Crisis Group's office in Brussels, Belgium, August 2022. CRISIS GROUP
Statement 3 minutes

Crisis Group Rejects Recent Allegations Against Our Staff

On 26 September, two media outlets – Semafor and Iran International – published articles referencing employees of the International Crisis Group that contain mischaracterisation and inaccuracy. Their reports led to a series of secondary commentaries, many of which compound the flaws of the original accounts.

As an independent non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts, Crisis Group’s methodology and mandate are clear. We speak to all sides in all of the 70-odd conflict areas we cover, develop practical policy solutions and communicate our analysis through written reports and advocacy. In the case of Iran, our track record goes back more than two decades, with much work focused on diplomatic efforts around Iran’s nuclear program.

Recent reporting mischaracterises Crisis Group's mandate and methodology.

The recent reporting draws on selected email correspondence primarily dating from the period when Iran and world powers were engaged in the talks that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. It focuses on the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI), referencing one Crisis Group staff member at the time, Ali Vaez, and another researcher, Dina Esfandiary, who later joined our staff. While Crisis Group was not involved in the IEI, we reject the key claims and insinuations made against our staff members. To set the record straight:

  • The IEI was a project in which a loose network of analysts from European and U.S. institutions participated, meeting with Iranian officials, as well as officials from the rest of the P5+1.
  • Meetings were informal and agreed to on an ad hoc basis. They took place on the sidelines of conferences, at diplomatic missions or directly at the nuclear talks. Crisis Group covered travel and lodging costs for Ali, when he attended IEI meetings as part of our far wider coverage of the JCPOA negotiations. The universities and think-tanks employing the Western experts who attended paid these people’s expenses if they had the funding; otherwise, these costs were covered by European institutions, including a European government.
  • The Iranian government did not direct any of Ali’s or Dina’s work or publications. Indeed, no government directs the content of any of Crisis Group’s work. The portrayal of the IEI in the reporting is based primarily on the way parts of the Iranian government chose to present the meetings internally, in places further mischaracterised by Semafor and Iran International. By adopting the internal Iranian framing, which even some of the reporting has acknowledged is unreliable, these accounts distort the nature of the meetings.
  • One of the published emails, sent by Ali to Iran’s then-foreign minister, has been starkly misrepresented. Only one sentence of the note was translated from the original Farsi into English in the reporting. Taken as a whole, the email reads as a clear assertion of impartiality and neutrality, not a statement of sympathy toward the Iranian position. 
  • The reporting also accuses Crisis Group staff of seeking approval from Iranian officials for published work. Our research regularly involves testing proposals with key stakeholders. We encourage our experts to solicit feedback from all concerned parties on policy ideas or as proof of our balanced approach and willingness to criticise all sides. At no point, and in no way, do these stakeholders dictate the resulting recommendations. We take on board any response, and we decide ourselves what to put forward. 
  • Every Crisis Group output is subject to rigorous internal review, always involving the organisation’s senior management. Our trustees have the opportunity to review our reports. Every Crisis Group report or briefing also plainly and transparently indicates the research involved. We are transparent about our interactions with all foreign officials, including Iranian officials, in our public reports, and with our funders and supporters. We make no secret of the fact that we see talking with all sides in conflicts as integral to our work. 
     
We make no secret of the fact that talking to all sides is integral to our work.

Crisis Group’s recommendations and analysis are, of course, not universally shared. On Iran policy in particular, there are strong critics of our approach in Washington and Tehran. We welcome that debate, when conducted on its merits, but we reject claims and conclusions aimed simply at maligning us and our work. The reporting by Semafor, Iran International and others is best seen as part of a sustained effort to discredit and silence voices that support diplomacy with Iran. It undercuts serious deliberation about how to address the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

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