The Cable

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Does Washington have an Iran lobby?

As Washington debates President Obama’s new engagement strategy with Iran, few have been more prominent or more controversial than Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Parsi, a young and charismatic Iranian scholar with deep ties to the Obama team, has faced whisperings and blogosphere rumblings from conservatives that he has too ...

As Washington debates President Obama’s new engagement strategy with Iran, few have been more prominent or more controversial than Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Parsi, a young and charismatic Iranian scholar with deep ties to the Obama team, has faced whisperings and blogosphere rumblings from conservatives that he has too many connections to the Iranian government or is working on their behalf. Those allegations went public in a long article today in the Washington Times, which accuses Parsi of violating lobbying disclosure rules and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Reams of documents were provided to the Times by the defendant in NIAC’s defamation lawsuit against Hassan Daioleslam, who they allege has links to identified terrorist groups, and who has been accusing NIAC of being too close to the Iranian government.

Previously unreported documents provided by NIAC to The Cable show that Daioleslam was working with neoconservative author Ken Timmerman as early as 2008 and that their moves on Parsi were part of a larger effort to thwart Obama’s Iran policy.

"I strongly believe that Trita Parsi is the weakest part of the Iranian web because he is related to Siamak Namazi and Bob Ney," Daioleslam wrote in one e-mail dated April 2, 2008, "I believe that destroying him will be the start of attacking the whole web. This is an integral part of any attack on Clinton or Obama."

Namazi is a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy with whom Parsi has worked. The e-mails show that Parsi and Namazi coordinated efforts to make recommendations to administration officials.

Tim Kapshandy, a lawyer for Sidley Austin LLP, came to represent Daioleslam in 2009. Upon seeing the e-mails about Parsi and Namazi, he accidentally sent a note to both of them. The note read, "Send it to [Washington Times reporter Eli] Lake right away!"

"This is not as much targeting us, the end objective seems to be, according to these e-mails, to bring down Obama," Parsi said of the emails in an interview with The Cable.

In another previously unreported memo obtained by The Cable, it appears that Parsi tried to start an official lobbying organization on Iran, back when he was an unpaid advisor to now disgraced former Rep. Bob Ney. Sent by Parsi from his congressional e-mail account to ex-Bush aide Roy Coffee and former Ney chief of staff David Di Stefano, the memo talks about a "strategic partnership" between the new lobbying organization and NIAC and says that Parsi would be the lobbying group’s executive director.

The memo was entitled, "Towards the creation of an Iranian-American lobby."

Parsi said of his plans to establish an official lobbying group, "There were discussions that continued for a few months but nothing came out of it… We later became more active on foreign policy in the sense that we would take positions… that happened in 2006."

As Washington debates President Obama’s new engagement strategy with Iran, few have been more prominent or more controversial than Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Parsi, a young and charismatic Iranian scholar with deep ties to the Obama team, has faced whisperings and blogosphere rumblings from conservatives that he has too many connections to the Iranian government or is working on their behalf. Those allegations went public in a long article today in the Washington Times, which accuses Parsi of violating lobbying disclosure rules and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Reams of documents were provided to the Times by the defendant in NIAC’s defamation lawsuit against Hassan Daioleslam, who they allege has links to identified terrorist groups, and who has been accusing NIAC of being too close to the Iranian government.

Previously unreported documents provided by NIAC to The Cable show that Daioleslam was working with neoconservative author Ken Timmerman as early as 2008 and that their moves on Parsi were part of a larger effort to thwart Obama’s Iran policy.

"I strongly believe that Trita Parsi is the weakest part of the Iranian web because he is related to Siamak Namazi and Bob Ney," Daioleslam wrote in one e-mail dated April 2, 2008, "I believe that destroying him will be the start of attacking the whole web. This is an integral part of any attack on Clinton or Obama."

Namazi is a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy with whom Parsi has worked. The e-mails show that Parsi and Namazi coordinated efforts to make recommendations to administration officials.

Tim Kapshandy, a lawyer for Sidley Austin LLP, came to represent Daioleslam in 2009. Upon seeing the e-mails about Parsi and Namazi, he accidentally sent a note to both of them. The note read, "Send it to [Washington Times reporter Eli] Lake right away!"

"This is not as much targeting us, the end objective seems to be, according to these e-mails, to bring down Obama," Parsi said of the emails in an interview with The Cable.

In another previously unreported memo obtained by The Cable, it appears that Parsi tried to start an official lobbying organization on Iran, back when he was an unpaid advisor to now disgraced former Rep. Bob Ney. Sent by Parsi from his congressional e-mail account to ex-Bush aide Roy Coffee and former Ney chief of staff David Di Stefano, the memo talks about a "strategic partnership" between the new lobbying organization and NIAC and says that Parsi would be the lobbying group’s executive director.

The memo was entitled, "Towards the creation of an Iranian-American lobby."

Parsi said of his plans to establish an official lobbying group, "There were discussions that continued for a few months but nothing came out of it… We later became more active on foreign policy in the sense that we would take positions… that happened in 2006."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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