|Alma mater||Johns Hopkins University|
|Organization||National Iranian American Council|
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 3 National Iranian American Council
- 4 Books
- 5 Honors and awards
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Early life and education
Born in Iran to a Zoroastrian family, Parsi moved with his family to Sweden at the age of four in order to escape the political repression in Iran. His father was an outspoken academic who was jailed under the reign of the Shah and later under Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic. Parsi earned a Master's Degree in International Relations at Uppsala University and a second Master's Degree in Economics at Stockholm School of Economics. As an adult, Parsi moved to the United States and studied foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies where he received his Ph.D. in International Relations.
Friendship with Robert Ney
In 1991, Parsi was a high-school exchange student in Ohio. During this time, he later wrote, "I was fortunate enough to get acquainted with Mr. Ney, who at the time served as a State Senator. I later ended up in a disagreement with my host-family and risked being sent back to Sweden without having completed my studies in the U.S. As the host-family and the organization who had arranged for my stay in the U.S. were preparing to send me back to Sweden, Mr. Ney stepped in and took me in with his own family." Ney, who had taught in Iran and was fluent in Persian, later became a U.S. Congressman, and in 1997 Parsi worked for him as a political consultant.
In a personal statement as part of his application to a Harvard doctoral program, Parsi mentioned his success at converting Ney into Congress's most pro-Iranian member. "In 1997," he wrote, "I worked as policy advisor on MidEastern issues to Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio. My job was to reformulate Ney's position vis-à-vis Iran. At the time, Ney was a supporter of the Clinton Administration's isolation policy of Iran. By identifying the long-term strategic necessity of befriending Iran and showing how such a policy should be pursued, I was successful in convincing Ney to alter his position. In 1997, he became one of the first Congressmen to propagate dialogue with Tehran."
Ney ended up being implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandals and resigning from Congress, and was also accused of lobbying Colin Powell to ease restrictions on the export of airplanes to Iran, apparently on behalf of friends who operated an aviation firm. When Ney was in danger of losing his House seat, Parsi wrote a character reference for him.
Early in his career Parsi worked for the Swedish Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, where he served in the Security Council, handling the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, and Western Sahara, and on the General Assembly's Third Committee, addressing human rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Iraq.
He has served as an adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and as a Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.
National Iranian American Council
In 2002, Parsi closed down the IIC and founded the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), whose stated purpose was "to enable Iranian Americans to condemn the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks" and, later, to provide a "grass-roots group aimed at strengthening their voice." Through the organization, he supports engagement between the US and Iran in belief that it "would enhance our [U.S.] national security by helping to stabilize the Middle East and bolster the moderates in Iran." On the group's formation, he commented, "We realized that our primary thing that separates the Iranian-American community from the Jewish-American community, the Arab-American community, the Armenian-American community is that the Iranian-American community has shunned political participation." NIAC has received financial support from the Open Society Institute, the Tides Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Kenbe Foundation, and the Kamyar and Goli Foundation.
In a 2011 talk sponsored by the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, Parsi argued that the conflict between Israel and Iran was not ideological but strategic and geopolitical. In a 2012 article for Salon, Parsi accuses Israel of using “the threat of war to push the U.S. and EU into passing economic sanctions on Iran” and denounced those sanctions as "blind" and "indiscriminate." A 2012 article co-written with NIAC colleague Jamal Abdi argued that "Iranians don't just suffer under the repression of a regime that is rightly punished for its human rights violations – they are also suffering under U.S. collective punishment sanctions that are preventing food and medicine from reaching ordinary Iranians, are blocking off communication tools from human rights and democracy defenders, and are aimed at collapsing the Iranian economy and all of the ordinary people under it."
Collaboration with Iranian agents
The Iranian American Forum noted on January 5, 2013, that a newly released Pentagon report named two Iranian secret service agents, Massoud Khodabandeh and his wife, Anne Singleton, who had collaborated closely with the NIAC. The IAF pointed out that the NIAC is "viewed by many Iranians to be the Mullahs’ lobby in U.S.," that the official Iranian press “calls NIAC the 'Iran lobby in US,'” and that the NIAC had paid travel expenses for the couple to travel to Washington for a Congressional briefing “but the U.S. Homeland Security intervened and stopped them from boarding the London flight to Washington.” The IAF also pointed out connections between the NIAC and Iran Interlink, a website operated by the Iranian intelligence agency. The IAF expressed concern that despite all this, the NIAC "maintains intimate relations" with the State Department and "is the administration’s main interlocutor on Iran issues," with U.S. embassies inviting Parsi to give talks, brief officials, and teach classes. The U.S. government, concluded the IAF, "may think that they have found a back alley doorway to the Iranian regime. In reality, it could be Tehran’s Ayatollahs who have found a back alley door to the State Department!"
Criticism of Parsi and NIAC
Arash Irandoost of the Pro-Democracy Movement of Iran has called Parsi "an intellectually dishonest regime apologist and an unofficial and unregistered lobbyist for the Iranian regime," accusing him of "serv[ing] the interests of those in power in the Islamic Republic of Iran, not the Iranians, nor the Iranian-Americans." The Progressive American-Iranian Committee has said that when NIAC and Parsi received funding for various projects from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), "NIAC's projects were approved and welcomed by the Iranian regime." NIAC and Parsi have reportedly even lobbied Congress to "stop appropriating funds for independent democratic movements and NGOs" that were not under the control of the Iranian regime.
Robert Spencer has argued that "the NIAC has consistently opposed the tough measures that would truly aid genuine fighters for freedom in Iran – and has also opposed the steps that the United States and the West must take to defend themselves against the increasingly bellicose and brutal Islamic Republic." He has also written that the NIAC "has consistently followed a line indicating that while it opposes the mullahs’ excesses, it does not oppose the Islamic regime itself."
Lobbying controversy and defamation lawsuit
In 2007, Arizona-based Iranian-American journalist Hassan Daioleslam began publicly asserting that NIAC was lobbying on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In response, Parsi sued him for defamation. As a result of the lawsuit, many internal documents were released, including e-mail correspondence between Parsi and Mohammad Javad Zarif, then Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. In a November 2009 article, Washington Times national security correspondent Eli Lake reported on some of the facts disclosed in those documents. After Barack Obama's election to the presidency, for example, the NIAC, fearing that Obama would put Dennis Ross, an anti-Iran hardliner, in charge of Iran policy, and thus scuttle their efforts to persuade U.S. officials to lift sanctions, deliberately set out to create a "media controversy" about Ross and thereby prevent his appointment.
Although Ross got the job, Lake noted that Parsi, whose "history suggests a continuing commitment to changing U.S. policy on Iran," had "clearly become more influential in Washington since the change of administrations." Now, wrote Lake, "a lawsuit has brought to light numerous documents that raise questions about whether the organization is using that influence to lobby for policies favorable to Iran in violation of federal law." Those documents, according to Lake, "offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws." Although Parsi denied that NIAC was a lobby, he had in fact previously run a lobbying organization, namely IIC, which had openly advocated for the removal of the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran.
A former federal law-enforcement official, who asked to review documents showing that Parsi had helped arrange meetings between members of Congress and Zarif, said that anyone engaging in such activity should be registered as a foreign agent; another such official said that "this may be lobbying." Lake also quoted Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an Iranian filmmaker and unofficial spokesman for Iran's opposition Green Movement, as saying, "I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic."
In September 2012, after a more than four-year legal battle, a U.S. federal judge threw out the libel suit against Daioleslam on the grounds that "NIAC and Parsi had failed to show evidence of actual malice, either that Daioeslam acted with knowledge the allegations he made were false or with reckless disregard about their accuracy." Parsi and the NIAC were ordered to pay part of Daioleslam's legal expenses, and Daioleslam stated that "I have always believed that NIAC and Trita Parsi lobby for the Iranian regime. I maintained and reiterated this belief during the lawsuit, my deposition and in our last motions including the motion for summary judgment." In January 2013, Daioleslam published a series of e-mails between Parsi and Zarif which suggested that the former was passing information to the latter.
In 2007, Yale University Press published Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States. Parsi's work is an expansion of his 2006 Ph.D. dissertation written at Johns Hopkins University under the supervision of his Ph.D. adviser Francis Fukuyama. The book "takes a closer look at the complicated triangular relations between Israel, Iran, and the United States that continue to shape the future of the Middle East." The book basically argues that the struggle between Israel and Iran is not ideological but strategic.
In a 2011 interview with the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard University, he asserted that his thesis had "been vindicated" by recent events. "I believe it is increasingly clear that efforts to divide the region between moderates vs radicals, democracies vs non-democracies etc is of little utility and has no real explanatory value. Israel, for instance, who had sought to frame its rivalry with Iran as a struggle between the region’s sole Western democracy against a fanatical Islamic tyranny, favored the status quo in Egypt and opposed the efforts to oust Mubarak."
He added that "With the decline of the US, Israel's strategic paralysis and increased isolation in the region, the rise of Turkey, the 'revolutions' in Tunisia and Egypt, and Iran’s continued difficulties in translating its strength to regional acceptance, the region is experiencing momentous changes both in its political structure and in its balance of power. An ideology based approach towards understanding these shifts won’t get you far."
The book received many positive reviews. In Foreign Affairs, L. Carl Brown called the book a "well-constructed history" and former U.S. ambassador Peter Galbraith praised the book as "a wonderfully informative account." The book was also praised by political scientist John Mearsheimer and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who was on his dissertation committee,. In 2008, Treacherous Alliance was awarded the silver medal (runner-up) in the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Book Award.
Reviewing the book in Commentary in March 2008, however, Nathan Thrall found it "troubling" that a "litany of praise" had "been heaped on this book by authorities in American foreign policy and Middle East studies." Parsi, noted Thrall, believes that "the internal dynamics of states (i.e., their ideology, system of governance, ethnic makeup, class structure, and religion), while important, 'have little or no impact on their respective foreign policies.'" Thrall suggested that in propounding such a thesis, Parsi, "the head of a lobby promoting 'greater understanding' of Iran," may just be "doing his job. But the distinction between arriving at a conclusion and beginning with one is what separates the work of a historian from that of a lobbyist. In this case, it is a distinction that seems to be lost not only on him but on the luminaries who have lined up to endorse his defective scholarship and tendentious conclusions."
A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran
In the 2012 book, Parsi's thesis is that US-Iran relations are in a stalemate caused by institutionalized enmity: "The thirty-year old US-Iran enmity is no longer a phenomenon; it is an institution." He argues that the way forth is through sustained diplomacy that he considers "the only policy that remains largely unexplored and that has a likelihood of achieving results amounting to more than kicking the can down the road."
Reviewing the book in the The Wall Street Journal, Sohrab Ahmari faults Parsi for failing to "re-examine U.S. policy and its underlying assumptions." Instead, he writes, "Quick to ascribe irrationality and bad faith to opponents of engagement, Mr. Parsi is charitable when it comes to examining the motivations of the Iranian side." In opposition to Parsi's position, Ahmari concludes, "Mr. Obama's engagement policy failed not because of Israeli connivance or because the administration did not try hard enough. The policy failed because the Iranian regime, when confronted by its own people or by outsiders, has only one way of responding: with a truncheon."
Honors and awards
Treacherous Alliance received the 2010 Grawemeyer Award from the University of Louisville, given for "Ideas Improving World Order." "We are aware of the political controversy around us, and we are expecting to get some heat as well as opening some light," Rodger Payne, the political science professor who administers the awards, told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Treacherous Alliance also won the 2008 Arthur Ross Silver Medallion from the Council on Foreign Relations, which described it as a "unique and important book" that "takes a closer look at the complicated triangular relations between Israel, Iran, and the United States that continue to shape the future of the Middle East."
- Huffington Post. "Trita Parsi bio". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- NIAC Staff (8 July 2007). "Dr. Trita Parsi, President". Retrieved 3 March 2011.
- Parsi, Trita. "Letter to Judge Huvelle". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Iranians for International Cooperation. "IIC Curriculum Vitae". Progressive American-Iranian Committee. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Parsi, Trita. "Statement of Purpose". Progressive American-Iranian Committee. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Levey, Noam M. "Congressman Linked to Abramoff Is No Stranger to Lobbyists". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Parsi, Trita. "About Me". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Eli Lake (13 November 2009). "Iran advocacy group said to skirt lobby rules". The Washington Times.
- NIAC. "Annual Report July 2003 - 2004". National Iranian American Council. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Wong, Joanne. "President of the National Iranian American Council puts the conflict between Israel and Iran in historical perspective". Harvard Law. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Parsi, Trita. "Israel’s diplomatic scare game". Salon. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Abdi, Jamal; Trita Parsi. "Opinion: Sanctions against Iran hurt the people, not the regime". Newsday. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- PAIC. "Pentagon Report on Iranian Intelligence agents Who Collaborated with NIAC". Progressive American-Iranian Committee. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Library of Congress. "Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security: a Profile". Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Geller, Pamela. "Why Obama Betrayed the Iranian People". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Spencer, Robert. "The Mullahs’ Washington Mouthpiece?". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Josh Gerstein (13 September 2012). "Iranian-American group, leader lose libel case against writer". Politico. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- Iranian American Forum. "NIAC Lost Defamation Case and was Sanctioned for Discovery Abuses". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Dai, Hassan. "Trita Parsi was reporting to Iranian ambassador". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Baumann, Nick. "Neocon Smear on "Iran's Man in DC?"". Mother Jones. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Thrall, Nathan (March 2008). "Persian Aversion". Commentary Magazine.
- "Paul Collier's Bottom Billion Wins CFR's 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award". Council on Foreign Relations. 16 May 2008. Retrieved 25 November 2009.
- Saberi, Hengameh. "Interview with Parsi". Harvard. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Steve Coll, 'Will Iran Get That Bomb?', review of Parsi in New York Review of Books, May 24, 2012, pp.34-36, p.35.
- "It Takes Two to Engage". The Wall Street Journal. 23 January 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- Baumann, Nick. "Neocon Target Trita Parsi Wins $200,000 Prize". Mother Jones. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Council on Foreign Relations. "Paul Collier's Bottom Billion Wins CFR's 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award". Retrieved 27 June 2013.