National Iranian American Council
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|Motto||Community. Democracy. Universal Rights.|
|Founder(s)||Trita Parsi, Babak Talebi, Farzin Illich|
|Mission||Strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people|
|Chairman||Dr. Shokooh Miry|
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) (Persian: شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا) is a nonprofit, civil society, NGO based in Washington, D.C. and claims to be the largest organization representing people of Iranian heritage in the United States, yet no evidence has ever been shown that a majority of Iranian Americans support NIAC either through voting or financial sponsorship. Trita Parsi was one of the founders and is the organization's former president. Jamal Abdi, formerly NIAC's Vice President for Policy and Executive Director for NIAC Action, took over as president on August 1, 2018. "A review of NIAC policy stances reveals that the organization frequently echoes Tehran’s rhetoric in redirecting blame at the U.S., not the [Islamic] regime, for Iranian aggression and malfeasance." It repeatedly has been noted that, "The list of regime-sympathetic positions held by NIAC goes all the way back to its founding."
NIAC was founded in 2002 by Trita Parsi, Babak Talebi, and Farzin Illich to promote Iranian-American civic participation. NIAC advocates against war with Iran and advocated in support of the Iran nuclear deal. The Congressional publication, The Hill, cited NIAC's work in support of the Iran nuclear accord as one of the "Top lobbying victories of 2015."
A NIAC report concluded that U.S. sanctions on Iran cost the U.S. economy between $135 billion and $175 billion in lost export revenue between 1995 and 2012. After the Iran nuclear deal was implemented and U.S. secondary sanctions on Iran were eased, the organization questioned the utility of the broad economic embargo the U.S. maintains on trade with Iran.
Lobbying for Iranian Students in the U.S.
NIAC has worked on behalf of Iranian students in the U.S. NIAC led the campaign to change the U.S.'s single-entry visa policy towards Iranian students, by allowing Iranian students to receive multiple entry visas, a measure that the Obama administration adopted in 2011.
Efforts to save ancient Persian artifacts
NIAC opposed efforts to confiscate ancient Persian artifacts from the University of Chicago, the Chicago Field Museum, Harvard University, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as part of court cases filed against the Iranian government. From 2006-2018, NIAC fought against seizure of the Persepolis tablets in the media, the courts, the Congress, and the White House.
This included supporting legislative amendments to prevent the seizure of ancient Persian artifacts, calling directly on the White House to intervene to protect the Persepolis tablets, and submitting an amicus brief on behalf of the Iranian-American community to the court to ensure that the community's heritage is protected.
NIAC's sister 501(c)4 organization, NIAC Action, was formed in 2015 to support the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran and to champion Iranian American priorities. At that time, NIAC Action assumed responsibility for and expanded direct and grassroots lobbying work previously conducted by NIAC. NIAC Action's expressed advocacy goals are "to strengthen U.S. diplomacy with Iran to advance peace and human rights, promote greater openings between the American and the Iranian people, protect civil rights and opportunities for Iranian Americans at home, and support candidates who represent the Iranian American community's values." Jamal Abdi currently serves as the organization's Executive Director.
Since 2011, NIAC has held an annual Leadership Conference that "aims to expose its attendees to world-class leaders, and to teach Iranian Americans how to gain the political strength needed to effect real change on the issues." The conference in 2015 included addresses from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), as well as Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Dan Kildee (D-MI).
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, which former Washington Times correspondent Eli Lake stated "raise questions" about whether the organization had violated U.S. lobbying regulations. Lake's article further mentions that “two lawyers who read some of the same documents said they did not provide enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Parsi was acting as a foreign agent.” NIAC responded that it is in "full compliance with all regulations and laws" and published all of its tax returns online to back up its claim. Andrew Sullivan responded to the story in The Atlantic, suggesting the motive of the story was to "smear" Parsi's reputation.
In September 2012, U.S. Federal District Court Judge John D. Bates 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." However, Judge Bates also noted that "nothing in this opinion should be construed as a finding that [Daioleslam's] articles were true. [Daioleslam] did not move for summary judgement on that ground." On April 9, 2013, Judge Bates ordered NIAC to cover a portion of Daioleslam's legal expenses.
Based on a 2015 Business Insider report, Judge John D. Bates rejected NIAC's lawsuit against Daioleslam, arguing that the NIAC president's work was "not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime."
A March 2015 column by Eli Lake in Bloomberg View asserted that the emails showed cooperation between Parsi and the then Iran ambassador to the United Nations and current Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. NIAC's webpage confirms “that Parsi developed a relationship with Zarif after interviewing him on “numerous occasions for his book.” It states that Parsi made introductions for members of the U.S. Congress to meet with Zarif at the request of the lawmakers.
According to NIAC, "over 10,000 individual donors make up the core of NIAC’s support and provide the overwhelming majority of our funding every year." NIAC also receives funding from American philanthropic foundations such as the Ploughshares Fund and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. NIAC states that it does not receive funding from the U.S. or Iranian governments.
Demonstration against NIAC
In July 2019, some members of the Iranian community in the United States organized a demonstration in front of NIAC office in Washington DC. They believed NIAC is "the representative of the corrupt and brutal Islamic Republic regime" and not the voice of the Iranian-Americans. In response, a NIAC staff member appeared on BBC Persian and expressed support for free speech and described the protesters as supporters of the Donald Trump administration's policies toward Iran.
Republican Senators Call to Investigate NIAC
In January 2020, three Republican senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Mike Braun claimed that NIAC and its sister organization NIAC Action have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and they are "amplifying regime propaganda in the United States". They requested the US Attorney-General William Barr to "evaluate whether an investigation of NIAC is warranted for potential FARA violations and to ensure transparency regarding foreign attempts to influence the US political process." In response to the letter, dozens of academics, policy professionals, activists, former senior U.S. officials and non-governmental organizations signed a statement denouncing the Senators' letter and expressing solidarity with and support for NIAC.
Among its affiliated people, it is possible to mention Trita Parsi and Jamal Abdi whom served as the leader of the organization. Moreover several active reporters on Iranian topics including Negar Mortazavi are affiliated to this organization.
- Trita Parsi. "Important Announcement on NIAC's Next Chapter". Retrieved 6 June 2018.
- NIAC Staff. "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- Dickson, Rebecca (2015-12-16). "Top lobbying victories of 2015". The Hill. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
- "Sanctions on Iran cost the U.S. as much as $175 billion, study says". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
- "It's pointless to be the last country sanctioning Iran". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
- "U.S. Eases Visa Policy for Iranian Students – The Ticker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education". www.chronicle.com. Archived from the original on 2018-07-14. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
- AP (2009-02-22). "Terror victims seeking Persian relics in court". msnbc.com. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- "Update on efforts to save the Persepolis artifacts". NIAC. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- Parsi, Trita (2009-03-06). "Obama and the Persian Treasures in Chicago". HuffPost. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
- Jamal Abdi. "Announcing NIAC Action: A New Organization to Seal the Iran Deal and Advance Peace". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- NIAC Action staff. "About NIAC Action". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- NIAC. "NIAC Leadership Conference". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- Alexander Kneib. "Lawmakers Address 2015 NIAC Leadership Conference". Retrieved 22 July 2016.
- Eli Lake (13 November 2009). "Iran advocacy group said to skirt lobby rules". The Washington Times.
- "Myths vs. Facts, Continued". NIAC.
- Sullivan, Andrew (November 16, 2009). "'Send It To Lake Right Away!'". The Daily Dish. Atlantic Media. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- Josh Gerstein (13 September 2012). "Iranian-American group, leader lose libel case against writer". Politico. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- "Sanctioning Iran's American Allies: NIAC ordered to pay nearly $200K in legal fees". Washington Free Beacon. 22 April 2013.
- "America's most prominent group advocating engagement with Iran was hit with a rough court decision". BusinessInsider.com. 2015-03-05. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
- "UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA". uscourts.gov. 2015-03-05. Archived from the original on 7 December 2018. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
- "Iran's Charmer in Chief Wins Again". Bloomberg.com. 2015-03-31. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
- "Myths vs. Facts, Continued - NIAC". web.archive.org. 2015-04-26. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
- "Transparency". NIAC. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
- NIAC Staff. "Transparency in Governance and Finance". Retrieved 6 June 2017.
- Radio Farda. "Protest Gathering Held Outside National Iranian American Council". Retrieved 9 July 2019.
- "https://twitter.com/bbcpersian/status/1152628704087924736". Twitter. Retrieved 2020-10-19. External link in
- Jerusalem Post. "Senators call to investigate pro-Iran group - report". Retrieved 15 January 2020.
- BBC. "سه سناتور خواستار تحقیق درباره گروه ایرانی آمریکایی نایاک شدند". Retrieved 15 January 2020.
- Deutsche Welle. "نامه سه سناتور به دادگستری آمریکا برای بررسی پرونده "نایاک"". Retrieved 15 January 2020.
- "Letter of Solidarity: Stand with NIAC". www.niacouncil.org. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
- NIAC Welcomes New Media and Communications Staff | NIAC