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Tehran’s White House Welcome

Machla Abramovitz

Long before world powers and Iran agreed on a nuclear deal in late November, Iran’s unofficial lobby in the United States had penetrated the Oval Office, influencing key players — no one more than the president himself.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

In he wee hours of the morning on November 24, after 18 hours of negotiations,Iran and world powers reached an agreement to temporarily curbTehran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars of sanctions relief.

The deal was heralded as a victory by the Obama administration and immediately blasted by its critics, includingIsrael. Though the United Nations Security Council had passed no fewer than six resolutions demanding that Iran completely dismantle its nuclear program, the Geneva deal left every one of Iran’s centrifuges intact, allowed Iran to enrich up to 5 percent uranium, and did not require Iran to disassemble its Arak nuclear facility, which could one day produce plutonium, an alternative route to the bomb.

The road toGenevabegan in 2008, when the newly elected president made clear his intentions to engageIranand reach a deal by “doing away with self-defeating preconditions.” These conditions, apparently, included acknowledgingIran’s “right” to peaceful nuclear energy.

Despite stiff opposition fromIsraeland putativeUSallies in the Gulf, the White House forged ahead with a deal thatIsrael’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called a “historic mistake.”

No one could have been more pleased with theGenevaagreement than Trita Parsi, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an organization long suspected of beingIran’s unofficial lobby in theUnited States. Parsi had worked for years to reach such an outcome forTehran: partial relief from sanctions without significant commitments onIran’s end.

Through its connections to key officials in the White House, NIAC had captured the attention of President Obama himself. Indeed, the president was no stranger to the organization. Shervin Boloorian, NIAC’s legislative director, wrote in 2007 that NIAC had approached Mark Lippert, a staff member for thenIllinoissenator Obama, on the matter ofIransanctions. Boloorian’s notes on that meeting are clear and succinct: “Obama is outspoken about his support for diplomacy withIran… He is the most popular senator, according to polls … and looks to be in our camp.”

 

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