U.S. military leaders earlier this month hosted a former top Iranian official who came under fire last year for bragging about the hardline regime’s efforts to assassinate American leaders.
U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) tapped Hussein Mousavian, a former member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team who works as a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University, to headline its 2023 Deterrence Symposium, a high-level powwow that brought the former Iranian official shoulder-to-shoulder with America’s top military brass.
Mousavian’s appearance at the mid-August gathering, which came to light on Monday after STRATCOM posted a video of the event, drew criticism from former U.S. officials and veteran Iran analysts who questioned why America’s premier military outfit would host someone who maintains close ties to the Islamic Republic.
In his remarks, Mousavian thanked Gen. Anthony Cotton for inviting him to the event and said he would present an "Iranian perspective" on the current threat landscape within the Middle East.
"I’m afraid you may not like it, but I think it’s important to know the other side," Mousavian said, adding that the United States must "rewrite their policy in the Middle East."
The Princeton professor went on to list what he described as unjustified American acts of aggression towards Iran dating back nearly a century and ending with former President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal.
"Iran complied completely [with the deal] with zero failure for three years, but the U.S. again broke the promise," Mousavian said. "Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal was really a disaster."
Trump "also had popular Iranian Revolutionary Guard General [Qassem] Soleimani assassinated," added Mousavian, who attended the late terrorist leader's funeral in Tehran.
"Mousavian helped lead the murderous Iranian regime’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons so it could threaten the United States and our allies with annihilation," said Rep. Jim Banks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "Now he’s in semi-retirement at Princeton as a full time propagandist for the IRGC. Inviting him to spread lies at a U.S. military seminar is insanity."
"The decision to invite former Iranian ambassador Mousavian to speak to STRATCOM is unimaginably foolish," Gabriel Noronha, a former Iran adviser at the State Department, told the Washington Free Beacon. "He is a pawn and propaganda agent of the Iranian regime, which explains why he is allowed to travel back to Iran."
Mousavian, Noronha said, remains close with the Iranian regime, with former foreign minister Javad Zarif stating in 2016 that the former ambassador "continues to work hard" for Tehran’s interests while working at Princeton.
"Congress should investigate the decision-making process that led to this entirely inappropriate speaking invitation," Noronha said.
Mousavian’s perch at Princeton has long irked Iranian dissidents due to his alleged role in human rights crimes during his time as Iran’s ambassador.
Mousavian last year appeared to gloat about Iran’s death threats against former Trump administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his deputy, Brian Hook.
"I went to America and an American told me that Brian Hook’s wife can’t sleep, she cries and trembles, she told Brian, ‘They’ll kill you,’ since Hook was a partner in the death of Haj Qassem [Soleimani], that’s how much they were trembling," Mousavian was quoted as saying in a documentary film produced by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Advocacy groups like United Against a Nuclear Iran blasted Mousavian for sounding "gleeful" about the threats Iran poses to former American officials.
"We always seek in our panelists and speakers a broad array of perspectives, including those which differ from our own," a STRATCOM spokesman said. "We were aware of Mr. Mousavian’s previous position within the Iranian government and believe that, in the context of the Deterrence Symposium, we would have benefited from that insight into an opposing viewpoint.
Alireza Nader, a veteran Iran scholar based in Washington, D.C., said it is "outrageous and dangerous that U.S. STRATCOM invited a former regime official connected to the assassination of Iranian dissidents to be a speaker at its symposium, providing him access to America’s most senior military officials."
Princeton also recently drew scrutiny for hiring U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley, who is currently the subject of an FBI investigation for his alleged mishandling of classified information. Malley has been suspended from his State Department duties as the probe continues.
Update 6:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with Mousavian's remarks.
Update Aug. 30, 5:07 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from STRATCOM.