on the News - Politics
Buddies Up To Pro-Iran Lobby
learned that Sen. Biden was planning to hold a fund-raiser at the
California home of Dr. Sadegh Namazi-khah, we immediately contacted his
office to express our dismay," a prominent Iranian-American
activist tells Insight. Why dismay? "Dr. Namazi-khah is well-known
in the Los Angeles area for his support of the ruling clerical regime in
Tehran and is one of the regime's leading unofficial lobbyists in
America. We thought that Sen. Biden might not know his background.
Getting the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to appear
at this event will certainly be seen by the regime in Tehran as a show
On the eve of the
fund-raiser, which brought an estimated $30,000 into Biden's re-election
coffers, a Biden staffer told the activist that the senator's staff
"had all the facts necessary to make a decision," and he was
planning to attend the fund-raiser despite the protests.
participants who paid to attend the event tell Insight that Biden
arrived at 8 p.m., stayed until 11 and delivered a sweeping condemnation
of President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" formula.
impressed us by his grasp of world affairs," Namazi-khah tells
Insight in an interview. "He encouraged us to make our views known
and to get more involved in American politics."
impressed many of those present with his friendly attitude toward the
Islamic Republic of Iran. The senator said that "Iran always wanted
to be an ally of the United States and to have good relations with the
U.S.," according to Housang Dadgostar, a prominent lawyer. "As
Iranian-Americans, we don't want anything to happen to the Iranian
government or to the Iranian people as a result of this war on
terrorism," says Mohsen Movaghar, a Los Angeles businessman. Both
men belong to the 70-member board of directors of Namazi-khah's Iranian
Muslim Association of North America (IMAN).
denied any official contact with the Iranian government. But he tells
Insight that he regularly travels to Iran — something many expatriates
do — and that he actively supports "moderates" within the
ruling clergy, such as Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in their
efforts to bring reform to the Islamic system.
other IMAN board members say Biden's office contacted them to inquire if
they would hold a private fund-raiser for the senator, who is up for
re-election this year, after meeting with them at a pro-Tehran gala in
New York last December. That event was sponsored by the American-Iranian
Council (AIC), a pro-regime lobbying group trying to get Congress and
the Bush administration to lift the trade embargo on Iran.
The AIC is funded
by hefty contributions from Conoco and other U.S. oil companies seeking
to get a piece of the potentially lucrative Iranian petrochemicals
sector. The oil companies are prevented from working in Iran by the
Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which President Bill Clinton signed
into law in 1996.
acknowledges that he and other IMAN board members would like to see the
U.S. sanctions lifted and that they worked actively with AIC and another
antisanctions lobbying group known as the World Political Action
Committee. However, he insists that IMAN is a "cultural and
religious group, not a political group." Indeed, the group is
registered in the state of California as a "church" and is
exempt from financial disclosure. One IMAN board member says the group
raises $300,000 to $400,000 per year from members. He insists that they
take "no money from the government in Tehran."
real-estate records show that the group purchased a building at 3376
Motor Ave. in Los Angeles in August 1995 for $925,000 and has spent
hundreds of thousands more to build auditoriums and meeting rooms for
religious services. It was unclear where the money for these projects
One clue can be
found in an official calendar circulated by the Iranian government for
the Persian year 1379 (March 2000-March 2001), obtained by Insight. The
mission statement of the "General Office of Cultural Affairs of
Iranians Outside the Country," which circulated the calendar, is to
"promote policies of the government of the Islamic Republic [and]
strive to be a bridge between the Iranian community abroad and inside
the country." In addition to listing Iranian government Websites,
the calendar cites IMAN as a pro-regime group.
"If they are
lobbying on behalf of the Tehran government they are probably in
violation of U.S. law," an FBI source who has prosecuted several
related cases tells Insight. But with high-level friends in Washington,
IMAN may believe it has purchased immunity.
Norm Kurz, a
spokesman for Biden, tells Insight the Delaware Democrat never would
meet knowingly with a group known to back a terrorist organization and
that he makes the distinction between the Iranian people and the regime.
Nevertheless, Kurz adds, Biden hopes a dialogue with Iran could be
The AIC is
playing host to a gala at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on
March 13, where it will honor Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), the only
Republican openly to criticize Bush for his "Axis of Evil"
according to AIC, are Sens. Biden and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).
Biden's staff insisted that the AIC had announced his participation
prematurely and that no final decision had been made.
Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.