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The Iran Lobby's War on Voice of America

4:05 PM, Nov 19, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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On September 11, 2007, Emily Blout, NIAC's legislative director, sent an email to Celes Hughes, an aide to Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. Blout writes that "Per our conversation this afternoon, I am sending some background information regarding the Iran democracy funding included in HR 2764." Blout's email makes a series of allegations against VOA, asserting that "VOA has struggled to find experienced staff and has instead hired political activists with loyalty to their agenda rather than to the VOA mandate." Further, Blout says that "According to insiders at VOA, this has led to its loss of credibility among the Iranian public."

However, Blout wants to be clear: "This is not to say the US should not promote democracy in Iran, rather it should employ other means towards this end." There are two such "other means" suggested by Blout: "Lift US sanctions on NGO activities" and "Reinvigorate VOA Persian's credibility by cleaning house."

Further emails reveal that NIAC's war against VOA was a top agenda item for the group -- right alongside its fight against new sanctions on Iran -- in its contacts with numerous members of Congress. After lunch with Markus Rose, an aide to Rep. Barney Frank, Blout follows up with an email that starts off with some flattery about Rose's knowledge of Iran and then proceeds,

Two things:

1) I'll be sending you information on NGO to NGO exchanges, Voice of America Persian (VOA), and sanctions on humanitarian aid (it is illegal for US citizens to give more than $100 to an orphanage in Tehran for example) shortly. Let me know if you think of anything else you'd like information on.

2) I wanted to make a correction. H.R. 2347, which your boss sponsored, does not include a provision that prohibits export of civilian aircraft parts. However, HR 1400, which your boss co-sponsored, does. It is my understanding that the counterpart to HR 1400 in the Senate- S.970- is getting ready to move (mid-spring). This presents a great opportunity for your boss to a) insert language into HR 2347 saying that humanitarian exports, including exports relating to civilian aviation, cannot be prohibited by any new or existing law, or b) for your boss to make sure that the provision barring export of civilian aircraft parts is stripped from HR 1400 during conference. (Sec. 203.1 in the House, Sec 7b.2 in the Senate).

I cannot emphasize enough how important is for the US to make clear that sanctions are not directed or intended to hurt the Iranian people. It is the Iranian government that is to blame. Expressing a "sense of congress" or giving $10 million for exchanges is not enough. It is congress' responsibility, in my view, to do everything in its power to ensure that the Iranian people do not suffer at our hands and are not isolated from the rest of the world. It also the US's responsibility to ensure that Iranian planes, which are US made and aging, do not fall out of the sky for lack of replacement parts.

Smells like lobbying. (What's more, there are reasons for those sanctions on airplane parts, and Parsi's old boss Rep. Bob Ney went to jail for violating them.)

Here is another email from Blout, this one debriefing NIAC leadership on her day of meetings on the Hill:

Thank you for joining us for the meeting on democracy funding yesterday. Your commentary and insight was extremely valuable. The following is a summary of all of yesterday's meetings. Please make any additions/corrections necessary.

The meeting with Ven Neralla from Rep. Barbara Lee's office was positive, although the discussion was not as focused as we would have liked on the democracy funding. When I follow-up with Ven today with the promised information on sanctions (Ivan Eland's report, the report by Dewey Ballantine (commissioned by Jake Colvin's group), NIAC's analysis of HR 1400, and the report by Terror Free Tomorrow), I will reiterate our message on the democracy funding.

I think the meeting with the appropriations staffer from Nita Lowey's office went well. Trita and I were pleased to find Steve Lopes, who works specifically on the democracy program funding, willing to consider our concerns and suggestions. He asked that we get back to him with information about how other countries have approached democracy funding in Iran.