Some might call it reaching out to American Muslims. But to many Iranians living in California, a fund-raiser for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) at the home of a prominent pro-Iran lobbyist on Feb. 19 sent a wrongheaded message to the ruling clerics in Tehran.
"When we learned that Sen. Biden was planning to hold a fund-raiser at the California home of Dr. Sadegh Namazi-khah, we immediately contacted his office to express our dismay," a prominent Iranian-American activist tells INSIGHT. Why dismay? "Dr Namazi-khah is well-known in the Los Angeles area for his support of the ruling clerical regime in Tehran and is one of the regime's leading unofficial lobbyists in America. We thought that Sen. Biden might not know his background. Getting the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to appear at this event will certainly be seen by the regime in Tehran as a show of support."
On the eve of the fund-raiser, which brought an estimated $30,000 into Biden's re-election coffers, a Biden staffer told the activist that the senator's staff "had all the facts necessary to make a decision," and he was planning to attend the fund-raiser despite the protests.
Several participants who paid to attend the event tell INSIGHT that Biden arrived at 8 p.m., stayed until 11 and delivered a sweeping condemnation of President George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" formula.
"He really impressed us by his grasp of world affairs," Namazi-khah tells INSIGHT in an interview. "He encouraged us to make our views known and to get more involved in American politics."
Biden also impressed many of those present with his friendly attitude toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. The senator said that "Iran always wanted to be an ally of the United States and to have good relations with the U.S.," according to Housang Dadgostar, a prominent lawyer. "As Iranian-Americans, we don't want anything to happen to the Iranian government or to the Iranian people as a result of this war on terrorism," says Mohsen Movaghar, a Los Angeles businessman. Both men belong to the 70-member board of directors of Namazi-khah's Iranian Muslim Association of North America (IMAN).
Namazi-khah denied any official contact with the Iranian government. But he tells INSIGHT that he regularly travels to Iran -- something many expatriates do -- and that he actively supports "moderates" within the ruling clergy, such as Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, in their efforts to bring reform to the Islamic system.
Namazi-khah and other IMAN board members say Biden's office contacted them to inquire if they would hold a private fund-raiser for the senator, who is up for re-election this year, after meeting with them at a pro-Tehran gala in New York last December. That event was sponsored by the American-Iranian Council (AIC), a pro-regime lobbying group trying to get Congress and the Bush administration to lift the trade embargo on Iran. …