NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

Family Members of Iranian Activist Detained

Last week, Amnesty International reported that Iranian authorities arrested three members of a prominent Iranian activist and U.S. resident, Masih Alinejad, who is best known for her activism against compulsory hijab in Iran. Alienjad is also known for establishing “My Stealthy Freedom” an online platform for Iranian women to share photos of themselves without hijab. Those detained include her brother and the brother and sister of Max Lofti, Alinejad’s ex-husband. Lotfi’s brother, Hadi, was reportedly released 24 hours after being detained. However, Lofti’s sister, Leila, and Alinejad’s brother, Alireza, have yet to be accounted for. Before being arrested, Ali Alinejad made a video for his sister explaining the increased pressure on their family, especially on their parents to speak out against her activities. 

 

The Iranian authorities’ detention of Masih Alinejad’s family underscores an all too common phenomenon of the Iranian government taking aim at activists’ families inside the country in order to silence individuals championing civil rights, both inside Iran and abroad. Alinejad is a vocal Iranian women’s rights activist and has afforded Iranian women space to join a social movement that simply calls for freedom of dress.

 

NIAC calls on the Iranian government to immediately halt its untenable practice of targeting the family members of Iranian activists advocating for improved human and civil rights inside the country. The interrogation and harassment of activists’ families is an intimidation tactic used by authorities to frighten and dissuade Iranians, like Masih Alinejad, from voicing their opposition against repression. The Iranian authorities must immediately release Alinejad’s remaining family members. Additionally, we call on Iran to respect the international human rights covenants to which it is signatory and allow for free expression—including the right to express dissent without fear of reprisals.

NIAC Statement on Rouhani’s Speech at the UN General Assembly

Washington DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In his remarks, Rouhani emphasized the rising tensions across the Middle East and underscored that negotiations with the United States could not move forward until sanctions are lifted.

In response, NIAC’s Senior Research Analyst Sina Toossi issued the following statement:

“Both President Trump and Iranian President Rouhani engaged in ritualistic grandstanding and rhetoric against each other’s countries at the UN. However, both also kept the window for diplomacy open, even as they couched their overtures in bombast. Trump proclaimed yesterday that he is ready to “embrace friendship” with those who seek peace, and both leaders have made clear they don’t have an appetite for war. 


“While Trump seeks a photo-op with Rouhani, confidence and trust must first be built to restore lost U.S. credibility with the parties to the nuclear deal. Rouhani gave Trump a face-saving way to abide by the accord’s framework, without formally returning to the deal. The path to negotiations and durable U.S.-Iran peace exists, but requires each side to leave the escalation cycle and for the U.S. to ease sanctions to jumpstart dialogue.”

 

NIAC Calls for Treasury to Protect Iranian Americans from Bank Account Closures

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Re:      Request for Rulemaking—Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

            31 C.F.R. Parts 501 and 560

Dear Ms. Gacki:

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”)—the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans—respectfully petitions the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the issuance of a rule providing license authorization for certain transactions prohibited pursuant to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. This request is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 555(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 501.804(b), the latter of which is applicable to the ITSR by virtue of 31 C.F.R. § 560.101.

NIAC requests that OFAC promulgate a rule providing license authorization for U.S. persons to operate accounts of persons in Iran consistent with license authorizations that have been promulgated with respect to other U.S.-embargoed countries and jurisdictions, including, for instance, Syria and the Crimea region of Ukraine. We believe that such a license authorization will help resolve a problem that has become endemic to the Iranian-American community—namely, the difficulties Iranian Americans have had opening and maintaining bank accounts at U.S. financial institutions. 

Over the past few years, NIAC has heard from countless Iranian-American citizens and Iranian nationals in the United States who have faced continuous harassing inquiries from their banking institutions regarding their legal status and physical presence in the United States and have had their banking accounts shuttered and their life savings mailed back to them via the postal service. Such actions cause tremendous disruptions in the lives of U.S. citizens and Iranian nationals present in the United States, impacting their finances and very well-being, for no reason other than their Iranian heritage. Some individuals who have had their bank accounts shuttered have never even traveled to Iran. 

Banks have justified their behavior with near-unanimous resort to the requirements of U.S. law under the ITSR, including, for instance, the prohibition on the provision of financial services to Iran. While NIAC has repeatedly pointed out to U.S. financial institutions that the ITSR does not require them to deny financial services to Iranian Americans who are neither ordinarily resident nor physically present in Iran, this has not mitigated banks’ practices. U.S. banks have made a ‘risk-based decision’ based on U.S. sanctions under which servicing the accounts of Iranian Americans is not worth the risk inherent in falling afoul of the law.  

We believe that it is OFAC’s responsibility to remedy this situation. We are herein proposing that OFAC adopt a rule similar in scope of that found in the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 542, or the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589. For instance, § 542.515 of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations authorizes the operation of accounts in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than a blocked individual, provided that transactions processed through the account (1) are of a personal nature; (2) do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless otherwise authorized; and (3) are not otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. We believe that such a general license authorization can mitigate the risk that U.S. banks believe to be associated with handling the accounts of Iranian Americans.  

We also believe that this proposed license authorization is an important starting point with which OFAC may consider a remedy to this ongoing problem. NIAC welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with OFAC regarding the best path forward to ensuring that Iranian Americans are not unduly harmed by the U.S.’s trade embargo with Iran. Being unable to procure basic banking services in the United States—a country in which Iranian Americans live (and for some, have only lived)—is understandably an issue of immediate concern, and we trust that OFAC will dedicate the necessary resources to working towards an imminent solution.   

As part of this request for rulemaking, NIAC also intends to provide supplementary materials to OFAC to underline the immediate nature of the problem and to provide additional proposals to resolve the issue. This may include testimony for members of the Iranian-American community who have been especially affected by the practices of U.S. banking institutions. NIAC is also prepared to respond to any inquiries or requests for clarification that OFAC may have regarding this matter.

We thank OFAC ahead of time for its consideration of this issue, and we look forward to being in touch with the agency regarding a mutually satisfactory path forward.  

Sincerely,  

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

Digital Marketing & Communications Specialist

Washington, DC
Full Time, Exempt

The Digital Marketing & Communications Specialist (“Digital Specialist”) is responsible for leading and managing NIAC’s digital communications and marketing presence, including its website, social media, videos, graphics, and other online and printed materials. The Digital Specialist ensures that all digital content is created and executed in line with the organizations’ brand and that it is then evaluated for effectiveness. S/he works with the Communications Director and senior leadership to devise and implement NIAC’s overarching communications, marketing, and brand strategy. The Digital Specialist reports to the Communications Director. Specific responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

Visibility and Brand

  1. Work with the Communications Director to strengthen NIAC’s brand, boost visibility, advance its mission, and build its digital base.
  2. Manage NIAC’s web and social media presence, including the website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Medium accounts, with the aim of boosting engagement.
  3. Design NIAC’s updated visual brand and ensure it is implemented across all marketing collateral (e.g. event flyers, email design, event invitations).
  4. Ensure that all digital materials adhere to NIAC’s brand and image and fits into the organization’s overarching communications and brand strategy.

Digital Content

  1. Design, create, and send out NIAC’s weekly newsletter and Iran Unfiltered digest.
  2. Design NIAC’s digital and printed marketing content, including graphics, videos, layouts for marketing materials, standalone landing pages, and more.
  3. Design and coordinate emails in consultation with appropriate department using EveryAction.
  4. Publish and disseminate NIAC’s content on the website and social media accounts, utilizing best practices to maximize distribution, reach, and engagement.
  5. Manage, or assist the Communications Director in managing, all major communications projects, such as landing pages and videos.

Digital Marketing

  1. Work with outside consultants to create and manage NIAC’s Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube digital advertising campaigns, including by drafting ad copy and graphics and targeting appropriate audience segments.
  2. Track, analyze, and report on the effectiveness of NIAC’s online engagement campaigns, with the aim of boosting engagement and conversions, assisting in digital fundraising campaigns, and optimizing lead generation.
  3. Devise and execute digital and social media strategies for campaigns and organizational events, including fundraisers, advocacy efforts, social events, and conferences.
  4. Support Communications Director in monitoring communications challenges and opportunities, taking the initiative and working with the relevant departments to address these as needed.

General Support

  1. Oversee communications interns.
  2. Provide media relations assistance to the Communications Director as needed, including by assisting in routing reporters and press inquiries.

Desired Experience:

  • Four plus years of digital communications and marketing experience.
  • Undergraduate degree. Marketing, communications, English, journalism, political science, international relations, or a related field preferred.
  • Experience with HTML, Google Analytics, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, WordPress, and Mailchimp
  • Familiarity with CRM platforms like EveryAction preferred.
  • Familiarity with Digital Advertising platforms, such as Google AdWords and Facebook
  • Experience with graphic design and multimedia production, including video, strongly preferred.
  • Experience with digital advocacy campaigns preferred
  • Familiarity with NIAC’s mission, the political landscape, and the Iranian-American community preferred
  • Persian language knowledge a plus

Qualities that will thrive in this position:

  • Strong self-starter, entrepreneurial, creative; eager to present new, bold ideas and solutions
  • Willing to do what it takes to get a high quality, polished project done; low ego, high focus on quality, open to honest feedback and collaboration
  • Hard worker, can do flexible hours and manage his/her time independently; understands that changing the nature of U.S-Iran relations and strengthening Iranian Americans’ voice doesn’t always happen between 9 and 5
  • Strong attention to detail, while being able to think strategically and understand the larger vision
  • Works effectively independently and in a team environment
  • Self-motivated, enthusiastic, and creative
  • Ability to manage multiple daily deadlines and multiple assignments
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills
  • Ability to lead, influence, and work across departments

To Apply: Interested candidates should send a cover letter with salary requirements and resume to Nicole Ataei at nataei@niacouncil.org with the subject line “Digital Marketing & Communications Specialist.”

Salary & Benefits
Salary is commensurate with experience. Fortune 100-style benefits include:

  • Generous health, dental, vision, long-term disability, and life insurance plans
  • 15 days of annual paid leave and 12 paid holidays
  • 401k with 2% company match
  • Additional benefits through TotalSource benefits partner include: training opportunities, corporate discounts, and Employee Assistance Program

About NIAC
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. We accomplish our mission through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building.

We are the 501(c)3 sister organization of NIAC Action, the grassroots, civic action organization committed to building political power for the Iranian-American community to advance peace and diplomacy with Iran, secure equitable immigration policies, and protect the civil rights of all Americans.

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