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The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee chastised a self-described representative of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on Capitol Hill Tuesday for disseminating Iranian “propaganda.”
During a press briefing on Iran sanctions, Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) sharply rebuked a woman who identified herself as being from NIAC after she claimed U.S. sanctions are preventing the Iranian people from receiving “medicine and food.”
“That’s propaganda put out by the Iranian regime,” Royce said to the woman, who identified herself as Samira Damavandi.
The confrontation occurred during a press briefing hosted by The Israel Project.
Iran has more access to medicine now than it has at any other time in the recent past, said Royce, who added that access has increased by 35 percent since 2012.
“The regime does not want to spend earnings on medicine for the population,” Royce said to Damavandi. “This is why the health minister was fired.”
Royce went on to slam pro-Iran groups such as NIAC for pushing pro-regime “propaganda.”
“It is concerning that propaganda is circulating here in the U.S. by some who speak in favor of the policies taken by the regime,” Royce said. “We instead should be applying pressure. Those who care about Iran should have been supportive of the health minister who was fired” after he publicly went against Iran’s supreme leader.
Damavandi made reference in her question to a recent congressional letter that she claimed showed waning support for tighter sanctions.
The letter, which garnered 131 congressional supporters, called on President Barack Obama to initiate diplomatic relations with Iran’s newly elected president Hassan Rowhani. Some Democrats have stepped up efforts in recent days to defeat efforts to strengthen sanctions.
However, Royce said the letter is not representative of opinion toward the new sanctions legislation, which would cut Iranian access to foreign currency and punish the oil industry of the rogue regime.
The sanctions bill currently has more than 350 cosponsors, which includes most of the House.
“With respect to the letter circulated, the letter you make reference to in now way refers to this legislation,” Royce said to Damavandi.
“If you want to see peace, passing this legislation is almost a prerequisite,” Royce said. “If you want negotiations to work its almost a prerequisite.”
“You think Iran would even be at the [negotiating] table without sanctions legislation? No,” Royce added. “They’d be carrying out their policy focused on the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Little Satan.’”
“I think that is something for the Iranian American community to reflect on,” Royce said.
NIAC has long billed itself as an Iranian American advocacy group despite multiple documents and investigations that suggest its founder, Trita Parsi, has deep ties to the Iranian regime.
Parsi and NIAC have been accused in court of operating as agents of the Iranian regime and lobbying Congress on behalf of it.
NIAC was ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in “sanctions” earlier this year after launching a failed defamation lawsuit against one of its chief critics.
“That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, shared blame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime,” a U.S. District Court judge wrote in his opinion at the time.
“Given the other evidence defendant amassed to support his views, the Court sees no ‘actual malice’ in defendant's decision to disregard occasional contrary statements and assume that they were made largely to burnish Parsi and NIAC's image in the United States,” the judge said. “After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime’s reputation in the United States.”
Other lawmakers in attendance at the press briefing said Iran’s new president is trying to deceive the West into believing he is moderate.
“We’re at the end now. We’re really at the end,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) said, referencing to Iran’s nuclear progress. “We’re at the eleventh hour now and there’s no pushing it back.”
“I would love it if it were true that Rowhani was a moderate and had some authority,” Engel said. “I don’t believe it.”
“Whenever there are sanctions people say it will hurt the people,” Engel said, adding that the bill does not target humanitarian goods. “We believe medicines will be able to find its way to Iran.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.) said those who oppose the Iran sanctions bill have always opposed sanctions on Tehran.
These individuals and lobbying groups “have opposed every piece of sanctions legislation we’ve passed,” Deutsch said. “And every time we pass one we’ve been told, ‘You can’t do this. The Iranian people are going to blame the U.S.’”
However, he said, “the polling in Iran has shown the exact opposite.”