The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University will be hosting a two-day conference on the theme of "The Iranian Revolution: Thirty Years" on the weekend of February 7-8, 2009. Judging by the selection of speakers and considering Rutgers' past activities, we could predict another conference satisfying both the Iranian regime and those who crave for "coexistence" with the Iranian Ayatollahs.
This new Rutgers' gathering is more troubling than a new conference favorable to the Mullahs. It is about the Iranian regime's web of influence in the US. A few weeks ago, Farshid Jahedi, the president of New York based Alavi Foundation was arrested and jailed.2 The foundation is believed to have close ties to the Iranian regime.3
For the past 30 years, Alavi has been granting financial support to people and organizations around the US. Rutgers University has profited from Alavi's generosity, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The president of Rutgers Middle Eastern center has been Hooshang Amirahamdi4 who also bid for the Iranian presidency5 in 2005. In November 2008, a few days before Obama's victory, Amirahmadi traveled to Tehran and demanded increased support from the government. In an interesting interview with Etemad newspaper,6 he could not be clearer about the kind of activity in which he has been involved. He openly and unequivocally admitted to lobbying for the Iranian regime:
"There is clash between various regional [Middle East] lobbies. Israelites will fast gather around Obama. Arabs will also spend their money to get close to Obama. Unfortunately, Iran is very lonely in Washington, and those few, like us, who defend the Iranian rights, are subject of unkind hostility in Tehran. These gentlemen [in Iran] do not truly understand what they do, and how they weaken our position. As a result the field is left wide open for Israelis and Arabs and enemies of Iran. Firstly, Iran should realize that, and empower its friends in Washington, especially in the next one to two months, which is the time [to do it].
Iranian leaders should pay attention to what is going on, and strengthen their friends. They [Iranian leaders] should have confidence in, energize, and trust their friends [in Washington] so they enter the arena. This is very important. Therefore the next two or three months are the time to conquer Obama's heart and mind and that of his teams. Anyone who acts faster will rest trouble free for the next 8 years. Anyone who does not go to that bazaar [marketplace] now, will have a tough time entering that bazaar in future."
Let's go back to the February conference at Rutgers. One of the speakers was Trita Parsi, who worked for Amirahmadi in 2001.7 This makes the Rutgers story more puzzling. Similar to his former boss, Parsi is also suspected of lobbying for the Iranian regime. The governmental press in Iran has called him the "Iranian lobby in US".8-9
On December 28, 2006 the governmental newspaper Aftab in Iran published an interview with Trita Parsi. In his introduction, the editor underlined the role of Parsi's lobby on behalf of the Iranian regime. Next to Parsi's photo, the article's title seems interesting: "The Iranian Lobby Becomes Active?" The translation of parts of the paper follows: 8
"The conflict between Iran and the West on Iran's nuclear file has entered a critical state. The government must now utilize all the possible resources to defend the national interest. In this, we have not paid enough attention to the potentially significant influence of the Iranian American society in moderating the extremist policies of the White House. Comparing this untouched potential to the influence of the Jewish lobby in directing the policies of Washington in supporting Israel, we see the difference between what is and what could be. The role of unofficial diplomacy (lobbying) has been correctly underlined by experts..."
I personally experienced this favorable attitude from Tehran toward Parsi in April 2007 when I wrote my first article about him and NIAC. Several government-related newspapers came to defend Parsi and attacked me. One of them called NIAC the "Iranian lobby in Washington".9
The Rutgers Conference highlights the troubling question of how the Iranian regime has been able to profit from the US academic system. A shocking example is the recycling of former Iranian "diplomats" in prestigious American universities.
As I had already detailed in an article,10 three former Iranian deputy foreign ministers have been pursuing "cultural" and "academic" careers in Boston. Abbas Maleki, A former revolutionary guard, a high ranking Iranian diplomat, was until last year a senior fellow at Harvard.11 "Professor" Maleki, has been the Deputy foreign minister (1989-1997), advisor to the Supreme Leader until 2003 and the director of International Affairs at the Expediency Council until 2006.
The case with two other diplomats is more interesting. Olega Davidson was a board member of American Iranian Council12 that was founded by Amirahamdi whom we introduced earlier in this article. Then, Davisdon founded the Ilex foundation in Boston. The Co-founder and trustee of this "cultural" foundation has been M. J. Mahallati.13 He was Iranian ambassador to the UN and a deputy foreign minister. Surprisingly, another Iranian deputy minister, Farhad Atai is also working in Ilex foundation. Both former diplomats have been also pursuing academic careers in American universities.
At a time when the US and its allies are trying to curb the Iranian regime's influence in the Middle East, it would be also wise to consider the real question of Iranian regime's web of influence in the US.
3- According to Alavi's financial reports, the Rutgers received $238,600 in 2005-6 and $40,500 in 2006-7
4- Amirahmadi at Rutgers http://ur.rutgers.edu/experts/index.php?a=display&f=expert&id=1100
5- Amirahmadi's bio by himself at http://www.amirahmadi.org/pages/php/bio.php
6- Etemad newspaper, taken by Emrooz, Nov. 12, 2008, http://emruz.net/ShowItem.aspx?ID=18725&p=1
7- Parsi was AIC's development director in 2001 http://www.iranian.com/Opinion/2002/May/Group/
8- Aftab News: http://www.aftabnews.ir/vdccpoq2biqpp.html
9- See the six following Iranian regime controlled newspapers:
10- An Iranian Embassy in Boston, June 09, 2008 http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/64492
11- Maleki at Harvard: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/878/abbas_maleki.html
12- AIC's board members at: http://www.american-iranian.org/home.php?mains=2&subs=14
13- Ilex board members at http://ilexfoundation.org/whowe/index.html