Issue date: 3/16/04
Among Sen. John Kerry's top fund-raisers are threeIranian-Americans who have been pushing for dramatic changes in U.S.policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Most prominent among them is Hassan Nemazee, 54, an investmentbanker based in New York. Nominated to become U.S. ambassador toArgentina by President Bill Clinton in 1999, Nemazee eventuallywithdrew his nomination after a former partner raised allegations ofbusiness improprieties.
Nemazee was a major Clinton donor, giving $80,000 to theDemocratic National Committee (DNC) during the 1996 election cycleand attending at least one of the famous White House fund-raisingcoffees.
In 2001, at the invitation of Mobil Oil Chairman Lucio Noto, whomhe counts as a "personal friend," Nemazee joined the board of theAmerican-Iranian Council (AIC), a U.S. lobbying group thatconsistently has supported lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran andaccommodating the Tehran regime. Nemazee tells Insight he "nowregrets" having joined the AIC board and resigned his position after12 months when he was vilified by Iranian exile groups.
"I've never, ever given a speech suggesting rapprochement with theregime," Nemazee tells Insight. "Kerry is not calling for aresumption of relations with Iran, nor is he ignoring the regime'shuman-rights abuses, its ties to terror, or downplaying the nuclearissues. I haven't seen that he's said anything to date that warrantsall the concern."
But Nemazee also acknowledged that he was rethinking his positionin the wake of the recent parliamentary elections in Iran. "There isa legitimate argument to be made that the regime has crossed a lineand shown they are undemocratic and incapable of reforming," he says,"and so there is no benefit to relations or to trading withthem."
The Kerry camp has identified Nemazee as having raised more than$100,000 for the senator's campaign.
A Nemazee friend in Silicon Valley, Faraj Aalaei, has raisedbetween $50,000 and $100,000 for the Kerry campaign. Aalaei hasworked in the telecommunications industry for 22 years and is thechief executive officer of Centillium Communications, a publiclytraded company.
Last year, Aalaei married a 35-year-old recent immigrant from Irannamed Susan Akbarpour, whom the Kerry campaign also lists as havingraised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the campaign.
In just six years since coming to the United States on a touristvisa from Iran, Akbarpour has started a newspaper, a magazine and,most recently, a trade association whose goal, she tells Insight, isto get sanctions lifted and promote U.S. business and investment inIran.
"Susan Akbarpour was a journalist in Iran, where she was close toFaezeh Hashemi, the daughter of [former president Ali Akbar]Rafsanjani," says student activist Aryo Pirouznia. "She has doneprograms on Iranian television praising Faezeh Hashemi, anddemonstrated against pro-freedom groups in California when IranianForeign Minister Kamal Kharrazi came to Los Angeles in September2000." Rafsanjani's daughter was a member of the Iranian Parliamentuntil recently. Her faction, while hailed as "reformists" bypro-regime activists, has never pressed for an end to clerical ruleand is widely believed to have served as a foil for hard-liners suchas Hashemi's own father.
Kharrazi's trip to California was part of a failed Clintonadministration effort to renew ties with the Islamic republic.Iranian-American Jewish organizations were outraged by his visit,which followed on the heels of the show trial of 13 Iranian Jews inShiraz. Akbarpour was filmed by several Los Angeles-based Iranian TVnetworks insulting the protesters and supporting Kharrazi. In thePersian-language edition of her monthly newspaper, Iran Today, sheprinted numerous anti-Semitic articles, Iranian Jewish activists tellInsight.
Akbarpour's latest trade effort, SiliconIran, was planning to hosta gala at the Ritz Carlton's Laguna Niguel resort in Orange County,Calif., on March 3 as Insight went to press. Among the guests will befellow Kerry fund-raiser Nemazee.
"I am an actor in U.S. politics," Akbarpour boasted to Insight inan interview. "I am a fund-raiser for all candidates who listen to usand our concerns."
The two candidates Akbarpour said she would "never help" arePresident George W. Bush and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),because both have taken a no-nonsense approach to the Iranian regime.Federal Election Commission records show that Akbarpour contributed$1,000 to the Kerry committee in June 2002 and another $2,000 in June2003.
Akbarpour tells Insight she is not a U.S. citizen. "I came here in1997 as a tourist and changed my status several times. At one point,I had an H-1 visa. Then I got married last year and got my greencard." Under federal election laws, permanent residents are allowedto make political campaign contributions. But her June 2002contribution to the Kerry campaign appears to have been made beforeshe acquired status as a permanent resident.
One immigration lawyer Insight consulted in Los Angeles doubtedthat Akbarpour could have obtained an H-1 visa, which is reserved forforeign workers sponsored by U.S. companies that need theirspecialized skills. "At the time, the INS [Immigration andNaturalization Service] was applying a very strict interpretationof the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and was not allowing any hiring ofIranian nationals. And you couldn't convert from a tourist visa to anH-1 visa, especially if the tourist visa had already expired."
Because the United States has no embassy in Tehran, Iraniansseeking to visit the United States must travel to Turkey or theUnited Arab Emirates to apply for a tourist or student visa, thenwait several months while a background check is performed.
That experience still rankles Akbarpour, who has put looseningvisa requirements for Iranians on the top of her political agenda,along with lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran and getting the U.S.government to open a dialogue with the regime in Tehran. Just bycoincidence, those are the top three priorities of the Tehran regime,as well.
"I do believe in getting rid of the clerics," she tells Insight,"but not overnight. That would not lead to stability in Iran. I seethis as an evolutionary process."
The FBI opposes loosening visa requirements because the Iranianintelligence ministry (MOIS) has a proven track record of sendingintelligence operatives - and even assassins - overseas posing asrefugees or legal immigrants. MOIS operatives have murdered Iraniandissidents living overseas, and helped plan and carry out the July1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association Jewishcommunity center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 86 persons.
But Akbarpour did not think security was a legitimate concern. "Idon't think the MOIS is very good. You give too much credit to thesepeople. They're not that intelligent," she says.
Nor does Kerry worry about loosening visa restrictions. "We haveto support the idea that someone who is an American citizen has aright to have their family visit them from anywhere in the world," hetold Akbarpour at a Jan. 14, 2004, fund-raiser in San Francisco.
Return to "Kerry Will Abandon War on Terrorism."
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a seniorwriter for Insight and author of TheFrench Betrayal of America,just released from Crown Forum.