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By Ken Timmerman
Iran opened polls in 19 American cities on Friday for its national presidential election, encouraging Iranians to get out and vote, according to officials.
However, under the terms of the 1981 Algiers Accords and a host of subsequent U.S. laws, it is illegal for the regime to engage in commercial or political activity in the United States outside of its two diplomatic enclaves in New York and Washington, D.C., analysts said.
On Wednesday, just two days before voting, the Iranian Interests section in Washington, D.C., put up a website, including a map of the United States and a four-page memo in Persian describing how the polling places would be set up.
Anticipating protests from anti-regime activists, the memo tried to reassure Iranians who support the regime to come out to vote.
“If you encounter any problems with security” in reaching the polls, “you should contact the local police department,” the statement said. All 19 polling places were being set up “in coordination with local police departments.”
“Staff will have the number of the local police department and will post it in the polling places in case of incidents,” the statement said.
The document also said that staff operating the polling places “will have the official stamp of the Council of Guardians” and will stamp both the individual ballots and the voter’s Iranian passport (on page 40).
“Keep the official flag of the Islamic Republic at the voting table and at the location,” it added.
The Council of Guardians is the highest legal body in the Islamic Republic. Members are responsible for vetting the candidates for public office, and routinely eliminate anyone who is not in sync with the regime.
This year they even eliminated Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served two terms as president from 1989-2005. They said he was “unqualified” to run for office because of his age. (He is 78).
American authorities declined to comment. But Roozbeh Farahanipour, a pro-freedom activist in Los Angeles, said,”These polling places clearly are being run by official agents of the Iranian regime.”
The laws of the Islamic Republic require that representatives of the Guardian Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supervise each ballot box at all times. Those laws also stipulate that the ballot boxes in overseas locations be placed only on sovereign soil.
Many of the addresses posted online by the Iranian Interests Section were in ballrooms in Hilton hotels.
They are also using several mosques, including two that are controlled by the Alavi Foundation in New York, currently under court receivership as it awaits trial on charges of illegally operating as an Iranian government front organization in the United States.
The head of the Alavi Foundation pleaded guilty in 2009 after federal prosecutors indicted him personally for obstruction of justice for destroying key documents.
In Santa Monica, Calif., home to several hundred thousand Iranian-Americans, the Interests Section announced a polling station at a condo complex at 401 San Vincente Blvd.
Public records show the site is owned by a wealthy landlord and real estate investor named Frank Rahban and his wife, Faribah, through a family trust.
Rahban encountered public notoriety in 2009 when anti-billboard activists protested in front of his Brentwood home because he had used one of his properties to host a 6-storey billboard.
California commercial records show that he operates Overland Investment Company on W. Pico Blvd, and is a partner or investor in at least five other real estate partnerships.
After receiving a torrent of calls from angry Iranian-Americans on Thursday, Rahban apparently canceled the rental agreement with the Iranian Interests Section and the website operators removed the address from active polling stations.
Canada is not allowing the regime to operate polling stations, a decision hotly criticized by Tehran, after breaking diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic last year over its ongoing human rights abuses.
“Canada had deprived many Iranians of exercising their legal right,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seyyed Abbas Araqchi, said in Tehran.
Araqchi noted that even when Canada and the Islamic Republic maintained diplomatic relations, the Canadian government never allowed polling stations to be set up outside Ottawa.
“This suggests that the United States government has given its approval to the regime to set up polling stations here in the United States,” said Farahanipour, the Iranian-American activist.
Iran’s PressTV reported there were more than 66,000 polling stations across Iran, with some 285 at overseas points.
Iran kept its polls open late, but closed them down mid-evening as half a dozen candidates battled for the nation’s leadership post.
Timmerman is a New York Times best-selling author of nine non-fiction books and three novels. He was the Republican challenger to liberal Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen in 2012 in Maryland’s 8th Congressional district, and heads the Foundation for Democracy for Iran. His books are available at kentimmerman.com/books.htm.