Three Republican senators, Mike Braun (Ind), Ted Cruz (TX), and Tom Cotton (Ark) have called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a lobby group they believe acts as a "foreign agent of the Islamic Republic."
The senators sent a letter on Tuesday, January 14, to Attorney General William Barr, urging the DoJ to investigate the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its sister organization, NIAC Action, for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
According to the senators’ statement published on their sites, "FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of those activities. FARA does not compel any American to refrain from certain types of speech; rather, it helps guarantee transparency and accountability in our political system."
The Washington D.C.-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a lobby group registered in 2002 in the U.S.A.
NIAC has described itself as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advancing interests of [the] Iranian-American community."
The senators have quoted former F.B.I. associate deputy director, Oliver Revell, as saying, "to arrange meetings between members of Congress and Iran's ambassador to the United Nations would, in my opinion, require that person or entity to register as an agent of a foreign power."
Oliver Revell made a comment following information that came to light in 2008 that NIAC's Swedish-Iranian founder, Trita Parsi, had arranged meetings between the Islamic Republic's former ambassador to the United Nations and current foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and members of Congress.
Furthermore, the senators have also cited former F.B.I. agents who claimed the group had participated in pro-Iranian lobbying.
"NIAC's former acting policy director Patrick Disney admitted in internal emails that he and the organization's legislative director spend more than 20 percent of their time conducting lobbying activities," the congressmen have noted.
Although NIAC describes itself as a nonprofit organization dedicated to "promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people," the congressmen have argued, its "innocuous public branding masks troubling behavior."
Responding to the allegations, NIAC said in a statement, "At NIAC, we are proud of the work we do for our community. We will never stop working to advance peace and diplomacy or fighting for equitable immigration policies and the civil rights of all Americans."
Moreover, the group has asserted, "NIAC and NIAC Action are independent American organizations. We do not receive money from any government, are not agents of any government, and take great pride in our transparency."
Without elaboration, the group's statement maintained that NIAC is "funded by reputable U.S. foundations, ordinary Iranian Americans, and American allies who support peace and civil rights."
Referring to the tragic downing of a Ukraine Airlines passenger plane in Iran, NAIAC said it "routinely condemn[s the] Iranian government for the gross violations of its international human rights obligations, including the mid-November crackdown and this past weekend over protests following the government's downing of a civilian aircraft."
NIAC and its sister organization, NIAC Action, are staunch proponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Washington decided to drop the deal in May 2018, calling for a new round of negotiations with Tehran. The Islamic Republic leaders have repeatedly asserted that they would never relent to direct talks with Washington.
"We ask that the Department of Justice evaluate whether an investigation of NIAC is warranted for potential FARA violations and to ensure transparency regarding foreign attempts to influence the U.S. political process," the Senators have concluded.