NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

Al Jazeera: Jamal Abdi discusses Trump’s failed Iran policies

NIAC Statement in Response to Reports of Downed U.S. Drone

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, June 20, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian forces reportedly shot down a U.S. military drone after it had allegedly entered into Iranian territory. U.S. officials maintain that the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

In response, Sina Toossi, Research Associate at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said:

“Reports that Iran has shot down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf are alarming and serve as yet another potential tripmine to all-out war erupting. As U.S.-Iran tensions have soared in recent weeks, the need for deconfliction channels between the two countries is more pronounced than ever. These vital channels of communication existed in the past, allowing both sides to delineate boundaries and avoid collisions between their respective militaries in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Syria and in other theaters. However, the Trump administration, in pursuit of a counterproductive and destabilizing so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, has eliminated all levels of communication between the two sides.

“If it is proven that Iran shot down the U.S. drone over international waters, it is provocative act that must be condemned by the international community. Regardless, there is a vital need for immediate U.S.-Iran deescalation. There are no military solutions to the U.S. disputes with Iran—only diplomatic ones. However, rather than pursue sincere diplomacy, President Trump has elected to pile on pressure with no strategic foresight at the behest of uber-hawkish advisors like John Bolton. If Trump wants to avoid a disastrous conflict at this critical juncture, he needs new advisors that would reopen channels of dialogue and enact policies that would bring Trump closer to a deal with Tehran, not war.”

Toossi continued:

“The fact is that the Trump White House’s policies have set the U.S. on a path to conflict with Iran. Actions such as designating as a foreign terrorist organization Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a state-run military force which operates in the Persian Gulf in close proximity to U.S. forces, were bound to lead to the dangerous scenarios unfolding today. Indeed, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies long warned against designating the IRGC for precisely this risk of escalation. They have since also held that Iran’s recent, more threatening activity is due to the Trump’s administration aggressive actions, including the IRGC designation and terminating sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil.”

NIAC’s Ehsan Zahedani Appears on Iran International

NIAC Responds to State Department’s Decision to Suspend Funding to Grantee Using Funds to Attack U.S. Civil Society

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, May 31, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington D.C. – Today, the State Department announced that it is suspending funding to a grantee of the department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), the Iran Disinformation Project (Iran Disinfo), after it was revealed that the group was using funds to attack journalists, analysts, and American civil society organizations, like NIAC, online. The suspension of IranDisinfo follows a major astroturf campaign against NIAC last weekend involving hawkish pro-war organizations like Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and radical diaspora groups like the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – which operates a social media “troll farm” in Albania.

NIAC President Jamal Abdi said in response to these developments:

“Suspending funding for this organization is a fine start. But the American people deserve to know if this is part of a larger conspiracy funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars. We need answers as to whether any member of the Trump Administration or U.S. government agency has been involved in guiding, coordinating, or encouraging attacks and propaganda against critics or political opponents of the Trump Administration.”

Abdi elaborated on the links between the groups in question and the Trump Administration:

“There are close ties between officials in the Trump Administration organizations involved in these attacks. We know that the President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is fond of the MEK, has advocated publicly for the group, and has likely received payment in the form of speaking fees from this former terrorist organization. We also know that former senior FDD officials now sit in John Bolton’s National Security Council and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – while he was the CIA Director – took the highly unusual step of declassifying documents and providing them exclusively to FDD to make the case for military action against Iran.”

Abdi continued:

“If the Trump Administration is funneling funds or coordinating with the perpetrators of this campaign, it is incumbent on Congress to get to the bottom of it. We look forward to working to uncover the truth behind these attacks and any involvement by the U.S. government as well as foreign state sponsored actors. We will not let anyone silence our voices and create a chilling effect meant to deter political engagement within our community.”

BACKGROUND

In last week’s online propaganda campaign, IranDisinfo along with FDD and MEK attempted to spread the outrageously false claim that NIAC and any Iranian American journalist, academic, or political candidate who has spoken out against Donald Trump’s Iran policies or opposed war against Iran are supporters of, or even supported by, the Iranian government.

The attacks utilized an army of bots and inauthentic social media accounts to launch hundreds of thousands of tweets intended to create a false narrative that Iranians and Iranian Americans support the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” and push for war with Iran. The coordinated assault also aimed to discredit pro-peace Iranian Americans by claiming they are supportive of or even supported by the Islamic Republic.

FDD analyst Saeed Ghasseminejad is the main research contributor to IranDisinfo and FDD operates an identical “IranDisinfo” section on its own website. IranDisinfo’s website is also hosted by Tavanna, another organization that is funded by the State Department, and its Executive Director lists IranDisinfo among her affiliations.

NIAC Statement on Trump’s Tweet Threat to “End” Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sunday, May 19, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, President Trump threatened to “end” Iran in a tweet on the heels of reports that rockets landed near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.

In response, President of the National Iranian American Council, Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement:

“President Trump’s saber-rattling about Iran has reached a dangerous new low with his threat to “end” Iran—a country of 83 million men, women, and children. Since the President reneged on the Iran nuclear deal last year, the administration’s policies have been geared towards provoking Iran into retaliation to give cover for a perilous escalation favored by administration hawks. There is no doubt that National Security Advisor John Bolton will use the slightest Iranian action—even bereft of reliable intelligence—as a pretext to push for the war he’s always wanted.

“Trump’s belligerent threat to destroy Iran comes on the heels of reports that a “low-grade” rocket landed in an empty lot near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. Last September, a similar incident led to Bolton asking the Pentagon for options to militarily strike Iran. At the time, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis shot down Bolton’s plans. With Mattis gone today, Bolton is well positioned to push Trump and the U.S. into a conflict that would be catastrophic for U.S. interests and regional and global stability.

“The fact is that the United States and the world should not be in this position where a war with Iran is even a possibility. America’s traditional allies in Europe, as well as the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, have repeatedly warned that the administration’s actions are leading to a dangerous tit-for-tat with Iran. Simply stated, the current state of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran is exclusively due to the policies of the Trump administration, which abandoned a nonproliferation agreement that was working in favor of a so-called “maximum pressure campaign.”

“President Trump has claimed that he doesn’t want war, but his bombastic rhetoric is ensuring that he walks into one. Threats of destruction, a la “fire and fury,” will not get him a deal with Iran, just as they haven’t with North Korea. Instead, if Trump is sincere about wanting diplomatic compromise, he should cease his policy of economic warfare that is strangling the Iranian people and pursue a tone of mutual respect with Tehran. Foremost, this would require him to fire John Bolton, who has made clear he opposes U.S.-Iran diplomacy in principle.”

Message from Representative Jayapal to NIAC’s Emerald Gala

NIAC Statement on Reports that Iran Will Halt Compliance with Aspects of Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 6, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to reports that Iran will halt its compliance with aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“We call on all parties to fully uphold their commitments under the nuclear accord and condemn any and all violations of this agreement that is so important to preventing war and the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran’s potential move risks playing into a dangerous tit for tat that leads to military confrontation. Despite the deterioration of the accord, the window for diplomacy can be reopened if all parties forgo escalation, uphold their commitments under the JCPOA, and seek equitable compromise.  

“These forthcoming steps do not occur in a vacuum. Donald Trump, spurred on by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, has been trying for months to shatter the nuclear deal. Now, he will own the consequences of Iran resuming aspects of its nuclear program that should be barred by the successful agreement that he inherited.

“Members of the Trump administration appear to be repeating the George W. Bush administration’s playbook for war with Iraqtying Iran to al-Qaeda, baselessly stating that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and politicizing intelligence assessments on Iran. Bolton has gone into overdrive in recent weeks to spur Iranian retaliation to justify his reckless aggressionincluding using the routine deployment of an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf to threaten “unrelenting force” against Iran.

“It is imperative that sober policymakers and commentators keep Iran’s actions in perspective, examine hyperbolic rhetoric with a critical eye, and remain cognizant of the consequences of further escalation.

“Meanwhile, the Iranian people are the primary victims of the Trump administration’s diplomatic sabotage. The reimposition of sanctions and unprecedented steps on oil exports are directly harming the Iranian people, who are now squeezed in a vice of oppressive sanctions and state repression under a growing threat of war.

“The choice to the U.S. is clear: return Iran to compliance with the nuclear deal by resuming sanctions-lifting obligations, or follow Trump and Bolton’s disastrous path to war. We hope all policymakers and 2020 candidates make clear that returning to the JCPOA is the only responsible choice.”

2019 NIAC Congressional Fellowship

NIAC is pleased to announce that it is revitalizing its Congressional Fellowship in honor of the late Ali Youssefi. Youssefi served as NIAC’s board chair in 2016-17 and was an outstanding philanthropist, brilliant developer, and an ardent supporter of the Iranian-American community who understood the value of public service and giving back. We hope that this new initiative will inspire the next generation of Iranian-American leaders to pursue a career in public service.

NIAC’s Congressional fellowship is designed to provide young Iranian Americans the opportunity to learn the legislative process and start a career in public service by working on Capitol Hill.

NIAC will award two Iranian Americans a fellowship to work in a Congressional office in Summer or Fall. Fellows will be awarded a stipend of $2,500 and receive support from NIAC staff to be placed in a Congressional office, and will be asked to write about their experience for publication on our website.

Rising college sophomores, juniors, seniors, recent graduates, and graduate students who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents of Iranian descent are eligible to apply. Responsibilities of the fellow will be determined by the Congressional office with which they are placed, though NIAC will arrange additional educational briefings and meetings for the fellow outside of their official duties.

The selection process is expected to be highly competitive; applicants are judged on the basis of their academic credentials, demonstrated interest and involvement in public service and the Iranian-American community and the ability to fulfill the needs and expectations of the Congressional office. A background in public policy, political science, economics, international affairs, or journalism is preferred.

Please note: the Summer application consists of two separate parts with different deadlines.

Part I: Due by May 22, 2019 11:59 pm EST [DEADLINE EXTENDED].

  • A completed application form (Form can be found here)
  • Two letters of recommendation, one academic, one from an employment supervisor
  • Resume
  • Cover letter
  • Current college transcript
  • 500-word essay addressing the following question: What are the two most important issues facing the Iranian-American community and how can public service contribute to a solution?

Part II (only to be completed by Fellows)

  • NIAC will help place fellows with selected Congressional offices. Fellowship finalists considered for placement will be expected to interview with Congressional offices to ensure a good match.
  • Fellowship start dates are ultimately determined by the matching Congressional office but it is presumed that students on the semester system will work from June 3 – August 1, 2019 and those on the quarter system will work from June 17 – August 16, 2019. Note that students on the quarter system are expected to remain on the Hill for the same length of time.

If you have questions on the application process, please contact us at fellowship@niacouncil.org.

Memo: A Snapshot of Visas and Waivers Over One Year of the Muslim Ban

Lack of information on the implementation of the Muslim Ban has served as one of the greatest impediments to challenging it. January 27, 2019 marked two years since the Muslim Ban first went into effect as Executive Order 13769. It was repackaged as Executive Order 13780, signed on March 6, 2017, and finally Presidential Proclamation 9645, issued on September 24, 2017. Last week, the State Department finally delivered statistics on the Muslim Ban to Senator Van Hollen thanks to his tireless efforts to seek answers. Below are some key findings based on the statistics released:

Iranians Only Granted Waivers in 1.6% of Cases

  • Between December 8, 2017 and October 31, 2018:
    • 19,163 Iranians rejected under ‘undue hardship’ or ‘national interest’ criteria.
    • 5,978 languished in administrative processing for the national security element of the waiver process.
    • Iranians represent 21,089 out of 31,304 total nonimmigrant visas and 8,545 out of 17,352 total immigrant visas subject to ban during this period.
    • Of those rejected for a waiver for failure to prove undue hardship or national interest criteria, Iranians represent 77% of rejections. 19,163 out of 24,584 total.
    • Only 413 met the conditions for a waiver. This is an abysmally low 1.6%.
    • In other words, for every one Iranian who qualified for a waiver, 46 were rejected.
    • Not all of those who qualified for a waiver received a visa. For every 71 applicants, only 1 Iranian was issued a visa.

Iranian Students Exempted But Still Impacted

  • All Iranian immigrant visa applicants were subject to the ban, however it makes an exception for Iranian nationals under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas. Out of 25,752 Iranian nonimmigrant visa applicants, 21,089 were subject to the Muslim Ban and 4,663 were exempted under F, M, and J visas.
  • However, State Department statistics that are released monthly show that only 2,160 F, M, and J visas were actually issued during this period. Numerous students who previously received visas were unable to renew them and complete their studies. For some perspective, in 2015, there were 4,944 F, M, and J visas issued to Iranian nationals according to the State Department’s annual statistics. This is an approximately 56% drop.

Numbers Reveal that the Ban is Still a Muslim Ban Despite the Addition of Venezuela and North Korea

  • Venezuela was added to Proclamation 9645 (Muslim Ban 3.0) in an embarrassingly transparent effort by the Trump administration to distract from the Islamophobic nature of the ban. However, the Venezuelan ban only applies to B-1/B-2 visas and only to officials of select government agencies such as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. Thus the addition of Venezuela was meaningless and the newly released numbers reflect as much:
    • Out of 3,093 Venezuelan immigrant visa applicants and 87,573 nonimmigrant visa applicants not a single one was subject to the ban.
  • Visas are suspended for all North Korean nationals but due to the nature of U.S.-North Korean relations this has only impacted 62 visa applicants compared to tens of thousands from other countries.

Memo on Trump Administration’s Decision to Name IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The Trump administration designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) is a dangerous and unprecedented escalatory move that could set the stage for a catastrophic conflict with Iran. It marks the first time a state-run military, one into which ordinary Iranians are often conscripted for mandatory military service, has been designated as an FTO.

Given the IRGC is already one of the most sanctioned entities on the planet, the designation achieves little in terms of economic restrictions or penalties for the IRGC. Instead, it needlessly puts U.S. servicemen and bases across the Middle East at risk, diminishes U.S. diplomatic and military connections in countries like Iraq and Syria, and further limits the potential for future diplomatic de-escalation with Iran. The Pentagon has long warned against the move, and the CIA voiced reservations about this decision.

There is no doubt that the IRGC engages in a wide range of activities that undermine regional security and repress the Iranian people. Yet, the IRGC has been a major beneficiary of broad sanctions on the Iranian economy and rising U.S.-Iran tensions.

Members of Congress should denounce this decision as a needlessly reckless move that serves no purpose other than to increase the risk of conflict in an already turbulent Middle East.

The following is an overview of the potential consequences of an IRGC FTO designation:

Risk to U.S. Servicemen and Bases

  • Designating the military wing of a foreign state an FTO is an unprecedented action that could subject U.S. troops to similar treatment from adversaries and risk withdrawing the legal protections that accompany them in theaters of war. This is one of the major reasons that the Department of Defense and retired military officers have been steadfastly opposed to designating the IRGC an FTO.
  • Designating the IRGC an FTO risks retaliation against American troops in Iraq and Syria, where such troops are in close proximity to the IRGC or its partner militias. Both the Pentagon and the CIA have reportedly warned about the severe consequences to U.S. troops and broader U.S. interests in the Middle East that could accompany this designation.
  • Iranian officials and military commanders have stated than they would reciprocate an IRGC FTO designation with a similar designation against the U.S. military. Over 250 Iranian members of parliament have signed a statement calling for such a reciprocal action, while the head of the IRGC has also vowed a tit-for-tat response and said that U.S. forces in the region will “lose their current status of ease and serenity.”
  • While the U.S. military and the IRGC were on opposite sides in Iraq for years after the 2003 U.S. invasion, the counter-ISIS campaign saw them fight a common enemy. The IRGC was at the center of Iranian efforts to roll back ISIS in Iraq, with U.S. forces operating in close proximity in coordination with the Iraqi army. The fact that the Trump administration has now pocketed Iran’s assistance and turned around and designated the IRGC an FTO will not be forgotten when it comes to deconfliction in future conflicts.

 

Negligible Economic Penalty

  • The legal effect of designating the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization is negligible. The sanctions consequences of an FTO designation are entirely duplicative of existing U.S. sanctions authorities. The IRGC is designated under multiple U.S. sanctions programs, many of which have much more substantial force than an FTO designation. For this reason, designating the IRGC an FTO has nothing to do with exerting more pressure on Iran.
  • Because an FTO designation does not have any additional legal consequences for the IRGC, the intended purpose of this action appears to be to foment a military conflict with Iran. The Trump administration is taking this action not in spite of the risks of a new war in the Middle East but precisely because it embraces those risks and hopes to see them through to fruition.  

Limiting U.S. Diplomatic Options

  • Designating the IRGC an FTO dramatically escalates U.S.-Iran tensions and further negates the possibility for successful diplomacy between the two countries, whether over regional crises, detained Americans in Iran or Iranian nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
  • The Trump administration is seeking to constrain a future President from being able to return the United States to compliance with the JCPOA.  Designating the IRGC is further evidence of this intent. Even if the FTO designation does not lead to an outbreak of conflict with Iran, the Trump administration believes that the designation will deter foreign investment in Iran and will be politically difficult to undo. This move is thus intended to undermine a future President’s efforts to re-enter the JCPOA and comply with U.S. obligations thereto.       
  • The designation also limits U.S. diplomatic and military options across the region in countries where the IRGC has influence, especially in Iraq and Lebanon. In these countries, U.S. military and diplomatic personnel may be prevented from contact with senior Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who have contact with the IRGC. According to reports, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have raised concerns about this impact of the designation in reducing U.S. regional influence.

NIAC Urges Treasury to Remove Impediments to Iran Flood Relief Aid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON D.C. — NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement on the need for the Treasury Department to take steps to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts for victims of Iranian flooding is not impeded by U.S. sanctions:

“Amid disastrous flooding that has devastated tens of thousands in Iran, we urge the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to take clear steps to ensure that sanctions no longer block assistance to victims of Iranian flooding in their hour of need.

“Over the past two weeks, devastating floods have struck large parts of Iran, killing at least 45 people, displacing tens of thousands, and cutting off many areas of the country from relief efforts. It is clear that many Iranians need assistance right now, and that recovery will take a tremendous amount of time.

“However, amid the massive scale of the unfolding crisis, reports indicate that U.S. sanctions are impeding the flow of relief to the Iranian Red Crescent. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘challenges caused by unilateral sanctions will affect the UN response and the accountability of UN to deliver the appropriate support.’

“The announcement that the U.S. is ready to assist the Iranian Red Crescent in overcoming sanctions complications and contribute to relief efforts is a welcome step that should be followed through on. While criticism of the Iranian government’s handling of these issues is warranted, right now is the time to ensure humanitarian relief is not blocked by US sanctions – not score political points at the expense of the Iranian people.

“If the administration is serious about addressing the crisis, there are several additional steps that the Treasury Department should take, including a public clarification or “comfort letter” indicating that all humanitarian relief efforts and associated services connected to the ongoing floods will be exempt from U.S. sanctions. Furthermore, OFAC should expand the scope of its current humanitarian licenses to allow U.S. persons to donate directly to Iranian non-government organizations engaged in relief efforts related to the ongoing flooding. Finally, OFAC should take steps to license financial institutions to engage in humanitarian transactions with Iranian banks.

“It is imperative that the United States demonstrate that it stands with the Iranian people at this critical time, especially given that this natural disaster comes in the backdrop of crushing U.S. sanctions. Failure to take steps to respond risks both impeding relief efforts on the ground and giving the impression that the U.S. will seek to exploit the tragedy afflicting the Iranian people to further its own geopolitical goals.”

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