The Corner

Questions for Trita Parsi

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has been at the forefront of lobbying against continued Congressional funding of Voice of America-Persian service; Radio Farda; and grants for Iranian civil society. I had written about their campaign, here. An excerpt:

As the group lobbies to cut off funding of programs meant to foster Iranian civil society, it has accepted a six-figure grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to train Iranian nongovernmental organizations, perhaps those less threatening to the Islamic Republic. The NIAC’s leader, who often trades on his access to Iranian authorities, should explain why it is okay for him, but not his competitors, to accept such money.

Now it turns out that NIAC accepted not one grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), but three: here, here, and in this current year, report not yet online. NIAC leader Trita Parsi remains silent, so a few open questions:

1) If you believe all Iranian civil society activists don’t want these programs and, indeed, they backfire, why did you reapply for grants in 2006 and 2007?

2) In your grant applications, did you tell the National Endowment for Democracy that your programs were successful when you now say the programs are counterproductive? Did it take you three years to come to this conclusion, or did you believe differently in 2005 and 2006?

3) For the sake of transparency, will you release publicly the reports you issued to the National Endowment for Democracy so we can compare your statements to them with those in your letter to Congress? Do you not believe that a discrepancy would equate with fraud? Will you return the money you took from NED if a discrepancy exists?

4) You demand that the State Department should release to you and the public the names of Iranian civil society activists who have accepted grants, participated in conferences funded with the Congressional Iran civil society grant, or participated in citizen exchange programs supported with the Congressional Iran civil society funding. Will you publicly release the names of the Iranian groups with whom you have worked during your three years of receiving NED funding? Are these groups representative of democracy activists and independent civil society or do they represent the reformist faction of the Iranian government? I hope that you should not oppose transparency.

5) You cite Akbar Ganji in support of your efforts to cut off funding to Radio Farda. Are you aware of reports that Mr. Ganji is seeking to start his own radio program? Do you not believe that Iranians should have access to as many voices as possible? You also differentiate between Iranian civil society activists that fled Iran in recent years, Akbar Atri, for example, and those who remain in Iran, like Mr. Ganji. In what country does Mr. Ganji now live? Has he returned to Iran after coming to the States?

6) While you seek a cut-off of Congressional funding for democracy in Iran, do you feel the same way about the funding George Soros gives to civil society activists? After all, the Iranian government cited Mr. Soros’ grants in their recent crackdown. Do you believe U.S. policy should adhere to whatever the Iranian government says?

Trita, I hope you will have the integrity to release publicly your reports and answer these questions.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.


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