DATAPOINTS

For NCRI/MEK

$511,000

LOBBYING SPEND (2018)

3

LOBBYING/PR FIRMS

5

REGISTERED AGENTS

AL-MONITOR
LOBBYING RANK

#2 (tie)

Robert Joseph
(for National Council of Resistance of Iran)

Hired: Jan. 2019
Contract: $15,000/month

NEW Supplemental
(February 1, 2019 – July 31, 2019)
Fees: $90,000
Meetings: US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, National Security Council Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction Richard Goldberg

Former US special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation Robert Joseph was paid $90,000 by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran to push the group’s regime-change agenda in the six months since he was hired in January. Joseph disclosed two meetings with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook in March and May and a June meeting with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, Joseph’s successor in President George W. Bush’s State Department. Joseph also met with Richard Goldberg in January soon after Goldberg joined the National Security Council from his perch at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Joseph also held three meetings with “think tank representatives” in April and May, but did not identify them or their employer.

Iran opposition buoyed by Trump’s 'maximum pressure' campaign

Editor

Julian Pecquet

@JPecquet_ALM

jpecquet@al-monitor.com
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Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor.

Posted: September 11, 2019

Iran’s main exiled opposition group is seeing large swaths of its decades-old agenda become reality under US President Donald Trump, even as its ultimate dream of regime change in Tehran remains out of reach.

The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella group dominated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), has consistently applauded Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran and the imposition of sanctions. Long dismissed as a fringe cult by critics — and as terrorists by the Iranian regime (as well as the United States until 2012) — the MEK is now being embraced by the Trump administration.

This January, the NCRI hired its first new lobbyist in six years when it brought on Robert Joseph, a former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President George W. Bush. The investment has paid off, with Joseph getting paid $90,000 in the first half of this year while scoring meetings with key actors including US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood and National Security Council hawk Richard Goldberg.

The NCRI also has ties to national security adviser John Bolton, spending $40,000 so he could attend its annual summit near Paris in 2017. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., a close Trump ally, considered registering as a foreign agent for the group last year after making several paid appearances sponsored by the group (Gingrich has not registered to date).

Meanwhile, Al-Monitor first reported that the State Department changed its talking points ahead of the US anti-Iran summit in Warsaw in February to stop precluding the MEK as a viable alternative to the Iranian theocracy.

Despite the string of victories, the NCRI has suffered a few setbacks as well.

Last year, the group was accused of running a Twitter troll farm from Albania to artificially inflate support for a US hard line against Tehran. (The last remaining MEK fighters were relocated from Iraq to the Balkan nation in 2016.)

This year, the NCRI hosted its annual rally at its new Ashraf 3 compound in the Albania capital of Tirana. The event drew the usual crowd of (well-compensated) former US and international officials but no current members of the Trump administration and only one lawmaker, freshman Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s own hawkish rhetoric on Iran has caused the president to periodically soften his stance to reassure his war-skeptic base. “We are not looking for regime change,” Trump insisted in July. “We are not looking for that at all.”

The president has also said that he has made a “lot of progress” in reaching a new nuclear deal with Tehran after he tore up the old one. Al-Monitor reported in July that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as an informal US emissary.

Other groups have also jumped on the anti-regime bandwagon, albeit far less visibly than the NCRI.

Last September, the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, an exiled armed group with communist origins, opened an office in Washington to build connections with Congress and the Trump administration. The group hired Ayal Frank, a former longtime lobbyist for the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, and his AF International firm in February for $4,500 a month.

On the other side of the debate, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has relinquished its position as the main advocate for a less hawkish approach to Iran amid rising concerns from the Democratic Party and the departure of founder Trita Parsi. Powerful liberal groups, including J Street, have made diplomacy with Iran a priority in their outreach to the candidates running for president in 2020.

HIGHLIGHTS

Main lobby firm:
Rosemont Associates

 

 

$511,000

Total lobbying and PR spending for 2018

 

 

WINS
  • Trump intensifies ‘maximum pressure’ campaign
  • State Department stops saying MEK unacceptable alternative for Iran
  • New lobbyist scores meetings with key officials
LOSSES
  • Trump rules out ‘regime change’ policy
  • MEK accused of running Twitter troll farm
  • US officials skip NCRI rally