The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a nonprofit civic action group which spreads regime propaganda in the United States, continues to manipulate American foreign policy through aggressive lobbying and pressure campaigns.
Mark Hemingway of RealClearInvestigations recently wrote a scathing report on how the Washington D.C-based group has worked in public and behind the scenes to shape the American response to conflict with Iran. The veteran journalist revealed how, during the most serious anti-regime protests in Iran since the Islamic Revolution, NIAC endorsed a letter from 17 members of Congress to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling on the White House to halt Iranian sanctions. Hemingway also cited the "No War with Iran Strategy Call," a public teleconference convened to drum up opposition to military deterrence against Iran just a day after it launched ballistic missiles at U.S. armed forces stationed in Iraq. Hosted by NIAC and a coalition of left-wing anti-war groups, the call included remarks from Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
In fact, Hemingway's detailed reporting only scratches the surface of NIAC's recent lobbying efforts. NIAC Action, the nonprofit's 501(c)4 sister organization, has been vigorously engaging lawmakers and building public pressure around key friction points concerning U.S.-Iranian relations. In recent months, the pro-Iran lobby sought to limit U.S. military options, undermine U.S. border security, weaken sanctions, disrupt counterterrorism efforts, and pressure a return to the failed Iran nuclear deal
Although NIAC presents itself as an American organization free from foreign influence, it is indelibly tied to an Iranian regime network which includes business interests, foundations, and Khomeinist clerics. NIAC staff are more than just savvy political activists; they are true believers in Shiite theocracy, characterizing the Islamic Revolution as "the same ideas of democracy and independence that had long been ideologically espoused in the United States," while seeking to defund actual democratization programs in their homeland.
The nonprofit's record as a propaganda front for Tehran is indisputable. Discovery from a 2008 defamation lawsuit which NIAC filed against a prominent Iranian American critic was devastating to the self-styled "nonpartisan nonprofit." By suing blogger Hassan Daioleslam, whose defense was partially funded by the Middle East Forum's Legal Project, NIAC exposed its internal files and communications to scrutiny. As international calls for Iran to denuclearize intensified between 2006 and 2007, internal emails demonstrated NIAC founder Trita Parsi's instrumental role in arranging congressional meetings with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif. Parsi also consulted with Iranian intelligence officers and state-controlled Iranian media to prepare for Capitol Hill briefings.
These incidents, coupled with a resurgence in lobbying activity, prompted three U.S. senators to petition the Justice Department in January to investigate NIAC for "amplifying regime propaganda." Instead of disputing these allegations with hard evidence, in a message to supporters NIAC slammed "cultish" Iranian resistance groups and "hardline 'pro-Israel' pundits" for endorsing calls for an investigation.
Lawmakers are right to be concerned. In a fundraising letter trumpeting the Iran lobby's 2019 accomplishments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi boasted that the nonprofit has "doubled down on building political power," founding a pro-Iran political action committee to fund sympathetic candidates, while deploying NIAC prodigies to embed with members of Congress through its Congressional Fellowship Program. However, NIAC made its most effective political inroads in 2019 through an explosion of lobbying activity, securing legislative victories which have diminished the military and diplomatic resources available to U.S. policymakers.
As tension escalated between the U.S. and Iran, NIAC activists exhaustively worked to deprive the U.S of its military advantages. Abdi claims to have secured bipartisan support for the Khanna-Gaetz amendment, which would have required congressional authorization for military action against Iran. Although the amendment failed, NIAC applauded the February 13 passage of a resolution which reasserted congressional prerogatives challenging a president's power to wage war.
Next, NIAC Action exerted pressure on lawmakers by soliciting signatures in a "No War with Iran" petition that characterized Iranian military aggression as "retaliatory," instead accusing Trump of leading America "to the brink of war." NIAC followed up this action on January 9 by holding anti-war protests in more than 50 locations across the U.S.
The Iran lobby has redoubled efforts at the highest levels of government to compel a return to the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a multilateral treaty that ostensibly delayed Iran's access to nuclear weapons in exchange for an easing of sanctions and extremely limited access to Iranian nuclear development sites. Beginning in 2018, NIAC lobbyists contacted every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to secure their commitment for a return to the JCPOA, publishing a "presidential tracker" which evaluated nine leading candidates on their enthusiasm for the deal and penalized them for suggesting any precondition for its re-establishment.
Responding to gas hikes related to U.S. sanctions, Iranians took to the streets in November and December to participate in large-scale protests against the regime. But that didn't stop NIAC from "working with members of Congress" at the height of this unrest to reverse sanctions. In December 2018, the pro-regime lobbyists helped convince Representative Jared Huffman and 13 other lawmakers to compose an incendiary letter to the State Department, asking if it was a "strategy of the Trump administration to starve the Iranian people...."
Even a Senate bill aimed at sanctioning the bloodthirsty Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp was inappropriate for NIAC, which complained that the designated terrorist organization is already "the most heavily-sanctioned entity in the entire world."
Finally, NIAC has done everything in its power to stop the implementation of Trump's executive order banning travel from select high-risk countries such as Iran, echoing erroneous claims that it is a "Muslim Ban." To counter the executive order, which the Supreme Court upheld, NIAC claimed responsibility for securing "the first ever congressional oversight hearing on the Muslim ban," after rallying 118 progressive organizations to the cause and delivering 150,000 signatures demanding action. In January, the lobby mobilized Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) to introduce legislation to defund the travel ban.
NIAC must be called out for what it is: a propaganda front for the Iranian regime. As tensions are rising between the U.S. and Iran, NIAC continues to increase its destructive influence in Washington and allow for Iran's regional ambitions to go unchecked. Congressmembers must stop lending credibility to this vile organization and join calls from their colleagues to investigate this group.
Bradley Martin is a Writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.