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Expose Iran’s Washington influence operation

Congress and the public must demand answers from our government.

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley speaks to VOA Persian at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2021. Credit: VOA Persian via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley speaks to VOA Persian at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2021. Credit: VOA Persian via Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

It is beyond baffling: Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning, enriching at least 121.6 kilograms of uranium to the 60% level. This is just a matter of days away from the lethal 90% level. In February, particles of uranium enriched to 83.7% were found at the Fordow nuclear facility. It’s anyone’s guess how much Iran has now.

On Sept. 16, Iran prohibited several of the IAEA’s most-experienced inspectors from entering the country. The IAEA’s most recent report cites Iran’s refusal to provide the agency with necessary access and information.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration had wasted precious time and human resources on resuscitating what they had promised would be a “longer and stronger” version of the JCPOA (the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement) without result. Then the administration unfroze $6 billion of Iranian assets held in South Korea and $10 billion from Iraq.

All of this has served to enable, enrich and empower a horrific regime that hates the U.S., murders its own people, collaborates with our enemies and openly seeks to destroy our ally, Israel.

How has our foreign policy managed to go so incredibly amck?

Last week, we began to get an answer. Revelations published by Jay Solomon in Semafor and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in Iran International alleged that senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials embarked on a clandestine effort to enhance Iran’s image in the backrooms of Washington. It did so by establishing a network of accomplished academics and analysts, entitled the Iran Experts Initiative.

The reporters found thousands of emails exchanged by the Iranian government and former White House special envoy on Iran Robert Malley, whose security clearances were suspended in June for mishandling classified information.

No explanation for the suspension has been made public, even though Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.) wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June requesting clarification.

The emails revealed that Iran’s Foreign Ministry established an internal think tank called the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS). It worked closely with “core” members of the Iran Experts Initiative in order to soft-peddle a nuclear agreement with Iran.

On March 5, 2014, Saeed Khatibzadeh, a future Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, director of IPIS, “As you already know, based on previous discussions, a network of young, second-generation Iranian experts was initiated, and we are looking forward to hold a meeting in Vienna in mid-Fervadin [the first month of the Persian year]. Actually, this very idea Iran Experts Initiative (IEI) was discussed between me and two of the young experts [you and me] met in the prague (sic), i.e. Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiari.”

Ariane Tabatabai’s father is Adnan Tabatabai, a German academic who was in contact with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and offered to ghostwrite articles on his behalf.

It gets worse: Before testifying to the U.S. Congress on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Ariene Tabatabai sent an email to Zahrani. It said she would be testifying before a congressional committee alongside two Harvard academics, Gary Samore and William Tobey. “I will bother you in the coming days,” she wrote. “It will be a little difficult, since both Will and Gary do not have favorable views on Iran.” Ms. Tabatabai also shared with Zahrani an article she published in The Boston Globe entitled “Five Myths About Iran’s Nuclear Project.”

Ariane Tabatabai is now serving as chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, Christopher Maier. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Sept. 28, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fl.) asked Maier how Tabatabai received her security clearances. Maier replied that he is “not involved in the vetting process.” Rep. Mast also asked about SF 86, a form that requires all Americans who receive security clearances to list all foreign contacts. Maier said this was “a personnel issue.”

On Sept. 26, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations Chairman Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “Ms. Tabatabai’s past employment history and close ties to the Iranian regime are alarming and should be disqualifying for anyone seeking such a sensitive position of trust within the United States Department of Defense. The Iranian regime is a clear adversary of the United States, and as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism poses a direct national security threat to United States citizens and interests at home, in the region and around the globe.”

They then posed a series of questions about Tabatabai’s vetting process, security clearances, any instances in which she communicated with the Iranian regime and her “participation in Iranian government-sponsored influence networks, such as the Iran Experts Initiative.”

The questions are legion. We demand a full and transparent public hearing on and investigation of this affair. Clearly, there is a great deal more to unearth.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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