Iranian Dissidents Slam Nominee for Top Defense Post

Colin Kahl supported Iran nuclear deal and ‘right to enrichment’

Colin Kahl / Getty Images
March 6, 2021

President Joe Biden’s nominee for a top Pentagon post, Colin Kahl, is coming under fire from Iranian dissidents for his close ties with advocates for the Iranian regime.

Kahl, nominated to be the undersecretary of defense for policy, is a White House and State Department veteran who spoke at multiple events for the National Iranian American Council, an organization that helped arrange meetings between U.S. and Iranian government officials.

In 2012, NIAC lost a defamation suit against Iranian-American activist Hassan Dai, who had called the organization a lobbying group for the Iranian regime. During the case, records emerged that showed NIAC working with Iranian officials and engaging in other lobbying activities, and a federal judge ruled that NIAC leader Trita Parsi’s work was "not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime."

Kahl also hosted meetings at the White House with NIAC founder Trita Parsi, who actively discouraged the Obama administration from supporting opposition protests against Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. He has promoted the work of a pollster at the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research, which is run by one of the Iranian regime’s most vocal public advocates.

Senate Republicans have raised concerns about Kahl’s policy views and temperament in the wake of a Washington Free Beacon reported on his history of heated partisan Twitter posts taking aim at the Republican Party. Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) said they will oppose Kahl’s nomination due to serious policy disagreements—including Kahl’s opposition to Iran sanctions and criticism of the U.S. military strike on Iranian terror chief Qassem Soleimani.

The criticism from Iranian dissidents is likely to draw further scrutiny of his nomination.

Kaveh Shahrooz, a Canadian-Iranian human rights activist and fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, said he was troubled by Kahl’s involvement with NIAC and Parsi, who, Shahrooz said, "carry water for the Iranian regime and who have very little regard for human rights and democracy in Iran."

"I see NIAC as a fundamentally anti-American organization. Its interests are not aligned with American interests. They are aligned with the Iranian regime," said Shahrooz. "I would think it was very, very unwise to appoint someone to that position in the Department of Defense who doesn’t recognize what NIAC is about, or doesn’t care, or promotes that view."

The organization staunchly opposed U.S. sanctions and actively lobbied for a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal that conceded a number of financial benefits to the regime and allowed the government to continue an enrichment program.

Kahl spoke at a NIAC conference on Feb. 21, 2012, titled "The Iranian Nuclear Dilemma" and another on Oct. 24, 2013, titled "Making or Breaking U.S.-Iran Diplomacy."

During the 2013 NIAC event, Kahl described his interactions with Congress over the Iranian nuclear issue as "pretty disappointing" and argued that the United States would have to offer Iran a "face-saving arrangement" as part of a nuclear deal that allowed the regime to continue a level of uranium enrichment.

In 2012, Kahl appeared on a Stimson Center panel alongside Ebrahim Mohseni, a pollster who worked at the regime-controlled University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research. The polling center is run by Mohammad Marandi, the son of Iran’s minister of health and the supreme leader’s personal doctor, and often releases data that is highly favorable toward the Iranian government’s interests.

During the event, Kahl enthusiastically cited Mohseni’s findings and claimed the majority of the Iranian public would rather have sanctions or war with the United States than give up the regime’s nuclear enrichment program.

"I think it’s particularly striking the finding that they care so much about the right to domestic enrichment that they’re willing to run the risk of a war," said Kahl. "It may be against the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill and some segments of this town, but it’s not against the conventional wisdom as it relates to every Iran expert on planet earth. And that is, that this regime will not accept a diplomatic deal that doesn’t respect their right to enrichment."

Kahl added that Mohseni’s findings were "particularly important" for U.S. leaders to consider while attempting to craft a nuclear deal with Iran, arguing that any deal needed to allow for the regime’s "right to enrichment."

Hassan Dai, the Iranian-American democracy activist, has written about Mohseni and the University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research, and called the findings "ridiculous." He also said Kahl "should be ashamed" to be on the panel.