In an effort to raise public awareness about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a new organization is being launched, with its own paid staff, to focus solely on the issue.
The promoters of the group, which is called United Against Nuclear Iran, hope to replicate the Save Darfur Coalition, which has brought together liberals and hawks as well as Jewish and Christian groups, to advocate in favor of the war-ravaged Sudanese region.
The group is being set up as a registered 501c3 charity that presents itself as “a non-partisan, broad-based coalition” that will comprise individuals and organizations from “diverse ethnicities, faith communities, political and social affiliations,” according to a mission statement posted on its Web site, which is under development.
The executive director of the new organization is Mark Wallace, a Republican lawyer who worked for the American mission to the United Nations until recently. Wallace will also have on staff a spokesman and an outreach director. The group’s spokesman, John Kildea, told the Forward that the coalition was not aimed at fomenting military action against Iran.
“To be clear, our aim is not to beat the drums of war,” he said. “On the contrary, we hope to play a key part in laying the groundwork for effective U.S. policies in coordination with our allies, the U.N. and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the current course of the Iranian regime.”
The mission statement on the group’s Web site advocates stepped-up diplomatic pressure on Tehran. Kildea also pointed to the diversity of the co-chairs, who include former CIA director James Woolsey, America’s former ambassador to the U.N. and Democratic Party foreign policy heavyweight Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, formerly America’s chief Middle East peace negotiator.
Kildea declined to disclose details of the funding of the group, and said that United Against Nuclear Iran was just beginning to seek out coalition members and was aiming to create local chapters.
The government in Tehran claims that its nuclear program is aimed solely at producing electricity, but Western countries and Israel suspect that Iran is looking to produce nuclear weapons. The issue has faded somewhat in the United States, where attention is focused mostly on the White House race and on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supporters of the Israeli government are concerned that the vacuum, coupled with the lack of progress of the diplomatic negotiations between Europe and Iran, will enable the regime in Tehran to continue making progress on its nuclear program.
Jewish groups, while aggressively pushing for more pressure on Iran, have been eager not to appear as the only ones driving a hawkish agenda against Tehran. Although one source privy to the discussions said that some Jewish communal officials have been involved in the discussions, and several Jewish communal sources are aware of the effort, it appears that major Jewish groups will support it from the outside. They are coordinating their own advocacy efforts through an Iran task force set up by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The Presidents Conference is planning to hold simultaneous rallies in New York and Washington on September 22 to protest the presence of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the annual U.N. General Assembly.
The Israel Project will broadcast ads on the main cable news networks in New York during the U.N. parley, and in Washington during the presidential debates. Last spring, the Anti-Defamation League placed ads in Swiss newspapers, denouncing a natural-gas deal between a Swiss government-owned corporation and Iran. A Vienna-based coalition called Stop the Bomb has organized demonstrations and events denouncing a similar business deal.
It appears that Wallace and the staff of United Against Nuclear Iran will supplement the Jewish groups’ activity by reaching out to a more diverse public.
Wallace began his political carreer working as an assistant to then Florida governor Jeb Bush and then served on the Republican legal team during the 2000 Florida presidential vote recount. After working in the Department of Homeland Security under President Bush, he was recruited in early 2006 to the United States Mission to the United Nations by its then ambassador, John Bolton, to be in charge of management and reform. During his tenure, Wallace, who was given the rank of ambassador, ruffled the feathers of U.N. officials by aggressively pushing corruption investigations into U.N. programs. He left his position in April, amid reports that he had fallen out of favor with the new and more conciliatory ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Bolton’s wife, Nicolle, was the communications director at the White House from 2005 until mid-2006, and then joined the McCain presidential campaign team May 1 as a senior adviser. Both Wallaces are briefing Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for interviews and debates.
His spokesman, Kildea, stressed that the initiative was a truly bi-partisan effort.