Response to U.S. Accusations and My Private Diplomacy

On January 18, 2021, I became the final target of Trump’s failed “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran that had gone into overdrive in the last couple of weeks of that president who upended domestic and international norms.  Although I was working legally and fully transparently as the international affairs consultant to Iran’s Mission to UN since 2007 without any problem, during which time I participated in a number of US-Iran Track II Diplomacy, e.g., at US Association of UN, as well as several TV debates on the US-owned Voice of America, suddenly I was subjected to a high-profile FBI arrest accusing me of being Iran’s “secret agent” and “deceiving the editors” by publishing “pro-Iran propaganda disguised as objective analysis.”  Sadly, the mainstream US media, as well as a host of Iran opposition groups, have parroted the US’s allegations against me without a breath of pause, or bothering to examine my books and articles to judge for themselves if there is any truth to these allegations. I submit to the readers there isn’t any.

To this effect, I have published a compendium of my articles — in New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, UN Chronicle, Harvard Theological Review, Brown’s Journal of World Affairs, Columbia Journal of International Affairs, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Eye, Al-Jazeera, and others — to prove the sheer absurdity of the politically-motivated charges against me — that were clearly intended to throw yet another monkey wrench in President Biden’s Iran policy, in light of Iran’s denunciation of my arrest as an act of “hostage-taking.”  I have also written over a dozen books, on Iran, Middle East, UN, theology, ecology, literature, and poetry — that are highly praised in influential journals such as the Foreign Affairs (June, 2020) and the Middle East Journal (Winter, 2020), thus establishing my credential as a prominent Middle East expert — until my arrest, which incidentally coincided with the 25th anniversary of my arrest by Harvard University Police, in January 1996, in order to silence my whistleblowing on the university’s ties to the opponents of Mr. Salman Rushdie, who has recounted my efforts on his behalf, together with the late Mike Wallace of CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in his autobiography, Joseph Anton.  I have documented Harvard’s horrendous abuse of my human rights in my book, Looking For Rights at Harvard, which is adorned with praises by Wallace, late historian Howard Zinn, and the M.I.T. linguist, Noam Chomsky.  Sadly, history repeats itself and I now find myself in a similar predicament as back in 1996, when after being fully exonerated I commenced a civil action that went to jury trial against the same Harvard cops who invaded my home at early morning hours pursuant to a fictitious crime story.

A clue to the absurdity of the present charges against me, the US government readily admits in the complaint that they knew about my relationship with Iran’s Mission to UN since 2007, which, in turn, raises the curious question why they took no action to stop what they now brand as “national security threat?”  I regularly received checks from a UN bank account and deposited in my account at Chase Manhattan Bank, in a word never sought to hide it from the watchful eyes of US.

Not only that, I have a long track record in lobbying Iran for the sake of (US) prisoners in Iran.  Case in point, I once carried a letter from Chomsky to Iran’s foreign minister on the three American hikers held in Iran during 2009-2011, and also spent months assisting the family of FBI agent missing in Iran, Robert Levinson, by carrying messages from his daughter to Iranian authorities, arranging meetings, and writing article calling for Levinson’s immediate release, available in my above-mentioned book.  I undertook similar efforts for a number of other prisoners in Iran, including the Wilson Center Scholar, Halleh Esfandiari.  Always committed to the goal of US-Iran peace and reconciliation, I devoted numerous articles on the subject, e.g., “US-Iran Search for Common Ground”(SF Chronicle), and “Trump and Rouhani Should Talk” (NYTimes).  In fact, after publishing the latter in September, 2018, I initiated a personal diplomacy by going to UN and meeting the political assistants of Secretary General, after directly communicating with him, and urging them to facilitate a meeting of US and Iranian presidents on the sideline of General Assembly summit.  I had engaged in a similar gambit 18 years earlier, with much help from Mr. Giandomenico Picco, the UN’s Special Envoy on Dialogue Among Civilizations, by trying to arrange a meeting of the then presidents Clinton and Khatami.  Indeed, what would modern diplomacy be without the occasional input of private diplomacy?

To give another example of my ‘private diplomacy’, I once wrote a letter in the New York Times on the subject of “incident at sea agreement” between US and Iran and then followed it by penning a joint proposal with the former US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who was the head of Preventive Diplomacy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which we pitched to US and Iran simultaneously but was sadly rejected by the Pentagon. 

None of my initiatives cited above were instructed or even shared with the Iranian authorities and I simply heeded my own calling as a responsible political scientist, following the footsteps of, among others, professor Fred Halliday, an old friend about whom I have written a eulogy on Open Democracy.  The US’s claim that I pretended to be neutral in my publications is also rubbish, in light of the fact that I consistently identified myself as “former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team.” I have also acted as media consultant to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” ABC’s “20/20” an Fox News, repeatedly helping both Mr. Mike Wallace and his son, Chris Wallace, with Iran interviews, and yet never bothered to mention that in any of my publications, just as my international affairs consulting with Iran’s Mission had absolutely no bearing on my articles and books, which carry glowing praises by several scholars in the field.  I am indeed proud of my legacy, which includes writing an open letter to Iran’s president calling for mandatory education on the holocaust as a “moral imperative,” penning an oped in Boston Globe on the mistreatment of women, and urging Iran to stop talking about leaving the NPT, among other articles when I saw the need to criticize Iran.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration, which thankfully departed short of a full-scale war with Iran, was incensed by public criticisms of its confrontational Iran policy and illegal exit from an international nuclear agreement, thus targeting me on its way out, as part of its flurry of foreign misbehavior in its waning days aimed at causing headache for President Biden.  As expected, Iran’s regional rivals, led by Israel and Saudi Arabia, are delighted by the news of my arrest, which has in effect put out of commission a leading expert on Iran’s nuclear affairs, only two months after the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist inside Iran.  No wonder, the pro-Israeli and pro-Saudi media and pundits have been salivating over my FBI arrest, which is in sharp contrast to others accused of violating the same law, Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) with some only receiving curtesy calls or notices in the mailboxes, without experiencing my ordeal.  This is a clear evidence of racist discrimination and double standards, which unfortunately I am familiar with after enduring the above-mentioned hardship with Harvard.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D.
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D.
Afrasiabi is a political scientist and author of several books — on Iran, Islam, ecology, Middle East, UN reform, as well as poetry and fiction — and numerous articles in international newspapers and journals.