The military command tasked with overseeing the U.S. nuclear deterrent defended its decision to host a keynote address at a conference this month by a former Iranian official — who attended the funeral of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
U.S. Strategic Command courted controversy when it invited Professor Seyed Hossein Mousavian to address its annual Deterrence Symposium in Omaha, Neb., on August 16 and 17, but it's standing by its decision, a spokesman told National Review. The Washington Free Beacon first reported on STRATCOM's defense of the invitation after the command posted video of Mousavian's appearance this week.
"The goal of the symposium is to explore a broad range of deterrence issues and thinking," the Strategic Command spokesman said. "We always seek in our panelists and speakers a broad array of perspectives, including those which differ from our own. We were aware of Mr. Mousavian's previous position within the Iranian government and believe that, in the context of the Deterrence Symposium, we would have benefited from that insight into an opposing viewpoint."
The official added that the views expressed by the conference's participants "are not the position of or endorsed by U.S. Strategic Command."
Mousavian, a professor at Princeton University and former Iranian ambassador to Germany, is a controversial figure, whom Iranian regime opponents cast as an advocate for the government in Tehran. He attended the funeral of Soleimani, the paramilitary leader who wreaked havoc across the region and was behind the deaths of hundreds of American service members in Iran (and who was killed by a U.S. drone strike).
Mousavian used his August 17 keynote speech, which was called "regional instabilities impact on global economy," to lobby the U.S. to return to the Iranian nuclear deal.
As a result, Strategic Command is catching flak from the Iranian regime's fiercest critics, including members of a congressional committee responsible for authorizing its budget every year. Representative Michael Waltz slammed the decision in a statement to National Review today.
"It's beyond the pale STRATCOM would invite and promote a regime apologist. This doesn't provide an 'Iranian perspective,' rather it whitewashes the brutality this regime has unleashed by murdering women and repressing innocents," said Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "This decision cannot go without accountability, the U.S. military should not platform someone affiliated with a state sponsor of terror."
United Against a Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group that focuses on the Iranian regime's malign behavior, called on the Pentagon inspector general and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to investigate the circumstances behind Mousavian's appearance. UANI also pointed out that Mousavian's stint as ambassador to Germany overlapped with a period during which Iranian agents behind the 1992 assassinations of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents operated out of the Iranian embassy in Bonn.
The UANI statement also referred to remarks by then–Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif from a 2016 interview in which he said that Mousavian is "completely tied to the regime and the country."
In an emailed response to questions from NR, Mousavian said that while "warmongers such as UANI" have accused him of being involved in the plot, "this accusation is a big lie." He referred to a German court ruling on the case that did not mention him at all and pointed out that he has "been a frequent traveler to Germany and all EU countries since 1998," the year that his job as ambassador ended.
"I retired from the Iranian foreign ministry 13 years ago and since then I have not been engaged with any government including the government of Iran," Mousavian said.
"I was in Iran to attend the funeral ceremony of my mother when President Trump assassinated General Soleimani," Mousavian said. "I attended the funeral of Soleimani to monitor the reaction of the Iranian nation to this assassination. Seven million attended Soleimani's funeral in Tehran. For me, the funeral was a piece of clear evidence that General Soleimani was extremely popular among the Iranian nation and President Trump just increased the hate and anger of the nation against the U.S." After an official had introduced him, citing his former Iranian-government positions at the symposium this month, he also downplayed his alleged Iranian-government sympathies, pointing out that he was jailed and interrogated in Iran under espionage charges in 2007.
His speech provided an analysis of the breakdown of the U.S.–Iran relationship, diagnosing its causes and offering suggestions to repair it, including by urging the U.S. to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran, pursue "nuclear disarmament in good faith," and reorient U.S. strategy in the Middle East away from confrontation with Iran.
Throughout his remarks, he took a swipe at the U.S. for turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program, and he parroted statistics from Brown University's "Costs of War Project," which claims that America's post-9/11 involvement in the Middle East resulted in 4.5 million deaths and the displacement of tens of millions of people. Those figures have been cited by Syrian-government officials because they attribute deaths and displacements caused by the Russian and Syrian governments, in addition to other actors, to American policy instead.
"What America needs today is a new strategy that does not involve wars, regime changes and operations against sovereign states obsessively trying to control everyone in every part of the world," Mousavian said. "This is my message to this deterrence summit."
Other speakers at the Deterrence Symposium included political figures and former and current top military officials such as General Anthony Cotton, the commander of STRATCOM, and Admiral Harry Harris, the former commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.