A pro-Tehran advocacy group long accused of concealing illicit ties to the Iranian regime is lobbying Congress in support of a demand that America repeal a United Nations arms embargo limiting the Islamic Republic’s ability to stockpile arms, including ballistic missiles, which could be used to carry nuclear payloads, according to a copy of an email sent by the group to various lawmakers.
The National American Iranian Council (NIAC), which has long been suspected of acting as Tehran’s lobbying shop in Washington, D.C., sent lawmakers an email on Friday asserting that "the Iranian arms embargo will need to be disposed of as part of a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program."
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The email comes roughly a week after Iranian diplomats issued a similar demand during ongoing talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran. The new condition has been blamed for grinding negotiations to a halt, as diplomats blew through a third self-imposed deadline this weekend.
The NIAC email on ballistic missiles is in step with Iran’s potentially deal-breaking demands.
"The UN embargo imposed on Iran's trade in certain conventional arms was specifically imposed by the Security Council to deal with the nuclear dispute," wrote Tyler Cullis, who is identified in the email as a legal fellow at the council.
Cullis writes: "Starting with [United Nations Security Council resolution] UNSCR 1747 in 2007, the Security Council imposed a ban on Iranian arms exports. The Council followed up this export ban with more comprehensive restrictions on the sale to or from Iran of certain heavy-weapons, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and the like in 2010 via UNSCR 1929."
NIAC maintains that such restrictions should be lifted as part of a nuclear agreement, even though they are not specific restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.
A range of sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon—including analysts, former intelligence officials, as well as current and former congressional staffers—challenged both the legal analysis and motivation of NIAC’s letter to lawmakers.
Critics remain concerned that such a move could legally allow Iran to funnel arms to terror groups such as Hezbollah and militias in Yemen.
One former congressional staffer involved in the crafting of sanctions legislation over the years dismissed NIAC’s claims as unfounded and flatly misleading.
"NIAC is the same group that lobbies Congress to defund human rights and democracy promotion programs in Iran for fear of undermining the mullahs," said one former senior Senate aide with intimate knowledge of Iran sanctions. "What the Iran lobby doesn't want you to know is that UN Security Council sanctions are directly tied to the dismantlement of Iran's ballistic missile program—a key element being excused from the P5+1 agreement."
One senior congressional aide familiar with efforts to sanction Iran said NIAC is widely viewed as Tehran’s in-house lobbying shop.
"NIAC has absolutely no credibility on Capitol Hill, where that organization is viewed as a de facto lobbyist for the Iranian regime," said the senior congressional staffer.
"To cite the latest example, for many months NIAC has opposed the inclusion of ballistic missile limitations or anything else non-nuclear in the negotiations with Iran, yet today NIAC sent an email to congressional staff that actually backs up the Iranian regime's ridiculous, last-second demand that the United Nations drop its non-nuclear arms embargo on Iran," the source said.
Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser for George W. Bush, said the Iranian arms embargo will become even more critical in future years.
"The arms embargo on Iran is even more critical today than when it was imposed in 2007 in UN Security Council Resolution 1747," Abrams explained. "Since then Iran has helped kill or maim thousands of Americans in Iraq, has sent more and more arms to Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria, has intervened in Yemen, and now has an expeditionary force of Revolutionary Guard troops fighting in Iraq and Syria."
"To end the arms embargo now would be throwing gasoline in a fire: the flames would spread. It is dangerous and absolutely against U.S. national security interests to lift the arms embargo on Iran," Abrams said.
One Western source present in Vienna and apprised of the talks cast doubt on NIAC’s legal analysis concluding that the arms embargo was only aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.
"The Security Council had moved beyond Iran’s nuclear work before the first arms embargo was even imposed," said the Western source. "UNSCR 1737 sought ‘to constrain Iran’s development of sensitive technologies in support of its nuclear and missile programs."
"Subsequent resolutions reaffirmed that language, and ultimately UNSCR 1929 demanded an arms embargo ‘until such time as the Security Council determines that the objectives of these resolutions have been met," the source explained.
NIAC has long been viewed as a pro-Tehran lobbying outfit that tows the regime’s line in the halls of Congress.
In 2012, NIAC was ordered to pay reparations to an Iranian dissident who sued the organization for allegedly concealing its ties to the Iranian regime. NIAC was ordered to pay thousands to the defendant and was upbraided by a federal judge for hindering the discovery process in the case.
In recent years, NIAC has spearheaded lobbying efforts on the Hill to threaten lawmakers into supporting a deal with Iran that fully removes economic sanctions and permits the Islamic Republic to retain key aspects of its nuclear infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry announced late Friday that talks will continue through next week.
"We have a couple of different lines of discussion that are going on right now, but I think it’s safe to say that we have made progress today," Kerry said in a statement to reporters. "The atmosphere is very constructive."