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NIAC Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest Sanctions on Iran

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

In response to the Trump administration’s announcement of new sanctions on Iran for its alleged role in attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Ryan Costello, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“President Trump’s recent sanctions designations appear duplicative at first glance, but in fact will likely eviscerate humanitarian trade with Iran that had already been sharply reduced following the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) had continued to play a major role in existing humanitarian trade with Iran, despite its prior designation, due to preexisting exemptions set down by Congress and the prior administration. 

“The new terrorism authorities (EO 13224) that the Central Bank of Iran has been designated under contains no similar exemption, nor has the Trump administration updated its guidance to add a new exemption. In fact, the Treasury guidance hints at this potential complication by noting that the U.S. ‘will continue to consider requests related to humanitarian trade with Iran as appropriate.’ Such actions were previously exempted by general license.

“The end result of this shift in policy – whether out of criminal negligence or willful vindictiveness – is likely to be pain for the Iranian people in the form of more medicine shortages for drugs produced in the West and sharply rising prices for food. 

“Congress and prior administrations understood the importance, and basic humanity, of exempting humanitarian goods from sanctions. The Trump administration has never updated its guidance related to humanitarian trade, creating a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and now appears to have deliberately removed one of the pillars allowing further humanitarian trade with the Iranian people. If the Trump administration does not immediately reverse its decision, Congress needs to legislate an exemption with haste. 

“After the crisis triggered by attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the President should be doing everything he can to undo his senseless actions that once again brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Instead, he is building a sanctions wall designed to lock both the Trump administration and a potential future administration into a playbook for war. There is no bigger loser of this policy than the Iranian people, who are crushed between their own government’s repression and inhumane sanctions that will now deliberately target humanitarian trade. This latest move – which could be illegal under international law – should be a wake-up call to all in the United States who claim support for the Iranian people. You can’t support maximum pressure and the Iranian people at the same time. It’s imperative that this dangerous step be reversed before the full impact is felt.”

NIAC’s Statement on President Trump’s Tweet Concerning Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

WASHINGTON DC – Today, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States was “locked and loaded” for a response after senior administration officials said Iran was to blame for an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, for which Yemen’s Houthi group had earlier claimed responsibility.

In response to these developments and President Trump’s latest comments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“If Trump fails to heed his anti-interventionist instincts and listens to the warmongers surrounding him, the U.S. risks triggering a regional war more catastrophic than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cooler heads must prevail and invest seriously in deescalatory measures to stabilize the whole region.

“Even before the facts have become clear, President Trump tweeted that he is prepared to launch military strikes pending Saudi verification of the perpetrators. The U.S. is not obligated to fight Saudi Arabia’s wars  and we urge Trump to discard his repeated willingness to cede U.S. policy to other nations and instead fulfill his self-professed aim to put America’s interests first.

“We do not know definitively who was behind the attacks, though Houthi forces in Yemen have been at war with the Saudi coalition since 2015 and have claimed responsibility for them. Iran has a motive, given the economic warfare being waged against it, but there is no smoking gun to implicate them. Those jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence seem eager to embroil the U.S. in another war that does not serve our interests.  

“Congress has not authorized war, nor has the U.N. greenlit any military action in response. As the region’s tensions near the boiling point, hot rhetoric can lead to miscalculation and must be avoided at all costs. There is a skeleton of a deal in place if Trump sets aside the strategy for war left behind by John Bolton and kept warm by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The international community would offer economic relief in exchange for Iranian restraint, with an agreement for further negotiations. The status quo of escalation can not hold—Trump must choose peace over war.”

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

NIAC Congratulates Trump for Firing Bolton

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Just now, reports broke that President Donald Trump dismissed John Bolton from his role as National Security Advisor.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi released the following statement:

“We congratulate President Donald Trump on what may become the best decision of his Presidency. This single move dramatically reduces the chances of a new, catastrophic war in the Middle East. We have long said that the key first step in resolving the crisis with Iran was for Trump to fire Bolton. So long as Bolton was in the administration, he would always be the fox in the henhouse working to sabotage diplomacy.

“John Bolton should have never been in the White House to begin with and nearly took this country into the disastrous war with Iran that he has long dreamed of. Bolton came into Trump’s administration with a long agenda on Iran to kill the nuclear deal, start a disastrous war, and empower radical undemocratic groups like the MEK. Now the work can finally begin to put out the fires that Bolton started.

“The timing of this move is fortuitous given recent French efforts to facilitate dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. Bolton was a major obstacle to any resumption of diplomacy and, now that he has been dismissed, the Trump Administration should take proactive steps to enable dialogue and a diplomatic resolution with Iran. As with Bolton’s time in office, the time has come to dispense with the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and halt necessary sanctions to enable talks to move forward.

“If Trump prefers to be a dealmaker rather than a war-starter, his Administration and National Security Advisor must reflect this. We hope the White House will find someone to succeed Bolton who aims to resolve challenges through diplomacy rather than endless wars.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Intent to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran would reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this Friday. This is the third time Iran has taken such steps since the Trump Administration abrogated the agreement last year. The latest declaration comes ahead of the deadline set by Iran for Europe to uphold sanctions lifting obligations in exchange for Iran’s continued compliance with the nuclear accord. 

Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for returning to full compliance with the deal. The proposal includes a $15 billion credit line to offset oil revenue lost under U.S. sanctions, but its payout requires a commitment from the U.S. not to block the funds.

In response to these latest developments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement: 

“Iran’s announcement is a predictable consequence of the Trump administration seemingly closing off every opportunity to resolve the Iran standoff diplomatically. A U.S. failure to pivot from maximum pressure to the diplomatic opportunities initiated by France and other American allies ensures a continued cycle of escalation that could quickly spin out of control.

“Iran’s decision to stop abiding by further JCPOA restrictions risks playing into the escalation trap set by John Bolton and other diplomatic spoilers. While France and other mediators have sought to mitigate U.S.-Iran tensions and safeguard the JCPOA, Bolton and other administration hawks are furiously attempting to fuel the flames of hostility.

“Importantly, Iran’s actions on the JCPOA are reversible and it has indicated its readiness to return to full compliance with the deal if parties to the accord provide Iran with sanctions relief. The current French proposal to establish a $15 billion credit line for Iran stands to achieve this, but only if President Trump allows it to materialize. 

“The ball is in the President’s court. He has the option to de-escalate the dangerous tensions with Iran and move the two countries off the path to war. But only if he shifts away from counterproductive “maximum pressure” and towards practical actions that build the confidence necessary for successful diplomacy.”

NIAC Congratulates Sharif University Students on 2019 AIAA Win

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 29, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding travel and sanctions restrictions placed on Iranian students from Sharif University of Technology, who won the engine design competition at the 2019 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum:

“We would like to commend the group of Sharif students who defied the odds to win an engine design competition at a prestigious AIAA forum, as well as to extend our apologies on behalf of our elected government for the ridiculous and offensive hurdles placed in these students’ way.

“This group of engineering students from Sharif University entered the AIAA competition only to have their entry into the U.S. denied due to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban that denies visas for all Iranians with few, apparently arbitrary, exceptions. Undeterred, the group participated by video conference and managed to win the competition only to learn that they could not receive the cash prize for their program due to U.S. sanctions.

“These students are among Iran’s best and brightest, and U.S. policies should seek to empower them and allow humanity to benefit from their ingenuity. However, instead of celebrating their successes, these extraordinary students have been met with hurdles and indignities. This is a microcosm of the self-defeating and nonsensical treatment of Iranians by U.S. government policies. The Iranian people already have to deal with their own government’s deplorable human rights record, corruption, and other failings. Unfortunately, our American government often chooses to makes the situation worse. 

“NIAC reiterates its condemnation of the Trump administration’s unjust and xenophobic Muslim ban and the broad sanctions policies that are punishing ordinary Iranians. NIAC calls for an end to these destructive measures and for a U.S. approach towards Iran that prioritizes peace and engagement. We will continue our work to press for change and remain determined to remove barriers and instead build bridges between the American and Iranian people.”

Iranian Activists Calling for Khamenei’s Resignation Arrested

The General Intelligence Department of Mashhad and Khorasan province has announced the arrest of 12 people who wrote a letter calling for Ayatollah Khamenei’s resignation. The department claimed their arrests had nothing to do with their call for Khamenei’s resignation. It alleged they had connections with foreign forces and sought to topple the Iranian government. 

The letter was released in early June and was signed by civil society activists. The relatives of the arrested signatories of the letter say they were pressured by authorities because of the letter. 

Some of the signatories of the letter were arrested after they staged a protest in Mashhad on August 11th. They were protesting in support of Kamal Jafari, an Iran-Iraq War veteran who was one of the signatories of the letter and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His charges included “insulting the Supreme Leader.” The protests were forcefully dispersed as authorities and protestors clashed.  

Similar calls for Khamenei’s resignation have come from other Iranian activists, intellectuals and artists. In August, 14 women issued a different letter calling for the Supreme Leader to step down, grabbing the attention of many Iranians on social media. These women demanded not only a change in leadership, but also a fundamental shift in gender equality and women’s rights.

Though criticism of Khamenei in such an open fashion risks arrest and imprisonment, these activists have shown courage and a steadfast attitude toward the state of affairs in Iran. Rightfully believing that dissent is a right and duty of a citizen, these protestors are boldly challenging the status quo and the fixed position of the Supreme Leader. 

Muslim Ban Statistics Show Continued Discriminatory Impact

For 2.5 years, the Muslim Ban has succeeded in separating American families and making the country less inclusive. Thanks to an amendment from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 requires the Trump administration to provide a detailed report every 90 days until September 30, 2019 regarding the implementation of the ban. Below are some of the most relevant findings of the first report, which was issued in June. New data is due to be reported again this month.

While the ban is no longer being implemented in front of TV cameras at airports across the country, the data shows that its impact is still extensive – particularly on Iranian nationals. Between December 8, 2017 and March 31, 2019, there were only 1,607 nonimmigrant visas issued to Iranian nationals compared to 18,571 denials under the ban.1 During that same period, 227 immigrant visas were issued to Iranian nationals contrasted to 9,819 denials due to the ban.2

Waivers Remain Low & Visa Refusals Remain High

An alien subject to the Muslim Ban may apply for a waiver but the burden of proof is on the individual to establish that they are eligible for a visa and a waiver. There is no separate application for a waiver — the evidence presented during the consular interview process is what is considered during the waiver determination. Consular officers have wide discretion to make a waiver determination based on three criteria:

    • (A) denying entry would cause the foreign national undue hardship;
    • (B) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States; and
    • (C) entry would be in the national interest.

Based on the data provided, the waiver process continues to be a sham. Waivers are issued irregularly and in such small numbers seemingly to uphold appearances that this is not a blanket ban fulfilling a bigoted campaign promise.

  • The overall waiver rate for all impacted nationalities as of March 31, 2019 is just 5.1%, according to calculations from the State Department.3
  • Between December 8, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2018, there were 413 waivers to Iranian nationals resulting in 269 visa issuances (immigrant & nonimmigrant).4 According to the latest data, which adds in additional details through the first three months of 2019, 279 nonimmigrant visas and 161 immigrant visa had been issued to Iranian nationals, for a total of 440 waivers dating back to December 8, 2017.5
  • Contrast those paltry waiver numbers to the 28,390 immigrant Iranian visas refused, and the totals continue to be staggering. For every 64 Iranian nationals subject to the ban who have failed to secure a visa, only one is lucky enough to secure a waiver.
  • Many spouses continue to be kept apart as a result of Trump’s ban, a particularly cruel dynamic where each is forced to put their love and lives on hold. Through March 2019, there were only 19 approvals for spousal visas (CR1/IR1) issued to Iranian nationals contrasted to 644 denials.6 That is approximately a 2.9% approval rate for Iranian nationals married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. 
  • Cumulatively, the number of Iranian nationals not subject to the ban who were issued visas over the lifetime of PP 9645 was 2,792, with 125 issuances in February and March. The majority of these were students on F1 or F2 visas. While the approval rate is higher than those subject to the ban, there were still 3,032 Iranian nationals refused dating back to December 8, 2017.7

Muslim Ban Deters Visa Applicants

Without a doubt, a major goal of the Trump administration appears to be to deter individuals from Muslim-majority nations from applying for visas to the United States, which fits the “white nationalist” goals attributed to the President and his allies. Over the course of the ban, the data indicates that far fewer individuals from nations subject to the ban are now applying for visas.

  • In the first three months of 2018, an average of 4,311 Iranian nationals applied for nonimmigrant visas subject to the Muslim ban per month. However, in the first three months of 2019, the average fell to just 558 per month.8
  • The average application rate for B1/B2 visitor visas to the U.S. from countries impacted by the Muslim Ban have fallen over the last year:
    • 3,397 per month for the first six months of 2018;
    • 1,124 per month for the last six months of 2018;
    • 1,068 per month for the first three months of 2019.9

Iranians Still Most Impacted Group, Discriminatory Intent Not in Doubt

Iranians continue to be the most-heavily impacted group by the ban, accounting for 23,495 out of 36,783 nonimmigrant visa applicants subject to the ban and 10,441 out of 23,492 immigrant visa applicants dating back to December 8, 2017. Cumulatively, that is 33,936/69,275 visa applicants subject to the ban. To put it another way, nearly half of all those impacted by the ban are Iranian nationals.
 
While two non-Muslim countries were added to the list of targets of Presidential Proclamation 9645, Venezuela and North Korea, these appear to have been added solely to make the argument that it is not a “Muslim ban.” Zero Venezuelans have been subject to the proclamation, while only 79 North Koreans have attempted to apply for a visa, with 57 North Korean nationals being approved. Contrast the lack of impact of these non-Muslim majority nations to the tens of thousands subject to the ban from Muslim-majority nations. This remains a Muslim ban, as envisioned and in practice.

1 See Table II (a), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

2  See Table II (c), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

3 Administration calculation. See Page 3, https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

4  See State Department Correspondence from Feb. 22, Table 1F & 1G, https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/State%20Dept%20Response%20to%20Oct%20Muslim%20Ban%20Letter.pdf.

5 Table III (a) & Table III (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

6  See Table II (c), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

7 See Table II (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf.

8 See Table I (b), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

9 See Table I (a), https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Van_Hollen_Proclamation_9645.pdf

NIAC Statement on the Trump Admin’s “Public Charge” Regulation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 12, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Today, the Trump administration announced that it will penalize legal immigrants relying on programs such as food stamps and government-subsidized housing in its latest attempt to reduce legal immigration into the US.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“NIAC is deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s public charge rule change, which is yet another step from this administration designed to target immigrant communities in pursuit of its discriminatory, white nationalist goals. This administration’s hostility toward immigrants began with the Muslim ban, which is still in force, and continued with its disgraceful raids and family separation. Unfortunately, Trump has not yet been sufficiently reined in by the courts or Congress, to the detriment of our nation. Bolder action is needed to stop this administration from continuing to implement its radical immigration agenda.”

NIAC previously drafted an FAQ and invited its members to oppose the public rule change in 2018.

NIAC Statement on the Imposition of U.S. Sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

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

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was imposing sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The sanctions were imposed on Zarif, according to the Treasury, because he has acted on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader. The move comes after reports earlier this month that Trump had instructed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on the Iranian diplomat, before reversing his decision.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“Again, President Trump has chosen an action to push Iran away from the negotiating table, isolate America on the world stage, and take diplomatic options off the table. If Trump was serious about negotiating with Iran, he would appoint a credible envoy and direct them to negotiate with Iranian diplomats rather than subjecting them to a ridiculous sanctions designation. Instead, Trump is ensuring that there will be no serious negotiations with Iran during his tenure. Once again, without a clear line to Zarif or any other Iranian officials to de-escalate tensions, the next crisis that the U.S. or Iran precipitates will once again risk war.

“Regardless of any personal animosities Trump’s team felt toward Zarif, dealing with him has served U.S. interests on several occasions. Zarif assisted the U.S. in forming a government in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion, credibly hammered out a nuclear accord with former Secretary of State John Kerry, and was pivotal in both freeing American sailors who strayed into Iranian waters and the prisoner swap that freed unjustly detained Americans in 2016. All the while, Zarif represented Iran’s interests and was able to convince the Supreme Leader and other Iranian officials to buy into the more moderate approach represented by the Rouhani administration. His sanctioning now by Trump plays into the hands of Iranian hardliners and forces on all sides that want to entrench U.S.-Iran hostilities.

“It is without a doubt that Zarif has deflected from the regime’s human rights abuses and other Iranian actions to escalate around the region. Yet, if that were a credible standard for imposing sanctions, the U.S. should also designate top diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and countless other nations around the world.  

“The timing of this move, coming after Sen. Rand Paul reportedly was dispatched to meet with Zarif on behalf of Trump, underscores that hawks like John Bolton are trying to box in the administration and eliminate diplomatic off-ramps. Trump can’t simultaneously hold out the option of credible negotiations while implementing the path to war plotted by John Bolton. Only yesterday did we publish a letter in conjunction with prominent foreign policy practitioners outlining pragmatic steps that the U.S. and Iran can take to deescalate this crisis. The time is running out for Trump to shift tracks, lest he be locked into the inevitable result of his failing maximum pressure strategy leading to a disastrous war.”

Coalition of Foreign Policy Experts Outline 8 Recommendations to Deescalate Tensions with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 30, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, an expert group of foreign policy practitioners published a letter underscoring the dangerous new phase that has put the U.S and Iran on the path toward war. The signatories include prominent academics, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Andrew Bacevich; foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal; former Member of Congress John F. Tierney;  former ambassadors and diplomats, such as Thomas Pickering, François Nicoullaud, and Peter Jenkins; national security expert Edward Price; and Iran experts such as Jamal Abdi, Dina Esfandiary, and Farideh Farhi.

The letter outlines a series of eight bold but practical recommendations to the U.S., Iran, and Europe that could widen the path to diplomacy that has narrowed considerably since the U.S. initiated a tit-for-tat ratcheting up of tensions with Iran. 

The signers urge the U.S. to suspend recent sanctions to provide space for deescalation and Iran to return to full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal. After these initial trust-building steps, the signers recommend further negotiations aimed at a prisoner swap and an Incidents at Sea agreement to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf. 

The full text of the letter and signatories is below and can be found on the web here.

Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

July 30, 2019

As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.

The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy

  • The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

  • Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap

  • Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.

Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations

  • Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels 

  • The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel with Iran to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high. 

The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy

  • To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

  • The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

  • Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.

Signatories: 

Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame

Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation

John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners,  a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985) 

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs -Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University.

Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel.

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council

John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell