Mounting evidence that Tehran is shielding hundreds of fleeing al Qaeda terrorists and is working to destroy what’s left of the Arab-Israeli peace process have made it increasingly difficult to push for “closer” U.S.-Iranian ties with a straight face. Nevertheless, a number of high-powered folks in Washington seem determined to try.
The designated vehicle for their campaign is an organization calling itself the American Iranian Council (AIC). The AIC’s board of corporate “sponsors and collaborators” includes prominent oil and gas companies that have been effectively shut out of exploration in Iran as a result of U.S. economic sanctions. The board includes representatives of energy firms such as ARCO; Ashland Oil Inc.; BP; Chase Manhattan Bank; Chevron; Conoco Inc.; Exxon; Shell, as well as George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Its various boards of directors include such luminaries as former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau; former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala; Democratic Party bigwig Sargent Shriver; Under secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, now a vice president with Boeing Corp.; Judith Kipper of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Gary Sick, a former member of Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council staff and leading purveyor of the “October Surprise” fraud the scurrilous charge that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign plotted to drag out the Iranian hostage crisis to embarrass Mr. Carter. The head of the AIC is a Rutgers University professor named Hooshang Amirahmadi, who suggests that President Bush’s characterization of the current Iranian government as part of an “axis of evil” could result in “colossal death and destruction.”
On March 13, the AIC held a conference in Washington, which was addressed by Zalmay Khalilzad, a member of President George Bush’s National Security Council staff, Sens. Joseph Biden, Robert Torricelli and Chuck Hagel. In his remarks, Mr. Khalilzad delivered a forceful critique of Tehran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and its sheltering hundreds of al Qaeda terrorist operatives fleeing from Afghanistan. The speeches by the three senators, however, verged on the surreal at times. Mr. Torricelli (who has come under fire in the past for receiving campaign donations from supporters the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a radical Iranian opposition group which has been listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism) criticized Mr. Bush’s “axis” reference, asserting that this is “not true” and that the president’s statement “did not serve American interests.” Mr. Hagel, who received an award from the AIC, delivered a rambling speech that, aside from calling for world peace, was remarkably devoid of substance. On June 27, 2001, however, Mr. Hagel, addressing another AIC gathering in Washington, denounced U.S. sanctions against Iran and Libya, asserting that they “isolate us.”
Mr. Biden, who in October suggested that the United States might be viewed as a “high-tech bully” in attacking terrorist targets in Afghanistan, this time urged that the Bush administration “acquiesce” to Tehran’s demands to join the World Trade Organization. Insight magazine reported several weeks ago that Mr. Biden raised $30,000 at a fund-raiser held Feb. 19 at the home of Dr. Sadegh Namazi -Khah, a Los Angeles activist pushing for a softer U.S. line toward the ruling regime in Tehran; the magazine added that Mr. Biden, in private discussions at that fund-raiser, delivered a sweeping condemnation of Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil” remarks.
The central problem with the AIC-Biden-Hagel-Torricelli view of Iran is that it is completely out of touch with reality. On March 18, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is by far the most powerful man in Iran, responded derisively to Mr. Biden’s call for closer U.S.-Iranian ties and launched into a lengthy tirade about U.S. “imperialism,” slavery and other sins. Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article showing how last May, Iran and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat formed a new terrorist alliance against Israel the very one that is carrying out suicide bombings today with such devastating success. So much for Iranian “moderation.” Mr. Bush would do well to listen carefully to the advice of Mr. Biden et al. and do precisely the opposite.