Civil War buffs know Manassas, Va., as the site of the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, but tomorrow the city will play a bit role in Iran's presidential election. Indeed, Manassas is one of 19 U.S. cities where the Iranian regime has set up polling stations for its U.S.-based subjects, according to a website run by the Islamic Republic's Interests Section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington. Other polling sites include the Islamic Center of New York in Queens; the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn, Mich.; the Islamic Education Center of Houston; and a Holiday Inn in Chicago.
Most Iranian immigrants come to the U.S. to escape mullah tyranny, but some participate in the sham elections back home. They often do so out of necessity. The act of voting is seen as personal affirmation of the regime's legitimacy, and Iranian students attending American universities feel compelled to vote so as not to jeopardize their welcome back home. Some no doubt vote out of genuine ideological fervor for the regime.
That's nice for them, but the American people might rightly be concerned about Tehran's operations on American soil. For starters, the legality of such polling stations is an open question. The Foreign Missions Act grants the U.S. State Department authority to regulate the activities of foreign diplomats, including by setting limits on their movements. While these limits are usually confidential, it's well-known that Iranian diplomats are confined to their Interests Section in Washington and to a 25-mile radius extending from some point in Midtown Manhattan.
"There are very good reasons for this, given Iran's history of terrorism and proliferation, including terror plots, spying, intimidation of exiled Iranian dissidents and proliferation procurement inside the U.S. itself," Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained. So how do the ayatollahs' diplomats skirt these restrictions? "The way the Iranians get around the prohibition is by using Iranian Americans to man the polls instead of formal diplomats," Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said. Speaking by phone, an official of the Interests Section confirmed that Iranian diplomats wouldn't be present at most of these polling sites due to "personnel limitations."
The Iranians, it appears, are contravening the spirit if not the letter of the restrictions imposed on them under U.S. law by engaging in electoral activity in the U.S. homeland. The State Department didn't reply to a request for comment. Said Mr. Dubowitz: "To allow Iran to set up polling stations in the U.S. for this sham Iranian 'election' would be an appalling betrayal of both the American public and the Iranians suffering at the hands of the Tehran regime."
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