Iranian exiles have a word for businesses looking to open their doors in Iran: Don't.
To a person, they are warning that doing doing business with the theocratic regime of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei was fraught with risk.
“Americans who develop a business in Iran will find that not a penny they pay in fees to the government will go to help the poor, the 70 percent-plus of Iranians in their teens and 20s who are unemployed, or the teachers who haven’t been paid in six months,” said Allen Tasslimi, New Jersey venture capitalist and president of the Association of Iranian-Americans of New Jersey, whose younger brother was executed by the clerical regime in the 1980s.
Tasslimi predicted that money paid to the Tehran regime by U.S. businesses for opportunities in Iran “would go to [Iran's] Quds Force,” its brutal branch blamed for spreading terror throughout the region.
The Quds are headed by the notorious Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, branded “a cold-blooded killer” by Sen. John McCain for overseeing the manufacture of armor-piercing bullets that have killed more than 500 U.S. Marines.
Tasslimi, along with other exiles, strongly believes that an enhanced Iranian elite military unit “will provide even greater assistance to the terrorist clients that Khamenei and the regime already service: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis who have toppled the government of Yemen, and [Syrian President Bashir] Assad’s murderous regime, which has forced tens of thousands to flee to Europe.”
The shot at American companies was loudly voiced on Saturday by Iranians among the more than 200 guests attending the 50th anniversary celebration Saturday of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) — known formerly as MEK and the largest Iranian opposition group — in Washington, D.C.
Now that President Obama's controversial Iran deal is sure to clear Congress, many businesses are poised to open operations in the country long off limits to them after sanctions are lifted.
A voice from the past is driving their pleas. A book written before the U.S. was at war with Germany admonishing American entrepreneurs might be read as a cautionary tale.
“You Can’t Do Business With Hitler” became a mantra by a gathering of Iranian exiles this weekend. In it, author Douglas Fuller documented how American businesses who sought opportunity in Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s found themselves short-changed by officially-sanctioned corruption and contributing to what would become an industrial war-making machine against Germany’s neighbors.
“[Their] mentality, which profoundly affects dealing with the outside world, is an open and cynical disregard of truth and justice in carrying out negotiations either in war or peace,” wrote Fuller, onetime commercial attache at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin in the 1930s.
Much like Tasslimi's warning, Fuller in 1941 predicted “one purpose will pervade all German economic policy: Germany’s military advantage."
Tasslimi's words were strongly seconded by Northern Virginia restaurateur Hossein Panah, who, like Tasslimi, fled Iran for the U.S. as a teenager in the 1970s.
“Americans shouldn’t do business with Iran’s present government,” he told me, “because for the past 30 years, its goal has been to spread its influence throughout the Middle East—Iraq, Syria, and even Algeria.”
Panah likened the American desire to invest in Iran to “seeing someone who makes trouble in the neighborhood by firing a rifle and saying ‘let’s give him a machine gun and he’ll behave.’”
He said he would urge American businesses “don’t rush to Iran. You have to somehow put some pressure on the regime not to pursue nuclear ambitions or support terrorists in neighboring countries. And American businesses should give some help to opposition groups.”
Founded in 1965 to oppose the rule of the Shah of Iran and now opposing the regime of the Mullahs in Tehran, the MEK espouses a platform that advocates universal suffrage, gender equality, separation of religion and state, and a non-nuclear Iran. On this anniversary, the group announced the election of a new leadership, comprised of a 1000-member all-female Central Council.
“You Can’t Do Business With Hitler” was not a best-seller when it appeared in 1941. After the U.S. went to war later that year, it was re-issued and a radio program of the same name was produced by the U.S. Office of War Information.
A particular phrase of the author’s resonated with the Iranian exiles I spoke to this weekend: “We must get this straight, once and for all: there is no such thing as having purely economic relations with the totalitarian states. Every business deal comes with it political, military, social, and propaganda implications.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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