One of Iran’s top U.S. advocates accused Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) on Sunday of desiring war with Iran due to the lawmaker’s support of tighter economic sanctions on Tehran.
The charge comes as part of a larger campaign by Iran’s top U.S. advocates and the White House to discredit those who support increased sanctions.
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"I believe Kirk pushes for policies that make war more likely cause he wants war but can't say it openly post-Iraq," tweeted National Iranian American Council (NIAC) founder Trita Parsi.
NIAC and its allies are part of a network of pro-Iran outfits that have led the charge to roll back sanctions on Iran and increase diplomacy with the regime.
Parsi’s NIAC, which has been suspected of lobbying on behalf of Tehran, has led the charge on Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers that conditional sanctions on Iran are a bad idea.
Its partner groups have also joined the battle to kill a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill up for debate in the Senate.
Parsi’s Twitter outburst drew criticism from foreign policy experts on both sides of the political spectrum.
"Sad: Trita calls Kirk, 20+yr Navy officer, advocate for Iran human rights, opponent of U.S. military strikes, a ‘warmonger,’" tweeted Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East under President Barack Obama, cautioned Parsi against adopting such rhetoric.
"Worth distinguishing b/w advocacy 4 war (‘warmongering'), which most aren't doing, & policies that make war more likely," tweeted Kahl, who opposes new Iran sanctions.
Dubowitz went on to recommend that Parsi retract his accusation.
"Are you going to follow Colin's advice and retract your charge that Kirk is a ‘warmonger’?" he asked.
Parsi doubled down, adding Dubowitz to his list of those who want war with Iran.
"Mark, you should follow White House's advice and admit you're pushing for sanctions to get war," he tweeted. "People won't be shocked."
"Sad u can't debate w/out false charges against Kirk et al.," Dubowitz responded.
Kirk came out against the military option for Iran in 2010, a move that drew the criticism of Democrats.
When asked to explain his comments on Monday, Parsi told the Washington Free Beacon that it is fair to question Kirk’s motives.
"This is a much needed and long overdue conversation: Whether Senator Kirk is or isn’t seeking war with Iran," Parsi said via email. "Given the assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s official assessment that ‘new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran,’ it is clear that Senator Kirk’s quest to impose new sanctions makes war more likely since it leaves the U.S. with no other options."
"In that light, it is understandable that the White House has called into question the motivation of those pushing for new sanctions," Parsi said.
"Reality is that right now, for all practical purposes, a vote for more sanctions is a vote for war," he said. "It is inconceivable to me that Senator Kirk does not understand this. On Iran, Kirk has a track record of stating one thing, and acting towards the opposite objective."
Parsi appears to be echoing the White House, which last week accused senators who support sanctions of wanting war.
"If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so," National Security Council (NSC) spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told the Huffington Post last week.
"Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed," she said.
When asked to comment further on the debate, Kahl said that he does not believe the White House is accusing some senators of "warmongering."
"I don't think the White House charge is ‘warmongering’ per se, which is reserved for those who call or hope for war before diplomacy has run its course," Kahl told the Free Beacon. "Rather, the argument seems to be that Senate action makes diplomacy more likely to fail—which is the consensus view of the negotiators, the P5+1, the U.S. intelligence community, and the vast majority of Iran analysts."
"And if diplomacy fails, the worst case scenarios of an Iranian bomb or another war become more likely," Kahl said. "That is a fair charge."