After you departed, Trita and I met with Paul Grove, minority clerk for the Senate state and foreign operations sub-committee (Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH)). Trita and Paul hit it off right away. We were delighted to find Mr. Grove's views in line with our own, as he has had extensive knowledge of the problems posed by explicit "democracy" funding programs enacted by congress in the past and present, most recently in the case of Egypt. He was extremely critical of the state department's administration of middle east democracy initiatives such as MEPI and said such operations/funding would be better left to the National Endowment for Democracy (as that was what it was created for). As for what could be done, he brought up the idea of "burying the money" in the greater context of funding for the Middle East, rather than specifically appropriating it to "democracy programs in Iran". Specifically, he talked about providing NED "not withstanding authority" to appropriate funding for Iran- thus deflating the role of the State department and USAID. He also raised the possibility of including a "blanket waiver" for non-profit NGO exchanges between the US and Iran. He asked me to identify and analyze all of the provisions of law necessary for inclusion in such a waiver. Hopefully, I'll have this analysis to him soon.
Following the meeting with Paul, I attended a meeting with two staffers, Chris Homan, Foreign Policy Legislative Assistant, and Reema Dodin, Legislative Aide, from Senator Dick Durbin's office. Durbin (D-IL) is the assistant majority leader in the Senate and sits on the state and foreign operations sub-committee. He is also the co-sponsor of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 (S970).
This meeting was also very productive. Homan used to work for USAID and his wife works for NED. Homan was very responsive to our concerns and pointed out that this had been a problem in regards to other countries in the past. He said it was important to get a meeting with Tim Rieser, the majority clerk on the sub-committee (Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) ) and said we could use his name to get one. He also expressed interested in including a provision in HR1400 that would lift sanctions on NGO-NGO exchanges. He said he would be willing to pitch our argument to reduce or remove the democracy funding appropriation (or to take other positive measures) to the Senator, provided that he felt he had all the necessary information to make his case. He asked me to get back to him with a summary of the cultural exchange programs currently being conducted, including what types of exchanges are being done (not just those conducted by NGOs) and what is and what is not allowed under current law.
I also attended a meeting in the morning with Tim Morrissey and Peter Frosch from Representative Betty McCullum's office. McCullum is on the House sub-committee and voted â€˜yes' on Iran sanctions. Other than that, she has not been active on Iran. Frosch worked on the state and foreign opps bill when it was being debated by the House, but was unaware of our concerns and the problems with VOA. He asked me to provide him with a breakdown of the Iran-related funding in the bill as well as some numbers on VOA Persian listenership historically and compared to other broadcasters in Iran (such as BBC). He also said to keep him up to date on who else from the committee is on-board, and said that the congresswomen might be able to make a few calls to members (say,when its in conference).
Keep in mind, this is an organization that claims on its tax forms that it DOES NOT engage in lobbying. Moreover, all of the group's efforts seems focused on preventing additional sanctions, eliminating U.S. democracy funding initiatives, and destroying the Voice of America's Persian service and Radio Farda. The regime couldn't come up with a better set of priorities for NIAC, which may explain why so many people are wondering on behalf of whom NIAC is working.