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NIAC Petitions U.S. Treasury for General License Update to Support Iranians’ Access to Internet

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

Washington DC – As the Iranian government implements a near total shutdown of the internet in the midst of a crackdown against widespread protests, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) called on the U.S. Treasury Department to take necessary steps to ensure U.S. sanctions are not contributing to the Iranian government’s ability to disconnect Iranians. Iranian Americans have been unable to communicate with family members during the shutdown and the isolation of Iran due to certain sanctions has unfortunately contributed to the Iranian government’s ability to separate its population from the rest of the world. 

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement further explaining the rule range request: 

“NIAC is petitioning the Treasury Department for a formal rule change request to expand General License D-1, which has not been updated in more than five years. Over the past several months, Apple, Amazon, Google and many other tech companies have begun blocking Iranians from accessing key software and services as a result of limitations and ambiguities in General License D-1 and escalating U.S. sanctions on Iran. 

“This has forced Iranian developers to rely on Iran’s state-operated internal Internet, which has aided the Iranian government in building this infrastructure and reduced the costs of cutting off outside connections. This also undermines Iranian developers’ ability to work with the global developer community and makes it far more difficult for ordinary Iranians to access and operate virtual private networks and other important communication tools that allow them to communicate freely in spite of government censorship.

“Unfortunately, while General License D-1 was a welcome step to reduce the consequences of sanctions on Internet communications when it was first implemented in 2014, it is in need of clarification and expansion. As indicated by tech companies blocking Iranians from accessing their services, the exemptions contained in General License D-1 have not kept up with the pace of technology or the increasingly complex sanctions regime.

“NIAC strongly supported General License D-1 and has advocated in support of measures to prevent censorship technology from being acquired by Iran’s government and to ensure Iranians have access to communication technology. The formal rule change request is included below, and we look forward to working for its timely adoption.”

NIAC Statement on Protests across Iran over Gas Price Hike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Saturday, November 16, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Yesterday, protests erupted across Iran as the government announced an unexpected increase in and rationing of gasoline. Reports suggest that authorities have violently cracked down on the protests. 

In response to these developments, NIAC Senior Research Analyst Sina Toossi issued the following statement:

“NIAC is closely tracking reports of protests in many Iranian cities after the government announced an increase in the price of gasoline. NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s use of force used to disperse protestors, as seen in videos showing the deployment of riot police and tear gas in parts of Iran, as well as efforts to stifle communication by limiting internet access. The Iranian people have an inalienable right to peacefully demonstrate and express their economic and political grievances. The Iranian government denies them this right at its own peril.

“Ordinary Iranians have borne immense economic hardship due to government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. Importantly, the Iranian political system is not monolithic and there are signs that more hardline elements seek to capitalize on public grievances to advance their own narrow aims. Rather than empower the Iranian people, the Trump administration’s fixation on ‘maximum pressure’ has served to embolden such forces. 

“The international community must push the Iranian government to abide by its human rights obligations, allow the Iranian people to peaceful demonstrate and air their grievances, and hold repressive forces to account for abuses. The protests are also occurring in the broader context of protests across the world and in the Middle East, as a consequence of government mismanagement and objections to price hikes on everyday commodities that hurt ordinary people. Under no circumstances should any government stifle the will of its people, and Iran arguably has a greater chasm of mistrust than most.

“NIAC also reiterates its call on the U.S. to end its policy of collectively punishing sanctions, which serve to impoverish ordinary Iranians and undermine hopes for democratic change. Starving the Iranian population only creates a destructive situation that eliminates avenues for the vital diplomacy necessary to secure a brighter future for the Iranian people.”

NIAC Statement on Reports that Officers Responsible for Fatal Shooting of Iranian-American Will Not Face Charges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, November 15, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – Today, news broke that the Justice Department will not seek federal criminal civil rights charges against the two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot Iranian-American Bijan Ghaisar two years ago. In response, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The outrage of the killing of Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers demands answers and justice. Instead, the U.S. Justice Department dragged its feet, prolonged the agony of Bijan’s family, and ultimately shielded those officers from any charges for killing an unarmed young man. This is a travesty, and our hearts go out to the Ghaisar family, which has been denied justice and accountability after more than two years of mourning.

“Unfortunately, police violence against communities of color is all too common in this country, as is the failure to hold accountable officers of the law who gun down innocent and unarmed people on and off camera. We cannot call our country safe when innocents can be gunned down while their killers continue to wield weaponry behind a badge.

“NIAC joined with IAAB and IABA earlier this year to call for the officers responsible to be held accountable and fired for Bijan’s killing. Today, the Iranian-American community stands in solidarity with the Ghaisar family as it continues to seek justice that was denied by the Department of Justice.”

NIAC Hosts Congressional Panel on Sanctions with Iran Experts

“Maximum pressure hasn’t helped with opening political space in Iran but appears to have led to increased repression and closed space for human rights advocates on the ground,” according to Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher on Iran at the Human Rights Watch, speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). She went on to say that “this administration has been very open about its double standards on human rights,” which has discredited claims by the administration that they are standing with Iranian dissidents and the Iranian public. 

Ms. Sepehri Far, who authored a Human Rights Watch report on the effects of U.S. sanctions on humanitarian aid to Iran, highlighted how the current sanctions regime has hampered banking channels used for humanitarian aid, “making aid much more difficult this time around.” Moreover, the Trump sanctions have “contributed to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that basically pushes companies, mainly banks, away from doing trade that should be legal under [the] U.S. sanctions regimes.” 

Concerning the implications of maximum pressure on regional dynamics, Dina Esfandiary, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center who focuses on Iran’s foreign policy, said that “from Tehran’s perspective, it is unclear what the main goal of maximum pressure is. As a result, [the campaign] has changed Iranian behavior, but for the worse rather than for the better. You see an Iran that is now more daring in the region.”

Sina Toossi, NIAC’s Senior Research Analyst, went on to argue that the U.S. pressure campaign has decimated reformist and moderate factions in Iran and emboldened hardline forces within Iran’s political milieu. “Maximum pressure led to the collapse of moderate and reformist elements in Iran’s political elite. The notion of a Trump-Iran summit amid maximum pressure without sanctions relief up-front is untenable given Rouhani’s current political position.” 

According to Mr. Toossi, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s head of the judiciary and the former Presidential challenger to Rouhani, is “now overseeing an unprecedented corruption drive targeting all political spectrums. Hardliners hope it will remove moderates from power and strengthen their hand in a post-Khamenei era,” solidifying their control as the country begins its transition from old-guard political leaders to a new generation born after the revolution. 

Ms. Esfandiary also underscored that sanctions alone add little value provided they are never traded in. “Sanctions are useful only insofar as they can be lifted to obtain a change in behavior,” she said. “Iranians have been clear being able to sell oil is a big deal. Some kind of relief in the energy sector would help calm tensions and provide space for a diplomatic channel.”

The discussion concluded on comments from Ms. Sepehri Far on the Trump administration’s goal of instigating unrest in Iran that might topple the regime, stating that “it is hard to generalize how 80 million Iranians feel. Iranians have seen a revolution, an 8-year war and many years of sanctions over 40 years. Iranians are demanding greater social and political freedoms – but not calling for radical departures.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Fourth Reduction in Nuclear Deal Compliance

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, November 5, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | (202) 386-6325 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding Iran’s announcement that it will reduce compliance with its nuclear deal commitments for a fourth time after the U.S. violation of the deal in pursuit of maximum pressure:

“The announcement that Iran will soon feed gas into centrifuges at Fordow is unwelcome news to all those who have sought to resolve the nuclear standoff diplomatically. This is yet another completely predictable result of the failed ‘maximum pressure’ policy adopted by Donald Trump.

“International concerns regarding the Fordow facility stem from the fact that its construction was covert and, as it is deeply buried, would be less susceptible to military strikes against Iran. However, so long as the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to have access to the facility in order to verify Iranian activities, which appears to be the case, Iran’s move will be provocative but reversible and not a near-term proliferation risk. Iran continues to provide Trump with a way out of his self-inflicted crisis should he summon the wherewithal to bypass his hawkish advisors as well as his own ego and animus towards his predecessor to return to the nuclear agreement.

“This latest escalation underscores the urgency of returning to and restoring compliance with the nuclear deal in full – starting with the U.S. easing sanctions that it reimposed in violation of the accord a full year before Iran started reducing its own compliance with the deal. Failure to do so risks a more complete unraveling of the accord and a steady march toward military confrontation. Only by stepping away from maximum pressure can Donald Trump move off the path to war and reopen diplomatic channels that have been closed by his own strategy.”

NIAC Statement on the 40th Anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis

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

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement marking 40 years since the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran:

“The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran 40 years ago by Iranian students has left a lasting scar for Americans and continues to affect American views of Iran. Breaking with international law and diplomatic decorum, the hostage crisis forced the United States to break diplomatic ties with Iran and the ensuing 444-day crisis fueled a discriminatory backlash against Iranian nationals and Iranian Americans alike. Unfortunately, U.S.-Iran relations continue to be defined by the Hostage Crisis and other historical grievances – including the 1953 Coup – and not by many of the shared interests that could unite the American and Iranian people.

“The act of taking hostages, especially on diplomatic soil, must always be condemned. Moreover, Iran has shamefully continued to target civilians with ties to Western nations and imprisoned them on trumped up charges.

“Dismissing the valid historical grievances on both sides of the U.S.-Iran dispute will ensure that history continues to repeat itself. We must acknowledge and understand the past while pursuing real resolutions and not holding the future hostage to it. For its part, the U.S. overthrew Iran’s popularly elected government in 1953 and reinstalled the Shah. Granting the Shah asylum amid the Revolution fed popular fears that the U.S. would once again reinstall the unpopular authoritarian from the U.S. embassy, as it had 26 years earlier. Understanding that history will not erase old wounds and the people involved cannot evade responsibility, but it can help to bring clarity and to acknowledge mutual grievances in order to move forward.

“U.S.-Iran relations need not be perpetually crisis ridden, but this requires leaders on both sides to look beyond the grievances of the past and build trust, not entrench old enmities. As Americans, we must do our part by holding our leaders accountable. The Trump administration’s decision to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions one year ago have put us on yet another collision course with Iran. Instead of moving forward on the path of cooperation the deal engendered, the policies of this administration have brought aggressive rhetoric and tense escalation that are only too familiar and utterly avoidable.”

NIAC Statement on Increased U.S. Restrictions on Humanitarian Trade with Iran

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement on the Treasury Department’s adding new burdens to humanitarian trade with Iran:

“The Trump administration has sounded the death knell for humanitarian trade with Iran. Through its action today, the administration has made clear that the Iranian people are in the cross-hairs of their ongoing economic war against Iran and that the deliberate targeting of food and medicine to the Iranian people is fair game. This is a shameful development—one that makes the United States the equivalent of human rights violators that similarly target humanitarian goods in order to achieve their political objectives. 

“By designating Iran a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Trump administration has severed what limited remaining ties Iran has to the global financial system. The consequences have long been clear. Foreign banks have warned the U.S. Treasury Department that Iran’s designation under Section 311 will force them to stop processing humanitarian-related transactions in the future. Yet, the Trump administration has accepted, if not deliberately encouraged, those consequences.  

“The Trump administration seeks to save public face for its devastating action by feigning the creation of a ‘humanitarian channel’ by which foreign banks can process transactions. But this humanitarian channel functions more like a sanctions wall, erecting stringent conditions on foreign bank participation in humanitarian trade with Iran. Let’s be clear: There is unlikely to be a single banker in the world that will accept these conditions and participate in the trade. The Trump administration is surely aware of this fact, and its humanitarian channel should be viewed as nothing more than farce. 

“The Trump administration has consistently undertaken action to choke off humanitarian trade with Iran, including by reimposing nuclear sanctions against Iran and designating financial entities vital to humanitarian trade – like Bank Parsian and the Central Bank of Iran – under terrorism authorities. Today’s announcement does nothing to alleviate the real challenges sanctions pose to humanitarian trade, and in fact add new burdens apparently intended to end the provision of life-saving medicine to Iran. Congress and the public need to step up to reverse this brazen and outrageous action.”

NIAC Statement on Trump’s Address at the UN General Assembly

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 24, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – Today, President Donald Trump delivered his third address to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) since taking the presidency. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran hit an all time high, Trump aggressively targeted Iran in his speech, calling the country one of the “greatest security threats” and insisting that sanctions on Iran would not be lifted, but only further “tightened.”

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

“President Trump doubled down on the insults and invectives against Iran that only raises the domestic political cost for Rouhani to engage with the U.S. By resorting to simplistic rhetoric that demonizes Iran and blames it for all regional ills, Trump risks dooming what may be his last best chance to pivot towards diplomacy and away from a pressure policy that has brought the Middle East to the brink. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine how any Iranian official will now be able to have a sit down with Trump and be able to survive the backlash back home. 

“Trump had been presented an opportunity to alter course on Iran, both by an innovative French proposal for sanctions relief and a recent overture from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for permanent nuclear inspections. He chose to not discuss any substantive diplomatic initiative or indicate any willingness to ease the reckless “maximum pressure” campaign. By vowing to instead “tighten sanctions,” Trump is entrenching himself on a collision course with Tehran that will inevitably expand the endless war that he claims to want to end. 

“The incoherence of President Trump’s Iran policy was also on full display. His welcome remarks that the U.S. does not seek “permanent enemies” were dovetailed with the blatant falsehood that Iran has a “fanatical quest” for nuclear weapons. Notably, Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates last acknowledged concluded last year that Iran was not “undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Such distortions by the President echo the Bush administration’s stream of misinformation that led to the disastrous Iraq War that Trump claimed to oppose but risks repeating.”

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.