Follow us on social


Official linked to anti-Iran pressure group breaks ranks, says Iran should get all the help it needs to fight COVID-19

United Against Nuclear Iran has named and shamed companies conducting humanitarian trade with Iran, but now a UANI senior advisor says Iran needs help fighting the coronavirus and stopping its spread.

Reporting | Washington Politics

Norman Roule, a senior adviser to the anti-Iran groupUnited Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which led a multi-year effort pressuring pharmaceutical and medical supply companies to cease legal trade with Iran even during the COVID-19 pandemic, appears to be distancing himself from UANI’s work, effectively whitewashing his own role at the organization. “The international community should do everything it can to enable the Iranian people to obtain access to medical supplies and equipment,” said Roule in a recent article inthe Nation.

While hawks in Washington are calling for more sanctions on Iran amid the COVID-19 crisis, the Nation published a fascinating scoop last week showing that U.S. military intelligence is deeply concerned about the public health implications of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s ability to combat COVID-19. A leaked intelligence brief specifically cited the risk of COVID-19 infections, originating in Iran, to U.S. troops based in Qatar.

In the article, Roule —a retired CIA official who served as national intelligence manager for Iran until 2017 when he joined UANI as a senior adviser — urged the international community to facilitate the transfer of medical supplies to Iran “not just because it’s the right thing to do, the human thing to do, but also because as Iranians travel throughout the region, they will continue to disperse the virus.”

It’s a  seemingly reasonable argument echoing pointsmade a month ago by the Quincy Institute research fellow Annelle Sheline, but it's also a total departure from the campaign undertaken by Roule’s client, UANI.

UANIsays it aims to persuade “the regime in Tehran to desist from its quest for nuclear weapons, while striving not to punish the Iranian people.” (The U.S. intelligence community does not believe that Iran has any desire or plans to build nuclear weapons.) But UANI’s efforts extend well-beyond sanctions into naming and shaming companies that do legal trade with Iran, often under the Treasury Department’s humanitarian exemptions to sanctions — including medical-related trades that would presumably have aided in combating a massive public health crisis like COVID-19.

UANI’s “Iran Business Registry” is an online database of companies the group believes are conducting business in or with Iran and were urged to completely “end their Iran business,” until UANI changed the language on the website last month following an article published in Responsible Statecraft and The Intercept highlighting the group’s efforts to stymie the sale of medicine and medical supplies to Iran. Multiple medical companies with Treasury Department licenses to conduct trade with Iran are in UANI’s registry. Nine pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device corporations, all with special licenses, are listed on UANI’s business registry. Companies urged by UANI to “end their Iran business” include Bayer, Merck, Pfizer, Genzyme, AirSep, Medrad, Becton, Dickinson & Company, Eli Lilly, and Abbott Laboratories.

Also last week, UANI’s leadership, formerSen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and CEO Mark Wallace, signed on to a letter denying that U.S. sanctions were exacerbating the public health crisis facing Iran from the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the Trump administration to keep sanctions in place, a position at odds with Roule’s warnings that the pandemic’s rapid spread in Iran could expand globally. “Iranian military personnel are in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and parts of Afghanistan, and Iran also has a history of training foreign militants,” Roule told The Nation. These populations “could spread viruses throughout the region and from there, the international community.”

Roule’s common-sense approach, which sharply diverges from UANI, is surprising given his deep ties to UANI and its suspected foreign funders.

Besides serving as UANI’s senior adviser, Roule’s consulting firm, Pharos Strategic Consulting, received $366,000 from Counter Extremism Project United, Inc. (CEPU), the umbrella group for UANI that appears to primarily exist to funnel money to UANI, contractors like Roule, and UANI’s partner group the Green Light Project (which does business as the Counter Extremism Project.).

Tax documents from 2013 showed that investor and mining magnateThomas Kaplan, who promoted a number of his investments as retaining or appreciating in value if there were military conflicts in the Middle East, was the primary funder of UANI.

Emails allegedly originating from the United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba showed UANI and Counter Extremism Project principals, including Wallace,soliciting funding from the UAE and Saudi lobbyist and Republican Party fundraiser Norm Coleman discussing Saudi support for the groups.

Roule maintains close ties to Kaplan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS). All three were filmed byPBS Frontline at a private event with MbS months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Large payments from CEPU to Roule and his proximity to Kaplan and MbS all raise more questions than answers about Roule’s decision to raise concerns about public health consequences of the punishing sanctions that his clients at CEPU, and potentially Saudi Arabia and the UAE (via their possible funding of CEPU), continue to promote. 

One possibility is that Roule is attempting to retain his credibility as a trusted media expert as his client’s promotion of a “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran creates a massive public health crisis in the Middle East and threatens the safety of U.S. forces based in the region. 

Norman Roule speaking at an event hosted by New America, Nov. 2018 (Photo credit: New America
Reporting | Washington Politics
Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) looks on, following his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., July 16, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg


Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first U.S. senator ever to be convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. While serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez ghost-wrote a letter and approved arms sales on behalf of the Egyptian regime in exchange for bribes, among other crimes on behalf of foreign powers in a sweeping corruption case. An Egyptian businessman even referred to Menendez in a text to a military official as “our man.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Menendez was engaging in politics for profit. "Because Senator Menendez has now been found guilty, his years of selling his office to the highest bidder have finally come to an end,” he said.

keep readingShow less
What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

Washington Politics

Donald Trump announced earlier today that he had selected Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance to be his running mate. Coming only two days after the assassination attempt on the former president in Butler, Pennsylvania, Trump’s selection elevated the young first-term senator to the Republican national ticket as the party’s national convention was getting underway in Milwaukee. In choosing Vance, Trump seems to have ignored pressure from Rupert Murdoch, who had reportedly been lobbying intensively in favor of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and against Vance. Trump has chosen a loyalist who will appeal to his core supporters in the party’s populist wing.

While the selection makes sense in terms of the senator’s political alignment with Trump, it is somewhat unconventional given Vance’s limited experience in government. Vance will be the youngest vice presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1952. He has been in elected office for only a year and a half. Vance will likely face a lot of questions about his preparedness to serve as president if necessary.

keep readingShow less
States should let the feds handle foreign influence

The Bold Bureau /

States should let the feds handle foreign influence

Washington Politics

In April, a state bill in Georgia aimed at clamping down on foreign influence landed on the desk of Governor Brian Kemp.

Presented under the guise of common-sense legislation, the bill was more reminiscent of McCarthyism; if passed, it would have required workers of foreign-owned businesses such as Hyundai, Adidas, or Anheuser-Busch in Georgia to register as foreign agents, placing a huge burden on everyday Americans.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis



Subscribe now to our weekly round-up and don't miss a beat with your favorite RS contributors and reporters, as well as staff analysis, opinion, and news promoting a positive, non-partisan vision of U.S. foreign policy.