The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Turkey, Palestine, Mitchell, Iran

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Friday's briefing at the Foreign Press Center by Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon went to Turkey over the weekend, just as the Turks are increasing ties to the Iranian regime. "We think that's useful because we think there should be a variety of voices, you know, talking to the Iranian government about its responsibilities and its need to play a more constructive role in the region," said Crowley. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is also visiting Turkey, related to nonproliferation and possible missile defense.
  • "We have never said that a total settlement freeze should be a precondition to negotiations," Crowley said about the effort to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. That is what the PLO's mission head in Washington said.
  • The State Department still intends to send an ambassador to Syria, but the selection process is just taking a long time, Crowley said.
  • No truth to the rumors that Special Envoy George Mitchell will resign soon in light of the problems in restarting Middle East peace negotiations, according to Crowley. "I think this is a monthly rumor. Let me put it to rest yet again. You know, Senator Mitchell remains hard at work. He's committed to this process."
  • Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are each visiting Brazil this week, but that's not a problem for the State Department. "I'm certainly not going to project that there should be a competing process. I think that we actually want to get a negotiation started," Crowley said. "We certainly would welcome other voices who would encourage the parties to work towards a two-state solution."
  • Crowley is "not sure" that there is an imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority in the works, due to the problem of holding elections without the participation of Hamas. "There are questions about the future; obviously, significant question about elections going forward, but we continue to encourage the Palestinian Authority. But ultimately, its future is a decision for the Palestinian people to make."
  • The FBI's crackdown on the Alavi Foundation, which stands accused of crimes in conjunction with the Iranian mission to the United Nations, is not related to the Obama administration's overall engagement with the Iranian regime, Crowley said. I think this shouldn't affect other issues. We want to see a different kind of relationship between the United States and Iran ... but we will continue to enforce U.S. law in the meantime."

The Cable

Does Washington have an Iran lobby?

As Washington debates President Obama's new engagement strategy with Iran, few have been more prominent or more controversial than Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Parsi, a young and charismatic Iranian scholar with deep ties to the Obama team, has faced whisperings and blogosphere rumblings from conservatives that he has too many connections to the Iranian government or is working on their behalf. Those allegations went public in a long article today in the Washington Times, which accuses Parsi of violating lobbying disclosure rules and the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Reams of documents were provided to the Times by the defendant in NIAC's defamation lawsuit against Hassan Daioleslam, who they allege has links to identified terrorist groups, and who has been accusing NIAC of being too close to the Iranian government.

Previously unreported documents provided by NIAC to The Cable show that Daioleslam was working with neoconservative author Ken Timmerman as early as 2008 and that their moves on Parsi were part of a larger effort to thwart Obama's Iran policy.

"I strongly believe that Trita Parsi is the weakest part of the Iranian web because he is related to Siamak Namazi and Bob Ney," Daioleslam wrote in one e-mail dated April 2, 2008, "I believe that destroying him will be the start of attacking the whole web. This is an integral part of any attack on Clinton or Obama."

Namazi is a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy with whom Parsi has worked. The e-mails show that Parsi and Namazi coordinated efforts to make recommendations to administration officials.

Tim Kapshandy, a lawyer for Sidley Austin LLP, came to represent Daioleslam in 2009. Upon seeing the e-mails about Parsi and Namazi, he accidentally sent a note to both of them. The note read, "Send it to [Washington Times reporter Eli] Lake right away!"

"This is not as much targeting us, the end objective seems to be, according to these e-mails, to bring down Obama," Parsi said of the emails in an interview with The Cable.

In another previously unreported memo obtained by The Cable, it appears that Parsi tried to start an official lobbying organization on Iran, back when he was an unpaid advisor to now disgraced former Rep. Bob Ney. Sent by Parsi from his congressional e-mail account to ex-Bush aide Roy Coffee and former Ney chief of staff David Di Stefano, the memo talks about a "strategic partnership" between the new lobbying organization and NIAC and says that Parsi would be the lobbying group's executive director.

The memo was entitled, "Towards the creation of an Iranian-American lobby."

Parsi said of his plans to establish an official lobbying group, "There were discussions that continued for a few months but nothing came out of it... We later became more active on foreign policy in the sense that we would take positions... that happened in 2006."