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Lawmakers Demand State Dept. Revoke Security Clearance for Appointee Tied to Iranian Regime

State Dept. rushes to defend Ariane Tabatabai, calling questions of allegiance 'baseless and illegitimate'

Ariane Tabatabai / YouTube screenshot
• May 10, 2021 6:15 pm

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Several lawmakers are demanding the State Department revoke the security clearance of and launch an investigation into a Biden administration appointee who they say has troubling ties to Iran’s hardline, anti-American government.

Reps. Jeff Van Drew (R., N.J.), Scott Perry (R., Pa.), and Yvette Herrell (R., N.M.) say the Biden administration made a serious mistake when it hired Ariane Tabatabai as a senior adviser to the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, a high-level position that requires security clearance. Tabatabai’s hiring first sparked controversy in March, when a group of Iranian dissidents outed her as an Iranian regime sympathizer whose family has close ties to the ruling theocratic regime, as the Washington Free Beacon first reported in March.

The lawmakers, in a letter sent late last month to the White House, demand Tabatabai’s security clearance be revoked until a proper investigation is launched into her "allegiance to the Iranian regime," which the lawmakers say poses "a security threat to the United States," according to a copy of that communication. They also request the Biden administration provide them with a classified briefing on the security screening process that permitted Tabatabai to obtain a government clearance. As the United States engages in negotiations with Iran aimed at inking a revamped nuclear deal, Tabatabai’s purported ties to the regime and high-level State Department posting are generating serious concerns, the lawmakers say.

"We respectfully ask for a classified briefing on Ariane Tabatabai’s connection to the Iranian Regime, as well as an additional background check to closely examine her ties to it," they write in the April 23 letter.

Tabatabai’s critics—including the lawmakers and Iranian dissident groups who oppose the hardline government—outlined multiple public appearances in which she parroted Iranian regime propaganda and downplayed the import of democratic protests that threaten to topple Iran’s clerical leadership. They see the administration’s decision to hire Tabatabai as a sign the State Department intends to appease Iran and offer it significant concessions as part of any revamped nuclear deal.

Tabatabai, the lawmakers write, "has echoed Iranian regime talking points and has made excuses for Iran’s oppressive government. She has downplayed the significance of dissatisfaction that Iranians have with their government, stating that protesting is a ‘feature in the Islamic Republic’ and is an ‘inherent part of Iranian public life.’" Additionally, in December 2020, Tabatabai "claimed that Iran has ‘affirmed its place as a significant regional force.’"

In addition to her writings, Tabatabai's father, Dr. Javad Tabatabai, is a senior faculty member at the state-controlled University of Tehran and is allegedly part of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's inner circle, according to information published by Iranian dissident groups.

State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed outrage over the letter when asked for comment by the Free Beacon. While the State Department generally does not comment on correspondence from Congress, Price disregarded that practice to dispute what he described as "smears and slander."

"We will not sit idly by as our employees—dedicated public servants—face personal smears and slander," Price said. "The administration appointed Ariane Tabatabai to a key role in the State Department because she is one of the United States’ leading experts on Iranian nuclear policy. The State Department is honored to have her serving in this capacity."

Tabatabai, Price said, "was thoroughly vetted and investigated before being granted the position. Any suggestion of security-related concerns about Dr. Tabatabai are baseless and illegitimate."

Van Drew said the State Department still has not contacted him to discuss the concerns outlined in his letter. The administration, he told the Free Beacon, must be more transparent and responsive to those serving in Congress who seek to perform oversight on the State Department’s decisions.

"Why would we hire someone … who has access and security clearance to some of the most sensitive and important issues there [and] who obviously has had a relationship with the administration in Iran?" Van Drew asked. "I just don’t understand it."

Van Drew said that Tabatabai’s appointment also sends a troubling message to Israel. "I guarantee you right now Israel is going to be more circumspect in how they’re going to deal with the U.S.," he said. "A message was sent when they hired her."

Bryan Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, one of the groups that first raised concerns about Tabatabai, said the letter from Congress should send a clear message to the Biden administration.

"Many Iranian Americans are deeply concerned about Ms. Tabatabai's direct and indirect connections to the Iranian regime," Leib said. "It's deeply troubling that someone with connections to the Iranian regime would be selected for a senior role in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security."