Former Democratic Politician Leading Effort to Open Business Ties With Iran

Lamont: ‘I’ve traveled a lot in the Middle East, I’ve never felt more comfortable in a city than in Iran’

Ned Lamont
Ned Lamont / AP

A failed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate is reinventing himself as the face of U.S.-Iranian commerce, traveling to Tehran with a group of American business leaders and promoting investment ahead of a potential nuclear deal that could lift sanctions against the regime.

Ned Lamont, the anti-war businessman who lost to former Senator Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) in 2006, visited Iran with a delegation of U.S. executives last month and has been raving about the country’s fertile business environment to various news outlets.

"The Australians are there [doing business], the Brits, the Germans. It’s like Rick’s Cafe. Everybody was there except for the Americans," Lamont told the Washington Free Beacon. "The hotel [in Tehran] is a hotbed of deal-making."

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The April 11 trip was sponsored by the President Action Network chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization, a global invite-only group of executives over the age of 50. PAN has also brought U.S. business leaders to North Korea and Cuba in recent years.

The delegation was led by PAN cofounder Bobby Sager—a Boston philanthropist who has counted Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Rwanda despot Paul Kagame as close friends—and Cyrus Razzaghi, an Iranian-based consultant whose client roster includes numerous Iranian government agencies.

Sager made headlines in 2012 after hacked emails between him and Assad’s senior media adviser were published.

"I feel privileged to consider you and President Assad as friends," wrote Sager in one 2011 email, shortly after Assad began a brutal crackdown on opposition protesters that threw the country into a civil war. "What is important now is for committed friends to be vocal in their support of President Assad's leadership. After all, real friends stand up and speak the truth when it matters most."

Sager vowed to "argue loudly and convincingly that President Assad, far from being the problem, is actually the most critical part of the solution."

Sager and PAN chairman Dick Simon did not return a request for comment about the trip.

While Lamont said the American executives who comprised the group were careful to avoid direct dealmaking, they organized an informal conference with other business leaders in Tehran and "everybody else was talking business."

Becoming a champion for trade with an anti-American regime may be an unusual career move for someone who has twice run for public office. However, Lamont noted that he has long business ties in that region of the world.

He spent time working in the Middle East designing cable television systems about 25 years ago, and, after losing Senate and gubernatorial races in Connecticut, Lamont has more recently worked with MercyCorps, an NGO that supports economic development in the region.

Lamont said he is not focused on any personal financial benefits that would come from the lifting of Iranian sanctions. However, his own businesses—a telecom company called Campus Televideo and a renewable energy company called the Conservation Services Group—are in industries that are expected to draw significant investments to Iran.

"There’s enormous market potential there in telecom and other things," he said.

His next plan is to try to establish a satellite link between Central Connecticut State University, where he currently teaches, and the Tehran Business School. He said he also offered to teach a class at the school.

"There’s a perception of Iran that is somewhat one-sided in the American media. All you hear about is ‘Death to America’," said Lamont. "I’ve traveled a lot in the Middle East, I’ve never felt more comfortable in a city than in Iran."