In the last few days, the mediascape of Iran and the political atmosphere in Washington DC has been filled with news and speculations around the joint investigation recently published by Semafor and Iran International about a group called ‘Iran Experts Initiative’ (IEI) which is said to be an influence operation by Iran.
Based on the emails leaked from Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (it’s not clear how these emails were obtained), the IEI consists of a number of dual-national Iranian youth living in the US, Germany, and Sweden, who were attempting to influence US foreign policy.
The group was formed 10 years ago, just as the nuclear negotiations between Iran and P5+1 were underway. It was meant to offer advice and advance negotiations between two sides, i.e. Iran and the United States.
Reporters like myself who were covering the nuclear talks of 2013-15 in Vienna and Geneva repeatedly saw the figures mentioned in this report in the hotels hosting the talks.
A larger circle, which included these five people, arrived on important days of talk between the Iranian and American delegations. It appeared that they were exchanging information or perhaps conducting necessary media coordination.
It was not possible to reach a ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ without having support from a ‘Joint Comprehensive Group’.
With its presence in media and influencing the course of news on radio, television, and press, this group had an important role in shaping public opinion in Iran and the world in favor of JCPOA.
This wouldn’t have been possible without working with both sides of the negotiations. This is why this people now boldly and bravely defend their record.
If the intelligence and security services of the US were able to recover emails by Hillary Clinton after they had been entirely deleted from her computer and inbox, is this not possible when it comes to the security records of other people?
For the reporters present at the talks (including Iranians, Arabs, Africans, Japanese, Germans, and Americans) and the bell boys of the hotel and security teams of Austria and Switzerland, it was obvious that these people were in touch with the ministry of foreign affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the negotiating delegation from the State Department. How could it have been hidden from the security and intelligence forces of the US?
It was Ben Rhodes who, for the first time, revealed that the State Department was working with reporters at the talks.
An advisor to President Barack Obama and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, Rhodes spoke to New York Times Magazine in 2016 and openly spoke about the role of some American reporters in influencing and spreading news pieces preferred by the White House.
Rhodes mentioned Laura Rosen, an American reporter, who wrote a column entitled Back Channell in Al-Monitor.
Al-Monitor was launched by a wealthy American-Syrian businessman. Jamal Daniel holds citizenships of both Syria and the US and also lived in Lebanon for a time. He founded Al-Monitor in 2012 to publish specialist coverage of the Middle East. Africa and North America were later added to it. (It often reflects views close to the Islamic Republic and Russia on regional and global events.)
The Persian-language and English-language sections of the website both published Iranian reporters approved by the Iranian regime. Rozen also appeared in Persian-language media as an expert on nuclear matters. She had a very close relationship with Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the “Joint Comprehensive Group,” i.e. group of advisors around Robert Malley. She was the most important source of news during the nuclear days.
What we see in the emails between IEI and Iranian officials during the talks seems similar to Laura Rozen and the State Department’s working plans.
The correspondence between these American experts (of Iranian origin) and officials of the Iranian foreign ministry has led to a lot of shock. But anybody with an inquisitive mind should also think about another possibility: Is it possible that this correspondence was being led from elsewhere?
The confidence and positioning of these people following the leaking of published emails and their political and social activities in the last 10 years shows that they weren’t worried about committing actions that contradict American interests.
For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the way judicial and security officials of the US view these matters which can be defined as belonging to the field of counterespionage, collusion, and working with hostile states.
In August 2022, the FBI raided the residence of former president, Donald Trump, in Mar a Lago, Florida to retrieve secret documents he had taken home with him from the White House.
What could be the most natural and elementary reaction from judicial officials and the FBI when faced with questions such as this that pertain to national security?
Is it possible that the Islamic Republic of Iran, or another actor, has pointedly helped the publication of emails between the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rob Malley’s favorites?
The Islamic Republic has been trying hard to drive Malley out of the Biden administration. This shows that they no longer need a channel that was created more than a decade ago to drive forward a nuclear agreement in the form and shape of JCPOA.
They first went after Malley who was an architect of the talks. On August 28, the Tehran Times published a report based on a document that, according to this regime-linked outlet, showed that three national security protocols of the US had been violated in the case of Biden’s suspended Iranian affairs envoy. Tehran Times claimed that this sensitive, but unclassified, letter shows that Malley had been suspended because of issues having to do with “personal conduct, handling of protected information, and use of information technology.”
Following the publication of this report, the content of which has been so far neither verified nor denied by Biden administration officials, it is now the turn of those loyal to Malley.
The report had one goal: getting rid of mediators and breaking down the ‘back channel’ built by Javad Zarif.
After many years, Ayatollah Khamenei has finally succeeded in making all three branches of government and state organs ‘united’ in his own view; or ‘all-IRGC,’ to be more accurate.
For the first time since the early years of the revolution, Iran now has a government and a parliament entirely approved and trusted by Khamenei. This is why he has shocked many by permitting direct talks with the US.
It appears that this project included plans to disrupt the communication channels of Hassan Rouhani’s administration and the person of Zarif who had built these channels.
The regime no longer needs middle-men and the time has come to get rid of them so that the Islamic regime can drive talks with the US with its own trusted people, without middle-men and just as it wants.
It is rare for the Supreme Leader to name a small group not known by most people in Iran. On September 11, as the anniversary of the national uprising of Iranians approached, Khamenei claimed that the “Crisis Group” was creating ethnic and gender divisions amongst Iranians.
Khamenei directly mentioning this group by name signals that he has long ordered Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Security Intelligence apparatus that they must close down the case of the US negotiation group linked to Iran.
As the sunset clauses of Resolution 2231 expire, Khamenei has also declared sunset on the group that was dealing and contacting with the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei accused the US of building a “Crisis Group” to create crises in countries including Iran. The crisis mentioned by Khamenei can be worries about connections of a network created by reformists during the Obama era; a group that is rival to the current president, Ebrahim Raisi.
On the other hand, Malley’s tweet about the demands of the Iranian protesters, which was made at the height of the national uprising, shows his views of Iran and his policies toward the regime. He deleted the tweet later on but it attracted a lot of criticism at the time. At the height of anti-government demonstrations, on October 22, Malley’s tweet had reformist tones as it claimed that protesters were asking for “their government to respect their dignity and human rights.”
Whatever these investigations result in -- whether these people are found out to have been infiltrating the US government or the US using them as fifth columns – the main issue remains the same.
The Islamic Republic and the US will go on with their negotiations.