On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton are scheduled to deliver keynote addresses at United Against Nuclear Iran’s (UANI) annual “summit” during the United Nations General Assembly. This raises troubling red flags, to say the least, about the Trump administration’s Middle East policy and its ties to the most aggressive anti-Iran forces in the United States and in the region itself, including the ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain.
The Trump administration insists that the goal of its “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran is not to effect regime change but rather to change the “behavior” of the Iranian government. If that’s the case, then the decision to send two senior foreign policy officials to this UANI event is puzzling. According to the organization’s guest list, in attendance will be virtually every prominent official both in the United States and overseas who has pushed for a military confrontation with Iran—a veritable who’s who of warmongers.
Beyond that, the decision to send Pompeo and Bolton to this event may be deeply inappropriate. UANI’s murky financial ties include links to questionable businessmen and shadowy foreign actors with possible ties to the massive 1MDB corruption scandal in Malaysia under investigation by the US Justice Department.
Uniting for War
UANI was founded in 2008 to “inform the public about the nature of the Iranian regime, including its desire and intent to possess nuclear weapons.” Its board, chaired by former US senator and ardent Iran hawk Joe Lieberman, includes a number of influential neoconservatives with well-known anti-Iran views, such as former Senator Mark Kirk, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead of the hardline Hudson Institute. Bolton himself is a past UANI board member and received at least $165,000 in consulting fees from the group’s partner organization, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP). UANI stridently opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), going so far as to part ways with its then-president, arms control expert Gary Samore, after Samore (who remains on UANI’s board) came out in support of the final deal.
The US intelligence community, Israeli intelligence, and the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly contradicted UANI’s contention that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Likewise, its claims that Iran was involved in the 9/11 attacks have never been proven. Nevertheless, UANI has been a reliable source of talking points on both fronts for anti-Iran policymakers in Washington. It has pushed for a comprehensive array of measures intended to isolate Iran internationally, weaken its economy, and increase the possibility of a US-Iran military confrontation.
Though UANI has become one of the most prominent organizations in the anti-Iran policy world, relatively little is known about its internal workings or its financing. Financial documents acquired by LobeLog reveal that trusts controlled by billionaire investor Thomas Kaplan contributed $843,000 to UANI in 2013, nearly half of the group’s $1.7 million revenue in that year. GOP and Trump megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelsonalso contributed $500,000 in 2013. (That same year Adelson suggested that the United States should fire an “atomic weapon” at Iran rather than negotiate.) UANI’s budget ballooned to almost $5.2 million in 2016, but the source of the group’s ongoing funding is largely shrouded in mystery.
Evidence suggests that UANI has an array of sketchy relationships with foreign intelligence agencies and financial interests. Many of the questions about UANI swirl around its convoluted relationship with precious metals speculator Kaplan.
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