Person

Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi is the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, a think tank promoting a non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy. [1] The Quincy Institute was founded with the joint support of left-wing billionaire George Soros and libertarian billionaire Charles Koch. [2]

Before joining Quincy, Parsi founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an advocacy group purporting to represent the voice of the Iranian-American community in domestic and foreign policy issues. [3] NIAC has advocated for the U.S. to reinstate the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran (following the decision by President Trump to remove the U.S. from the agreement), and for a reduction in U.S. sanctions targeting the Iranian regime. [4] [5]

In 2009, proceedings from litigation involving NIAC raised the possibility that Parsi and NIAC had operated as lobbyists for the government of Iran. Journalist Eli Lake reported on information from the lawsuits that alleged Parsi had arranged meetings between an Iranian diplomat and members of Congress. As of August 2020, Parsi was not known to have been under investigation for wrongdoing in these matters. In January 2020, three Republican U.S. Senators asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate NIAC and NIAC Action for “potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.” [6] [7]

Early Life and Career

Parsi was born in Iran in 1974. Parsi’s father, a politically active professor, was jailed on two separate occasions by both the Shah of Iran and then the Islamist regime following the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before leaving Iran with his family when Parsi was four years old. Parsi was raised in Sweden, where he received his post-secondary education. He later moved to the United States, where he received his Ph.D. from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. Parsi has lived in the United States since the 1990s, but as of 2009 was reportedly not an American citizen. After studying at Johns Hopkins, Parsi pursued politics, working with the Swedish Permanent Mission to the United Nations. [8] [9] [10]

Parsi has published three books on U.S. relations with Iran. In his 2017 book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, Parsi favorably reviewed the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran. Parsi has worked at Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and Georgetown University. In addition to his career in academia, he has worked at a variety of think tanks, including the Middle East Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. [11] [12]

In 2002, Parsi founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). [13] NIAC is an advocacy group purporting to represent the voice of the Iranian-American community in domestic and foreign policy issues. [14] It has advocated that the U.S. reinstate the nuclear agreement with Iran (following the decision by President Trump to remove the U.S. from the agreement), and for a reduction in U.S. sanctions targeting the Iranian regime. [15] [16] As president of NIAC, Parsi extended the organization to include NIAC Action, a 501(c)(4) engaged in political lobbying. [17]

After leaving NIAC, Parsi became Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank launched in Fall 2019 with the support of billionaire left-wing donor George Soros and billionaire libertarian donor Charles Koch. The Quincy Institute advocates for a non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy. [18] [19]

Accusations of Lobbying for Iran

In November 2009 journalist Eli Lake, writing in the Washington Times, reported on the possibility that Parsi and NIAC may have worked on behalf of the Iranian government without a lobbyist registration. The report followed a defamation lawsuit filed by NIAC against Iranian-American journalist Hassan Daioleslam. Daioleslam had written that NIAC had advocated on behalf of the Iranian government as a lobbyist. Daioleslam ultimately won his defamation case and filed a motion for sanctions, alleging NIAC had increased the cost of his defense by delaying cooperation with court orders. The court ordered NIAC to pay Daioleslam“$183,480.09 in monetary sanctions.” [20] [21]

In its original lawsuit, according to a 2015 Business Insider report, NIAC claimed Daioleslam had “defamed them in a series of articles and blog posts claiming that they had secretly lobbied on behalf of the Iranian regime in the United States.” NIAC was asserting its advocacy of better U.S.-Iranian relations had not crossed over into advocacy on behalf of the Iranian government—behavior that could require registration as a foreign lobbyist under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)—and that Daioleslam was defaming them by implying NIAC had violated FARA. In 2012 a federal court ruled for Daioleslam, finding Parsi’s behavior for NIAC “not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime.” [22]

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit observed that NIAC had “flouted multiple court orders” and withheld critical documents during discovery. NIAC was cited for refusing to turn over its calendars, which were critical to defending Daioleslam’s claim that NIAC leaders met with Iranian officials. When the records were revealed, the court found them incomplete and that NIAC “produced no calendar entries from before 2009.” Parsi’s calendar was particularly at issue, with the court finding that 78 of the entries had “been altered shortly before production, including two-thirds of those in Parsi’s calendar.” [23]

For his 2009 report, Eli Lake reported that emails uncovered during the lawsuit showed Parsi communicating with then-Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Javad Zarif and helping arrange meetings between Zarif and members of Congress. Lake quoted two federal law enforcement experts who reviewed the information:[24]

“Arranging meetings between members of Congress and Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations would in my opinion require that person or entity to register as an agent of a foreign power; in this case it would be Iran,” said one of those officials, former FBI associate deputy director Oliver “Buck” Revell.

The other official, former FBI special agent in counterintelligence and counterterrorism Kenneth Piernick, said, “It appears that this may be lobbying on behalf of Iranian government interests. Were I running the counterintelligence program at the bureau now, I would have cause to look into this further.” [25]

Lake also revealed that Parsi founded Iranians for International Cooperation, a group dedicated to “safeguard Iran’s and Iranian interests” in 1997. The group remained active until NIAC was founded and listed its top priority to be “the removal of U.S. economic and political sanctions against Iran, and the commencement of an Iran-U.S. dialogue.” In 2002, Parsi expressed his interest in NIAC joining another organization to create a “grass-roots lobby” which would push for an end to American sanctions on Iran, a dream brought to fruition with the creation of NIAC Action in 2015. [26] [27]

In his reporting on the NIAC lawsuits, Lake also wrote that Parsi had collaborated in his advocacy with Siamak Namazi, another Iranian expatriate. Until 2007, Namazi served as managing director of Atieh Bahar, the international consulting arm of Atieh Group, a corporation with contracts with Iranian government ministries and Iranian banks that stood to benefit from the lifting of United States sanctions. [28]

Lake quoted Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an Iranian filmmaker and prominent activist within Iran’s opposition Green Movement, who said: “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.” [29]

In January 2020, U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate NIAC and NIAC Action for “potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.” [30]

As of August 2020, Parsi was not known to have ever been under investigation for the information revealed in Lake’s reporting.

References

  1. “About.” Trita Parsi . Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.tritaparsi.com/about. ^
  2. Kinzer, Stephen. “In an Astonishing Turn, George Soros and Charles Koch Team up to End US ‘Forever War’ Policy – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Globe, June 30, 2019. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/06/30/soros-and-koch-brothers-team-end-forever-war-policy/WhyENwjhG0vfo9Um6Zl0JO/story.html. ^
  3. “About.” Trita Parsi . Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.tritaparsi.com/about. ^
  4. “Returning To The Nuclear Agreement.” NIAC. Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.niacouncil.org/campaign/tell-your-congressperson-the-u-s-should-return-to-the-iran-nuclear-agreement/ ^
  5. “Halt Washington’s Sanctions Addiction: Support Omar’s Sanctions Oversight Bill.” NIAC. Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.niacouncil.org/campaign/halt-washingtons-sanctions-addiction-support-omars-sanctions-oversight-bill/ ^
  6. Cotton, Braun, and Cruz Urge DOJ Investigation of NIAC.” Tom Cotton | U.S. Senator for Arkansas, January 14, 2020. https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1293. ^
  7. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  8. “About.” Trita Parsi. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.tritaparsi.com/about. ^
  9. “Trita Parsi.” New York State Writers Institute. State University of New York. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/archives/parsi_trita12.html. ^
  10. Goldberg, Jeffrey. “Trita Parsi, Lobbyist for Iran?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, November 13, 2009. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2009/11/trita-parsi-lobbyist-for-iran/30133/. ^
  11. “About.” Trita Parsi. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://www.tritaparsi.com/about. ^
  12. “Trita Parsi, Author at Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://quincyinst.org/author/tparsi/. ^
  13. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  14. “About.” Trita Parsi . Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.tritaparsi.com/about. ^
  15. “Returning To The Nuclear Agreement.” NIAC. Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.niacouncil.org/campaign/tell-your-congressperson-the-u-s-should-return-to-the-iran-nuclear-agreement/ ^
  16. “Halt Washington’s Sanctions Addiction: Support Omar’s Sanctions Oversight Bill.” NIAC. Accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.niacouncil.org/campaign/halt-washingtons-sanctions-addiction-support-omars-sanctions-oversight-bill/ ^
  17. “Mission and Vision.” NIAC. Accessed April 27, 2020. https://www.niacouncil.org/mission-and-vision/. ^
  18. Kinzer, Stephen. “In an Astonishing Turn, George Soros and Charles Koch Team up to End US ‘Forever War’ Policy – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. The Boston Globe, June 30, 2019. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/06/30/soros-and-koch-brothers-team-end-forever-war-policy/WhyENwjhG0vfo9Um6Zl0JO/story.html. ^
  19. “Trita Parsi, Author at Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Accessed May 3, 2020. https://quincyinst.org/author/tparsi/. ^
  20. Rosen, Armin. “America’s Most Prominent Group Advocating Engagement with Iran Was Hit with a Rough Court Decision.” Business Insider. Business Insider, March 5, 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/americas-most-prominent-group-advocating-engagement-with-iran-was-hit-with-a-rough-court-decision-2015-3. ^
  21. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  22. Rosen, Armin. “America’s Most Prominent Group Advocating Engagement with Iran Was Hit with a Rough Court Decision.” Business Insider. Business Insider, March 5, 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/americas-most-prominent-group-advocating-engagement-with-iran-was-hit-with-a-rough-court-decision-2015-3. ^
  23. Rosen, Armin. “America’s Most Prominent Group Advocating Engagement with Iran Was Hit with a Rough Court Decision.” Business Insider. Business Insider, March 5, 2015. https://www.businessinsider.com/americas-most-prominent-group-advocating-engagement-with-iran-was-hit-with-a-rough-court-decision-2015-3. ^
  24. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  25. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  26. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  27. “Mission and Vision.” NIAC. Accessed April 27, 2020.https://www.niacouncil.org/mission-and-vision/. ^
  28. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  29. Lake, Eli. “EXCLUSIVE: Iran Advocacy Group Said to Skirt Lobby Rules.” The Washington Times, November 13, 2009. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/13/exclusive-did-iranian-advocacy-group-violate-laws/. ^
  30. Cotton, Braun, and Cruz Urge DOJ Investigation of NIAC.” Tom Cotton | U.S. Senator forArkansas, January 14, 2020. https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1293. ^
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