calling its founder and president an “advocate” for an oppressive regime, NIAC has recorded real achievements in the U.S. capital. It played a central role in convincing the Obama Administration to accept and promote the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (the “Iran Deal”) that allowed Tehran to pursue its nuclear program and continue to oppress its citizens.

When the regime’s ability to stifle the opposition began to collapse under the onslaught of the “Woman, Life, Freedom,” protests that began late last year, NIAC pivoted by portraying itself as supporting regime change. No one took the attempt seriously. NIAC had been promoting pro-regime policies in the American capital for years.

Former staffers’ affiliations with NIAC are often downplayed or erased altogether from their public profiles once they have left the organization.

While this story is well known, what is not so well understood is how NIAC has served as a training ground for intellectuals and activists who have gone on to other institutions that influence U.S. policy toward Iran. Their affiliation with NIAC is often downplayed or erased altogether from their public profiles once they leave the organization. And while NIAC alumni routinely downplay or obscure their connections to the organization in the years after they leave, they rarely, if ever, criticize the group’s stance toward the regime. This pattern has continued even after the atrocities of 2022. These days, NIAC alumni seem to have a tough time acknowledging, much less supporting, calls for regime change emanating from the protesters in Iran and their allies in the West.

For example, Hannah Kaviani, a Prague-based journalist for Radio Farda, the Persian section of Radio Free Europe, a U.S.-sponsored news outlet, is part of this network. Before joining Radio Farda, she worked in Atieh Bahar, an Iranian consulting firm with close ties to NIAC and to the regime itself.

Hannah Kaviani. (YouTube screenshot.)

Kaviani was briefly sidelined during Arman Mostowfi’s tenure as the director of Radio Farda. (Mostowfi, a professional journalist and director of a provincial branch of Iranian national radio and TV during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, led Radio Farda between 2008-2018.) With Mostowfi’s departure however, Kaviani has returned in full capacity to the network where she downplays the issue of regime change in Iran. In an interview she gave to Qantara, Germany’s equivalent to the Voice of America, Kaviani talks about every aspiration of Iranian youth in the 2022 uprisings but leaves out the central demand of the protesters — regime change.

Another prominent analyst with NIAC ties is Dokhi Fassihian who currently works as executive director of Reporters Without Borders, which interestingly enough, did not mention her tenure as NIAC’s executive director when announcing her hiring, nor is her tenure at NIAC mentioned in her LinkedIn profile.

Fassihian, who advocated for reducing sanctions against Iran during her tenure at NIAC in 2012, does not mention her tenure at the organization in her Twitter profile, in which she obliquely argued against regime change in 2018, a cause she seemed to promote in 2022 in a social media post condemning NIAC for not advocating strongly enough for human rights in Iran.

To her credit, Fassihian may be a rare example of someone who has defected somewhat from NIAC’s regime-friendly line, declaring in the Tweet, “The fundamental mistake NIAC has made is seeking to impact US foreign policy toward a brutal totalitarian regime without prioritizing human rights and absorbing the suffering of the Iranian people. It has enraged a nation without a voice and without a say in this policy.” But even with this statement, Fassihian can’t bring herself to acknowledge the demands for regime change in her Twitter timeline.

Then there’s Hadi Ghaemi, current director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran who was a former member of the Board of Directors of NIAC, a post interestingly enough he does not mention in his more recent bios. Perusal of Ghaemi’s Twitter feed shows numerous condemnations of the mistreatment of the Iranian people, but he seems to stop short of calling for regime change. Sure, Ghaemi wants the world to make it harder for the regime to get away with its misdeeds, but how about getting on board with the Iranian people’s demand for regime change?

Sahar Norouzzadeh, a fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center, which has promoted increased tolerance for the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, interned at NIAC and was removed from her post at the Office of Iranian Affairs in the U.S. State Department after her NIAC connection was discovered. She was the Persian face of Obama’s appeasement policy towards the Islamist regime. Similar to other ex-NIAC’s members, she has been silent about the 2022 atrocities in Iran.

NIAC alumni are also present in American academic institutions. Numerous faculty members such as Ahmad Sadri, a professor at Lake Forrest College, Ahmad Karimi Hakkak, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, and Farideh Farhi, an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii, served on NIAC’s advisory board, scrubbed from its website after the 2022-3 revolution in Iran.

These academics have either been silent or express pessimism about the current uprising in Iran. “The popular dimension of the ‘woman, life, freedom’ uprising, which these days has rightly attracted the attention of most observers, should not cause neglect of the dimensions of the resistance of the ruling political system against this dynamic and its underlying power,” wrote Ahamd Sadri (and Alireza Qandriz) for BBC Persian.

In the essay, Sadri and his colleague acknowledge that maybe Iran will be “on the verge of a revolution” if the uprising continues, but nowhere do the authors acknowledge the moral force of the protesters or the brutal manner in which the protesters have been treated by the regime.

In sum, NIAC network’s agenda has been to obliquely promote the notion that the uprising will not succeed in overthrowing the regime. It’s a message made explicit by NIAC founder Trita Parsi, who now leads the Quincy Institute, another institution that promotes a soft approach to the Islamist regime in Iran. “Despite the inspiring courage of the protesters, there are few signs that they will, in the immediate future, succeed in overthrowing the regime,” he wrote in late 2022.

NIAC alumni are sending an oblique signal to the Biden administration that it should continue appeasing the regime. The message seems to be “wait for the people to go home and the movement to be defeated and then continue appeasing the regime.”

It’s not a message that the American people should embrace.

Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian-American sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Persian, Arabic, and English news outlets. He has published dozens of books.

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