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NIAC Statement on Latest Persian Gulf Tanker Attacks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, June 13, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, reports broke that for the second time this month two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz came under attack. U.S. officials were quick to blame Iran, while Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif seemed to deny the attacks and described them as “suspicious.”

In response to the reports that more oil tankers were sabotaged in the Persian Gulf, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, said:

“With John Bolton seeking to maneuver the U.S. into a war with Iran, the sabotage of more oil tankers underscores the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East as the Trump administration pursues its maximum pressure approach toward Iran. The sabotage of oil tankers in May has not yet been attributed to any state. There is a plausible motive to attribute to Iran, but also to other actors in the region and beyond who want to maneuver the U.S. into a war.

The fact that the sabotage occurred amid Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state visit to Iran–where he is believed to have communicated a message from Trump to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei–underscores that the likely motive of the attackers is to prevent any easing of tensions and block off exits ramps to war.

“We may know more about these attacks in the weeks ahead, but we urge all actors – in particular the Trump administration and Iran – to exercise restraint. Trump cannot mitigate the risks of war through pressure, but only by pausing his pressure campaign and by seriously investing in sober negotiations.

“For Congress, these attacks are yet another warning sign that Trump and his team are leaning into a disastrous war in the Middle East. Worse still, Trump officials have made clear they may not even seek Congressional authorization prior to launching a war. The House Armed Services Committee just held a rigorous debate on war powers and Iran in the early morning hours, where Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) underscored his commitment to ruling out an unauthorized war with Iran. That is precisely what is needed. However, the longer Congress waits to act while the situation unravels, the greater the likelihood of catastrophe.”

NIAC Welcomes Release of U.S. Resident After Four Years Imprisonment in Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 11, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – Today, news broke that a Lebanese-born U.S. permanent resident was released after spending nearly four years in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. Zakka, a 52-year-old IT specialist, was originally detained in 2015 after arriving in Iran to speak at a conference at the invitation of government officials. He was falsely charged with espionage, sentenced to ten years in prison, and reportedly hit with a fine in excess of $4 million.

In response to Zakka’s release, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

NIAC welcomes the release of Lebanese national and U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka after four years of unjust imprisonment in Iran. Like the many dual nationals who have been arrested in Iran on fraudulent charges, Zakka’s case was exceptionally cruel. He travelled to Iran upon the invitation of a senior Rouhani administration official for a conference, only to be arrested by the Revolutionary Guards and falsely accused of espionage.

Zakka endured many abuses during his time in Iranian custody, including spending roughly 40 days in solitary confinement and being pressured to give a false confession. NIAC condemns the Iranian government in the strongest terms for these abuses and reiterates its call on Iranian authorities to comply with Iran’s international human rights obligations. Sadly, the Iranian judiciary has long victimized its own citizens with unfair trials and elements in the country have long taken dual nationals as hostages to use as bargaining chips and undermine their moderate rivals.

Zakka’s release is a positive step and is hopefully a prelude to the release of all other dual nationals unjustly held in Iran. To this end, we strongly encourage the Trump administration to test Iran’s alleged openness to negotiations that could secure the release of others who have been left behind. The Iranian government must once and for all end its detestable practice of imprisoning dual nationals and other political targets under trumped up charges and free all political prisoners held unjustly in the country.

NIAC Statement on Twitter’s Takedown of Thousands of Fake Iran-Linked Accounts

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

Washington D.C. – Yesterday, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, tweeted that the social platform had removed over 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran. The accounts are thought to be part of a foreign information operations campaign intending to manipulate information for “national or geopolitical ends.” Separately, Facebook also announced it had removed a number of Iranian origin accounts, groups, and pages that had violated its policy prohibiting “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement in response:

“There is no place for foreign interference in American elections or our political process. We applaud Twitter and Facebook for their efforts to remove accounts, likely Iranian-state backed, that were propagating disinformation or distorting public discourse. At the same time, we are concerned there are still many actors – also potentially state-backed – that are utilizing inauthentic social media accounts and campaigns to manipulate the U.S. political and policy making process.

“Over Memorial Day weekend, a coordinated astroturf campaign was orchestrated on Twitter that slandered and even threatened violence against NIAC and Iranian American journalists, academics, and political candidates who have spoken out against Donald Trump’s Iran policies or otherwise opposed war against Iran.

“Our community has been on the receiving end of attacks from both sides. Iranian-state backed entities have called us agents of Israel and the U.S. government, while fringe groups like the MEK with deep ties to Saudi funding or Israeli-linked groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, have accused us of working for the Islamic Republic.  

“The goal of these latest attacks was to create a false perception that Iranians and Iranian Americans support the Trump Administration’s policies towards Iran, including sanctions and potential war, and that pro-peace voices within the Iranian-American community are supportive of or even supported by the Islamic Republic.

“In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration amplified the voices of Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who helped sell the case that the U.S. would be ‘welcomed as liberators.’ In lieu of an Iranian Chalabi, the forces agitating for war with Iran are using social media manipulation campaigns to fill that role.

“It goes without saying that these outrageous attacks are patently false and that pro-peace advocates, objective analysts, and civil society organizations are integral to the pillars of a functioning American democracy – not products of an Iranian theocracy. 

“We call on platforms like Twitter that are committed to ‘protecting public conversation,’ to review all instances of such coordinated attacks that aim to manipulate American political discourse and undermine or intimidate American civil society. We have already witnessed how social media manipulation helped potentially swing the results of a U.S. Presidential Election, we cannot afford to sit idly by while a similar campaign steers the U.S. into a disastrous war.”

Congress Begins Efforts to Restrict Trump’s War Push

Congress took its first formal steps on Wednesday to eliminate a post-9/11 war authorization that some fear the Trump Administration will utilize as justification for attacking Iran. Separately, a measure to bar any funding for war with Iran was watered down after unified opposition from Republicans and an intervention by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

Since National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened to use “unrelenting force” against Iran, many legislators have been concerned that the Trump administration is heading toward war and might not even seek explicit Congressional authorization. While several bills have been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have the authority to launch a war, Republicans have yet to support any of the measures and Democratic leadership has yet to unite around a clear strategy.

Nevertheless, yesterday Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered two serious efforts to rein in Trump’s war authorities as lawmakers began finalizing the annual Defense Department funding bill. First, Rep. Lee succeeded in passing an amendment that would set up a process to repeal and replace the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and associated forces. Not only has the Trump administration falsely asserted that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda, but it has also refused to rule out using the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran. That’s exactly why NIAC Action and many other groups strongly supported Lee’s amendment.

Furthermore, Lee offered a second amendment that would have barred funding for the introduction of U.S. forces into Iran without explicit Congressional authorization. Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) offered his support for the amendment while Republicans, led by Rep. Ken Calvert, objected. Calvert asked, “What happens if the Iranians sink a ship in the strait of Hormuz this afternoon? Are we to do nothing?”

However, the amendment still appeared poised for passage until Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) objected, expressing concerns that it “precludes a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat” from Iran—one of the scenarios for which Bolton has reportedly requested war plans from the Pentagon. Rep. Lee sought to reassure Wasserman-Schultz that the President would retain authorities to address urgent threats but ultimately, Wasserman-Schultz’s concerns led to a significant watering down of the amendment. The compromise amendment states that nothing in the appropriations bill itself would authorize the use of force against Iran, but fails to restrict the President in any serious way. Thus, the apparent desire of Wasserman-Schultz to preserve Bolton’s ability to strike Iran appears to have significantly weakened the Congressional response to rising threats of war.

Still, Republicans opposed even this weakened messaging amendment, with Rep. Calvert warning that it “creates confusion about the U.S. purpose toward Iran and our right to respond if attacked.” The amendment ultimately passed 30-22 in a party-line vote. The bill will now be considered by the full Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Additional legislation has been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have authority for war with Iran, and to block funding from being used for a potential war. Additionally, both the Defense funding bill and a separate bill to set Defense Department policies will be considered in the weeks ahead, providing further opportunities to restrict the President’s powers to start a war of choice with Iran. However, if yesterday’s mark-up is any indication, those hoping to prevent a war will need to overcome opposition from both Republicans and some hawkish Democrats.

NIAC Statement on Bolton’s Latest Military Plans for Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 13, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, reports broke that John Bolton ordered updates to a military plan that detailed sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack U.S. forces or escalate its nuclear activities.

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

“John Bolton is methodically setting the stage for war with Iranforcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait. There are two ways Bolton can be stopped: either Trump can fire him or Congress can pass legislation to block a war before it starts. It’s time for our leaders to stop sleepwalking and the public to speak out as an unrestrained Iraq war architect repeats the playbook from that generational catastrophe with Iran.”

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Continued Deterioration of the Iran Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 7, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, reports broke that Iran will halt compliance with two limits in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, a year following Trump’s violation of U.S. sanctions lifting commitments.

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

“Iran’s announcement that it will halt compliance with certain limits under the Iran nuclear deal if parties to the agreement do not uphold their promises on sanctions relief carries substantial risk. It is precisely what John Bolton and other Iran hawks have sought via their efforts to ratchet up tensions in recent weeks: a deteriorating nuclear deal that they will exploit to justify actions that move the U.S. toward war. Via their sabotage, Bolton and the Trump administration own the consequences as the agreement moves closer to collapse.

“If Iran continues to adhere to significant elements of the accord, it will still be possible for all parties to return to compliance with this vital agreement. Yet, barring political will in Europe and the United States to stand up to Donald Trump as he lets John Bolton shatter yet another vital nonproliferation agreement, the JCPOA has moved closer to outright collapse – and the U.S. and Iran closer to war.

“Remaining parties to the deal should take steps to ensure Iran receives some benefit if it adheres to the accord, while Congress and presidential contenders should state clearly that they would shore up Iranian compliance by returning the U.S. to its commitments. The time is running short, and the risks of war are growing longer. Failure to act risks foreclosing the exit ramps to conflict permanently.”

Abdi continued:

“The Trump administration’s incoherent and self-defeating Iran policy is now entering a new stage of costs for the U.S. and security in the Middle East with the resumption of the Iranian nuclear crisis. Meanwhile, the Iranian people continue to be the biggest victims of the escalation ladder, as they become further impoverished in the face of a growing the threat of war.

“It is important to keep Iran’s announcement in context. The text of the JCPOA makes clear that Iran reserves the right to cease compliance with the JCPOA – in whole or in part – in response to the reimposition of sanctions. That is precisely what Iran has begun via its decision to cease observing two thresholds outlined in the deal that were targeted by Trump administration sanctions. One, a soft cap on Iran’s ability to produce heavy water, is not directly relevant to Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The second, a 300 kg limit on Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile that is supposed to last through 2030, delivers substantial nonproliferation benefits. Yet, given that Iran reduced its enriched uranium stockpile by 97% as part of the JCPOA, the near term risks of the decision are limited.

“However, while Iranian President Rouhani has stressed that the door to diplomacy is still open and that Iran is ready to fully return to its commitments under the deal if others deliver on sanctions relief, he also issued a conditional threat to cease compliance with all enrichment limits and to resume work at the Arak reactor in 60 days, which would pose substantial risks and further strain the accord.”

NIAC Condemns the Iranian Government for the Executions of Two Minors

Today, reports emerged that two minors, 17-year old cousins Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat, were flogged and secretly executed in Iran on April 25. The two teenagers were arrested when they were 15 and convicted on rape charges.

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

“The Iranian government has once again demonstrated its disregard for international human rights commitments in executing these two minors following an unfair, questionable trial. We condemn the Iranian government for this heinous act and express our deepest sympathies to Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat’s families. No sound justice system would deny anyone, let alone two children, access to their lawyers during investigations or keep their families in the dark as to the carrying out of their sentencing.

Even as Iran has made progress on reducing executions by amending its drug laws, the Iranian government still leads the world as the top executioner of minors—in contravention of its international human rights obligations and conventions to which it is party. The Iranian authorities must reverse this deplorable practice of juvenile executions and immediately pursue amendments to its penal codes to prevent the executions of minors who committed offenses before the age of 18. NIAC also reiterates its call that Iran fully comply with all of its rights obligations, including releasing all political prisoners that remain unjustly imprisoned.

NIAC Joins a Coalition of Over 100 Organizations Opposing DHS Surveillance of Activists, Journalists, and Lawyers

Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) joined the Center for Democracy and Technology along with a coalition of over 100 organizations in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to cease targeting activists, journalists, and lawyers based on their First Amendment-protected speech and associational activities.

This comes after recent alarming reports that ICE has documented lists of “anti-Trump” protesters in New York in addition to CBP creating dossiers on activists, lawyers, and journalists who work with and report on asylum seekers at the southern border. DHS must address these reports of surveillance activity by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that jeopardize First Amendment rights and access to legal counsel, and may violate the Privacy Act of 1974.

That DHS may be wielding its authority to target those advocating for immigrants rights is incredibly alarming and jeopardizes the work of organizations like ours. In this time when many are protesting egregious policies like the Muslim Ban and family separation, we need assurances that the government is not retaliating against those who are critical of its policies— particularly when many of those who protest are from vulnerable communities that have been targeted by this administration. Unfortunately, DHS’s conduct can not provide those assurances.

This is why we have joined this diverse coalition to push back against DHS and are working to hold our government accountable for its actions. We demand that DHS cease impermissible targeting, monitoring, and harassment of activists, journalists, and lawyers at the border, and disclose the policies, guidelines, and training materials that govern these activities.

Find the full letter below:

Coalition-Letter-to-DHS-in-opposition-to-surveillance-activity

Statement in Response to Poway Synagogue Attacks

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

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement after attacks on a synogogue in Poway, California on the last day of Passover:

Our hearts were broken yet again on Saturday as a terrorist targeted worshipers at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, California on the last day of Passover. Our deepest sympathies are with the victims of this unconscionable hatred and all Jewish people as they mourn this latest attack on their community.

At this time when minorities both in the United States and across the world are increasingly terrorized, we must unite and demand that our political leaders cease fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred.

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Our Annual Emerald Gala in Seattle will take place on Saturday, May 11th, 2019 at 6:00 pm. We’re excited to announce our special guests: Noah Purcell, Solicitor General of Washington, and Representative Adam Smith (D-WA). We would love to see you there to connect with our Seattle NIAC community. Please find an exclusive form to buy your tickets below.

 

NIAC Statement on End to Oil Waivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 22, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that the U.S. would terminate waivers for foreign nations purchasing Iranian oil – including China, India, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea:

“The tail is wagging the dog on Trump’s Middle East policy, with U.S. actions dictated entirely by the interests of Middle East autocracies vested in a proxy war. The decision to end oil waivers will make the United States and global economy increasingly dependent on the Saudi and UAE autocracies that are driving Trump’s escalation and have promised to backfill the oil gap that results. This foolhardy move comes on the heels of President Trump using his veto pen to protect Saudi Arabia and block legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress to end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen.

“Trump’s so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign is destroying the livelihoods of ordinary Iranians and creating an increasingly intolerable situation for the country. Indeed, the decision to end Iranian oil waivers comes as large parts of Iran are reeling from devastating floods that have displaced hundreds of thousands. Instead of ensuring that U.S. sanctions aren’t obstructing humanitarian aid to flood victims, Trump is now piling on even more economic pressure on the Iranian people.

“The unprecedented decision to try to eliminate Iranian oil exports—the lifeblood of the country’s economy—evokes the U.S.-supported British blockade of Iran in the lead up to the 1953 coup against democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh. This ugly historical parallel has not deterred the Trump White House, which is seemingly following the same playbook to force Iran to leave the nuclear deal and set off a reciprocal escalation cycle that risks war.

“Iranian leaders have until now worked with other global powers to preserve the nuclear deal and wait out the Trump administration. The attempt now to forgo oil waivers and spur Iran’s economic collapse signals a desperate attempt to coerce Iran to restart its nuclear program in order to invite a dire confrontation. Trump is bizarrely set on this destructive policy even as it threatens U.S. security and risks American voters digging deeper into their pockets to pay for rising gas prices.

“U.S.-Iran tensions have reached a precipice. By now it should be clear that the Trump administration’s obsession with Iran is beyond any semblance of strategic logic and has no attainable policy objective short of increasing the Iranian peoples’ suffering. The decision to sanction importers of Iranian oil will now put the U.S. at further loggerheads with powers such as Turkey, India, and China. Their willingness to resist or placate the administration’s demands will decide not only the course of U.S.-Iran relations, but the future of U.S. economic power.”