State Dept. Refuses To Meet With Iranian-American Regime Opponents

Pro-democracy Iranians seek Biden aid on coronavirus

Iranian pro-democracy protesters in London / Getty Images
August 13, 2021

The State Department is refusing to meet with Iranian-American activists who oppose the hardline regime in Tehran and want the Biden administration to help Iran's population gain access to coronavirus vaccinations.

The National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), a coalition of Iranian Americans who champion democracy, petitioned President Joe Biden on Friday to use frozen Iranian assets to pay for a supply of coronavirus vaccinations that could be sent to the Iranian people. Iran has been hard hit by the pandemic, and the ruling regime refuses to accept Western medical aid, including American-made vaccines.

NUFDI says that it has tried to meet with the Biden State Department about issues of importance to Iranian Americans, but that its requests have been ignored. As the Biden administration engages in negotiations with the Iranian regime about rejoining the 2015 nuclear accord, NUFDI and other anti-regime organizations have been vocal about their opposition to widescale sanctions relief. They maintain this money will solidify the hardline regime's grip on power and help it crack down on pro-democracy reformers inside and outside the country. Iran has been increasingly aggressive in its crackdown on democratic reformers and has even attempted kidnapping journalists in the United States to silence these voices.

"We have written to State Department staff multiple times to request they meet with members of the Iranian-American community," NUFDI wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "This has been to no avail. We now take our request directly to you, Mr. President, and urge you to direct your staff to investigate the use of frozen Iranian assets for this humanitarian intervention. The regime is perpetrating a crime against humanity, America can help stop it."

The Biden administration has walked a diplomatic tightrope as it engages in talks with the Iranian government amid a growing protest movement in Iran. While the State Department has offered rhetorical support to regime opponents, it has made clear that negotiations will continue until a deal is complete.

Cameron Khansarinia, NUFDI's policy director, told the Free Beacon the Biden administration "should meet with Iranian Americans just like it has met with Cuban Americans and other dissident communities. It's a simple ask. As of now, they've refused."

NUFDI proposes that the administration use Iranian funds frozen in international bank accounts because of sanctions to pay for a batch of coronavirus vaccines. They could then be distributed to the Iranian population by aid organizations such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization. While the proposal may enrage the hardline regime in Iran and lead it to abandon negotiations, NUFDI says its proposal should be reviewed by the Biden administration.

"The Islamic Republic has already taken steps to sell COVID-related medications on the black market, denying the Iranian people access," NUFDI disclosed. "Thus, the vaccines we propose be purchased with the regime's frozen assets must be distributed directly by the WHO, UNICEF, or other relevant entities, and bypass the regime which is committing this crime against the Iranian people."

The Iranian regime says the coronavirus is killing 500 to 600 people a day in Iran, though the number is reportedly closer to 1,000. Hospitals have become overrun as the Delta variant travels through the country. The virus has not only strained Iran's medical facilities but also increased internal political pressure on the regime as citizens revolt against its failure to adequately address the virus.

"What we are asking is very simple: The regime in Iran couldn't care less about the well-being of Iranians in the midst of a horrifying Covid breakout while Iranians are dying en masse," said Navid Mohebbi, a NUFDI policy fellow. "So the international community should step in and deliver vaccines to the people in Iran using Iran's frozen resources. We can't rely on the Iranian regime to take care of its citizens."

A State Department spokeswoman, speaking only on background, would not comment on the letter or NUFDI's requests for a meeting. The State Department, the spokeswoman said, "remains responsive to meeting with various organizations and diaspora groups upon availability. While the pandemic has impacted some elements of our outreach capabilities, we remain committed to engaging with diaspora groups and other constituencies."