NIAC Staff

NIAC Staff

Some in House Press for War in the “Arabian Gulf”

capitol-darkWashington, DC – Congressional hawks succeeded this week in passing an annual defense policy bill that included language calling for new terms for nuclear negotiations with Iran. The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also calls the U.S. provide Israel necessary armaments to strike Iran. 

Though nonbinding, the controversial sections of the bill urge for the U.S. to insist that a final nuclear deal must dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in its entirety, end Iranian support for terrorism, and even force Iran to give up certain conventional weapons programs. Many of the demands would directly contradict the terms already agreed to by the U.S., Iran, and the other the negotiating countries. The language was inserted by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Trent Franks (R-NJ), both of whom are sponsors of existing legislation authorizing the President to begin war with Iran. 

The language was approved with only modest pushback, likely because it does not carry the force of law. Pro-diplomacy members in the House did widely regard the language as political posturing aimed at undermining the nuclear negotiations.

Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, conveyed strong opposition to the language, saying such a position could tie the hands of negotiators and cost the U.S. a nuclear deal. “We should work as hard as possible to stop Iran from sponsoring terrorism, from developing ballistic missiles, and from building nuclear weapons, no doubt about that,” Smith said. “But what is on the table right now is stopping their nuclear weapons program.  And to say, unless we get all three, we will take none, is what I disagree with.”

Separate language in the bill, inserted by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), states that it is the policy of the United States to “take all necessary steps to ensure that Israel possesses and maintains an independent capability to remove existential threats to its security and defend its vital national interests.”  The amendment urges the administration to provide Israel with bunker-buster munitions and air refueling tankers, which would be necessary to wage airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) warned that the language sought to “assign to Israel the job of starting what could become World War III—even the Bush-Cheney Administration rejected that approach.” 

Doggett, who earlier this year helped lead pro-diplomacy efforts in the House with a letter signed by over 100 Congressmen, chastised the apparently pro-war sentiment of some of his colleagues. “Our arsenal of democracy includes more than bombs,” he said in a speech on the House floor. “Iranian Revolutionary Guard hardliners may ultimately doom these negotiations, our responsibility is to ensure that hardliners here don’t do the obstruction for them.”

The House NDAA also refers to efforts to deter Iran in the “Arabian Gulf”, replacing the historical Persian Gulf with a divisive term that has been employed by the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as propaganda to mobilize against Iranians.  While last year’s House version of the NDAA also utilized the “Arabian Gulf” term, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly opposed the language and worked to help ensure the final version that was signed into law did not include reference to the propaganda term.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is currently considering its own version of the bill, and the body has often stripped out harmful non-binding language inserted by hawks in the House.  “Given the high cost of failure, we certainly cannot afford to surrender to defeatists, who capitulate on the negotiations before they are even completed,” said Doggett. “It is too soon to wave the white flag and give up in favor of war.”

Rep. Doggett Urges Congress: Give Diplomacy A Chance

Washington, DC – Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), took to the House floor this week to speak out against provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that would disrupt nuclear negotiations involving the United States and Iran:

There are few greater threats to the security of American families than those which could arise from the failure of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.  Parts of this bill seek to disrupt the Administration’s tough, persistent diplomacy.  

Some would assign to Israel the job of starting what could become World War III—even the Bush-Cheney Administration rejected that approach.  Iranian Revolutionary Guard hardliners may ultimately doom these negotiations; our responsibility is to ensure that hardliners here don’t do the obstruction for them.  

Our arsenal of democracy includes more than bombs– it includes tough negotiations and strong sanctions to reach a carefully monitored, verifiable agreement that will protect of our families and our allies.  Given the high cost of failure, we certainly cannot afford to surrender to defeatists, who capitulate on the negotiations before they are even completed.  It is too soon to wave the white flag and give up in favor of war.

The obstinate objections to the Interim Agreement were proven to be unjustified.  The International Atomic Energy Agency has determined that Iran has taken verifiable actions to halt the progress of its nuclear program and roll back key aspects. Let’s give peace a chance.

Kerry and Senate Chairman Spar Over Iran Talks

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Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) sparred with Secretary of State John Kerry at a hearing on Tuesday over ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran that are, by many accounts, making significant progress towards a resolution.

As nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers recommenced in Vienna, Menendez took issue with reports that the parties planned to begin drafting an agreement as early as May that would place constraints and transparency measures over Iran’s nuclear program, but would not “dismantle” the program completely.

Many expect a final deal will allow Iran to retain a closely monitored civilian nuclear program while lengthening the amount of time it would take Iran for “break out” for a weapon to as long a period as possible, likely in the range of six to twelve months.

“I don’t think that we did everything that we’ve done to only get a six to twelve month lead time,” said Menendez, who has in the past has argued that the U.S. should demand that Iran completely dismantle all enrichment capabilities. More recently, Menendez has authored Congressional letters that have been presented as offering more flexibility on the enrichment issue in a bid to attract broader support among colleagues. But at the hearing, he offered his most recent such letter as evidence that the Senate would accept a deal allowing enrichment. He expressed incredulity that “a deal that would ultimately unravel the entire sanctions regime for a six to twelve month lead time is not far from where we are today.”

Kerry pushed back, arguing that a deal that lengthens Iran’s breakout to six or twelve months would be “significantly more” than the current timeline. He explained that the United States believes Iran’s current breakout timeline is about two months—meaning that Iran could eject inspectors and enrich enough uranium for one nuclear weapon in that time, but still would not have a warhead or delivery system for a nuclear weapon. A deal would lengthen that period and, according to Kerry, implement inspections and transparency measures necessary to immediately detect any attempt to breakout for a weapon.

Kerry stressed, “At the end of this we hope to be able to come to you with an agreement that has the most extensive and comprehensive and accountable verification process that can be achieved in order to know what they are doing.”

Menendez appeared most concerned that such a deal would eliminate sanctions, and that Iran would be able to breakout faster than the U.S. could slap on new sanctions if such a move were detected. “With no sanctions regime in place and – understanding that every sanction we have pursued have needed at least a 6 month lead time to become enforceable, and then a greater amount of time to actually enforce that – the only option left to the United States, to this or to any other President and to the West would be either to accept a nuclear armed Iran or to have a military option,” he said.

But Kerry rejected the notion that new sanctions would stop weaponization under such a scenario, or that existing sanctions should be kept in place at the expense of a deal. “You have to think about this, if they make a decision to break out, sanctions aren’t going to be what makes the difference,” he said. “If they are overtly breaking out and breaking an agreement and starting to enrich and pursue it, they’ve made a huge consequential decision and the greater likelihood is that we are going to respond immediately.”

You’re Invited: Bay Area Happy Hour

Join us for NIAC’s Bay Area Happy Hour on April 17 at Chambers Eat + Drink in San Francisco! Mingle, drink, converse and learn about how to engage in local community events and initiatives!
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Thursday April 17, 6:00 pm
Chambers Eat + Drink
601 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

If you have any questions please contact me at yradjy@niacouncil.org.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Russia Standoff Unlikely to Undermine Iran Nuclear Talks

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Washington, DC – “If you look at the range of common interests between the U.S. and Iran, it is a long and important list,” observed Representative Earl Blumenauer, speaking at a National Iranian American Council briefing for Congressional staff last week. “That’s why I’ve been so pleased that we’ve had this glimmer of opportunity for a diplomatic alternative,” Blumenauer remarked, calling the opening with Iran, “one of the key foreign policy issues of our time.”

Speaking on the event’s panel were Iran analyst Bijan Khajehpour and former Italian Ambassador to Iran Roberto Toscano, who focused their remarkson  nuclear negotiations in the context of recent tensions between Russia and the West. The panelists agreed that the Russia standoff will have a minimal impact on Iran’s core calculations given that the Rouhani’s administration’s success is largely contingent on securing a nuclear deal that deescalates tensions with the U.S.

“Iran knows very well that the chance for normalization with world doesn’t go through Moscow,” said Toscano. “President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif and the people with them have staked just about everything on the nuclear negotiations,” he said. “They cannot afford for it to fail.”

Khajehpour agreed, arguing that drawing closer to Russia had always been, at best, a contingency plan for Iran. While Rouhani’s camp wants a deal involving the U.S., the broader view in Iran is to also have a “plan B” based on the assumption by hardliners that the U.S. will ultimately refuse to accept a deal or deliver on sanctions relief. In that case,Khajehpour said, their plan is leverage such a failure to convince the EU that the U.S. is the intransigent party and economic relations with Iran should be reestablished.

Khajehpour said that Iran had only planned to focus on Russia as a plan C “if everything else fails,” but given Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the perception now is that “you can’t trust the Russians.” Instead, he said, “you have to make sure plan A or plan B actually works.”

Given Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, Toscano said the standoff with Russia may enable Iran to offer its significant gas reserves in an effort to rekindle relations with Europe if a U.S.-led nuclear deal does not materialize. However, Toscano said, in the immediate term the tensions with Russia may actually benefit nuclear negotiations by defusing political pressure on Western countries to strike a tough pose. It could “give the American side and the European side more flexibility in addressing [Iran’s] concerns” and provide more flexibility because “there are more pressing tasks.”

Khajehpour argued that, for Rouhani and Zarif, engaging the U.S. and West has been their agenda for over a decade—dismissing claims that recent sanctions were the chief driver of the administration’s negotiation posture. And, building on Blumenauer’s remarks, the panelists said that productive engagement will advance important issues beyond just the nuclear file. “Internally in Iran, these issues are linked because the same people who want to negotiate – they would like to move gradually towards a better situation in human rights,” said Toscano. “They cannot make it very explicit either, but everyone knows that. Especially the radicals know it.”

“The radicals want to kill this nuclear deal,” Toscano continued, “because they are afraid that the general atmosphere that is created once the nuclear confrontation is scaled down is a better chance for more pluralism and more human rights.”

Engagement Can Improve Human Rights in Iran Says Parliamentarian

Screenshot_2014-03-26_16.22.37Watch the full event video at c-span.org

Washington, DC – “We should be very careful that there is not some sort of zero sum equation between focusing only on the nuclear issue and forgetting about the plight of the Iranian people who live under systematic and difficult repression,” observed Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament and human rights expert, speaking at the Atlantic Council.

Schaake, who recently visited Iran for five days as part of an official EU delegation, advocated that channels for engagement with Iran be expanded to address issues beyond the nuclear file–including regional areas of mutual interest and concerns regarding human rights.

Schaake’s delegation met with officials of different political stripes, including two of the Larijani brothers who are prominent leaders of Iran’s conservative bloc, as well as human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. They presented Sotoudeh and Jaffar Panahi with the EU’s highest human rights award, the Sakhrov Prize. That meeting sparked a firestorm in hardline media.

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The EU delegation presents Sotoudeh and Panahi with the Sakhrov Prize.

“We should make it clear to our domestic audience who is responsible for what developments in Iran,” she said, explaining that that “the hardliners in Iran, the judiciary, and the high numbers of executions are very much also intended to undermine the efforts of the reformists.”

She said that the best approach is through expanding dialogue as well as by “bolstering civil society in Iran, but also a private sector–which can be really effective in counterbalancing those at the top who hold so many resources.”

“The greatest capital in Iran is the human capital,” said Schaake. “It was remarkable how much energy and how much a sense of optimism one got from the streets,” she said. “I have honestly never felt so welcomed in any country that I’ve visited.” While Schaake noted that previous attempts to organize EU delegation visits had been difficult over the past several years and often scuttled at the last minute, she said the “new opening” created by the election of President Hassan Rouhani enabled her and four other European parliamentarians to finally visit this past December.

With regard to the new government’s promises to address limits on personal freedoms in Iran, Schaake said that “there was a great sense of a less tangible securitized environment” and that many Iranians told her that “the morality police that deals with clothing was less present, that the atmosphere in the street was much lighter than it used to be.”

However, she said that, until systematic changes are made to the laws themselves, these positive gestures can be reversed within an instant. Repressive laws can make anyone a target, Schaake observed, and help empower hardline elements including security forces, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Judiciary, while perpetuating an insecure relationship between Iranians and the state.

Schaake was also asked at the event about continued reports of medicine shortages in Iran. She noted that the preliminary nuclear agreement negotiated with Iran included a provision to establish a a humanitarian banking channel, but that “most banks are still hesitant to facilitate these transactions.” She said that Iranian government mismanagement was also to blame for shortages, but that U.S. extraterritorial sanctions made EU efforts to facilitate humanitarian trade difficult. If the U.S. and Europe fail to establish a humanitarian channel, she said, it would be a major mistake. “If we agree to lift sanctions, we have to also make it practically implementable.”

A centrist when it comes to the EU’s Iran policy, Schaake advocated for a unified effort among the European states to push open the window for diplomacy, and is recommending that the EU establish official diplomatic representation in Iran. In her view, action by EU states to advance diplomacy will ultimately benefit the Iranian people. “It is upon those of us who believe reforms will benefit the Iranian people to try to do everything we can to make them happen,” she observed, “of course very well realizing that those who seek reform are not the only ones in power in Iran, and that it is very much an uphill battle, but one that is worth pursuing.”

NIAC Applauds General License for U.S.-Iran Academic Exchanges

The President wished Iranians a happy new year, above, and Secretary of State Kerry sent a Norooz message announcing that educational exchanges are now exempt from sanctions.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – NIAC issued the following statement regarding the issuance of General License G by the Treasury Department in conjunction with the State Department:

NIAC strongly supports the Obama Administration’s decision this Norooz to exempt educational exchanges from sanctions. NIAC is pleased that ‘General License G‘ addresses key obstacles to building bridges between Iran and the U.S. Educational exchanges are immensely important in tearing down the barriers and rebuilding a long overdue friendship between Iranians and Americans.

In particular, NIAC is pleased to see that this license specifically exempts Massive Open Online Courses such as Coursera. In January, NIAC raised concerns that the online course provider Coursera had begun denying services to Iranians, citing sanctions. NIAC and others called on the U.S. government to take action to address this problem, and today that action has been taken.

NIAC has consistently advocated for the establishment of educational exchanges with Iran, including in helping advance the Stand With the Iranian People Act in 2009, and most recently making key recommendations in this regard in its report “Extending Hands and Unclenching Fists“. Today’s action will make those exchanges less cumbersome to facilitate and is a step in the right direction towards a stronger relationship and brighter future between the people of Iran and the U.S.

NIAC applauds those individuals in the Treasury Department, State Department, and White House working to minimize the damage of sanctions against ordinary Iranians and hopes that some day soon the situation between the two countries can be resolved so that the sanctions impacting ordinary Iranians can be lifted once and for all.

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U.S.-Iran Diplomacy Now Stronger Than Netanyahu’s Pressure

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Three Congressional letters are being sent to the President regarding nuclear negotiations with Iran. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is pleased that Congress is not passing sanctions or measures that will restrict negotiators. The new political reality in Washington is that there is overwhelming support for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran and efforts to undermine negotiations have proven unsuccessful.

“The status quo, in which Netanyahu visits Washington, addresses AIPAC, and Congress agrees to slap new sanctions on Iran, has been turned on its head,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “The White House, leaders in Congress, outside organizations, and the American people have all put their foot down and said that we don’t want a war and more sanctions, we want to give diplomacy a chance.”

Of the three letters being sent, NIAC opposed one but remained neutral on the others because the letters met key principles outlined in ajoint organizational letter and in correspondence between NIAC and members of Congress.

The letter opposed by NIAC, led by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Menendez and Senator Graham, includes guidelines for negotiations that can easily be construed by opponents of a diplomatic solution to force the U.S. to violate the terms of the preliminary agreement. NIAC urges those who signed the letter to clarify that this letter does not require zero enrichment or dismantlement of a civilian Iranian nuclear program, and that they do not support a vote on new Iran sanctions.

Conversely, while NIAC had concerns with some language in letters organized in the House by Majority Leader Cantor and Minority Whip Hoyer, and in the Senate by Armed Services Chairman Levin, these letters ultimately honor the terms of the preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 and do not set preconditions for negotiators.

Most importantly, all three letters indicated that Congress will work with the administration to lift sanctions if a final deal is struck.

“As negotiations have progressed, some in Congress have wasted a lot of valuable time talking about ratcheting up Iran sanctions almost as if by force of habit,” said Abdi. “More and more in Congress are now realizing that we may soon see a final deal that takes an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table for good, but that the sanctions will need to be lifted in order to lock that deal in.”

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UN Secretary General Criticizes Lack of Progress on Human Rights in Iran

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Washington, DC – Human rights promises to be a central topic of discussion in Iran over the next few weeks, as two major UN human rights reports are scheduled for release. This week, the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon released his report to the UN Human Rights Council regarding the human rights situation in Iran. The UN Special Rapporteur to Iran will follow with his own, more comprehensive report, in the coming weeks – ahead of an expected vote to extend his mandate at the end of the month. While the reports cover the final months of the Ahmadinejad presidency in addition to the beginning of Rouhani’s term, they will be important to gauge whether Iran’s new president is following through on his campaign pledges and taking the steps to herald a new era in Iran.

The UN Secretary-General’s report suggests mixed results from the Rouhani administration. The report notes that the new Iran government “has taken some commendable steps in the area of human rights,” including the release of high-profile political prisoners such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the introduction of a Citizens’ Rights Charter. “Despite these welcome developments, a large number of political prisoners, including high profile lawyers, human rights activists, women rights activists and journalists, continue to serve sentences for charges that are believed to be linked to the exercise of their freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the report states.

The report also notes with alarm the escalating rates of execution in Iran in the second half of 2013 and extending into 2014, including of political prisoners and following “proceedings that did not meet international human rights standards on fair trial and due process guarantees.” The Secretary-General also outlines systemic discrimination against religious minorities such as Bahai’is, including restrictions on access to higher education and public sector employment, and against the formation of religious institutions.

Troublingly, the antagonism that exists between Iran’s Government and significant parts of its population – most especially in the fields of civil liberties, Internet freedoms, women’s rights, and equal protection for ethnic and religious minorities – has continued apace. Despite impressive gains in the developmental field, including in reducing poverty and further expanding women’s education, political and social freedoms remain under severe restrictions in Iran. The Secretary-General concludes that the “new administration has [made no] significant improvement in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion.”

The Secretary-General’s report criticizes Iran’s continued failure to “engage substantively” with the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Special Rapporteur to Iran. This failure has extended, the report notes, into Rouhani’s term in office, as the Government remains non-responsive to the Council’s request for information and refuses to permit a visit from the Special Rapporteur.

The report also expresses “the hope that [the nuclear negotiations] will ease the impact of sanctions that chiefly affected the general population, particularly the distribution of medical and pharmaceutical supplies.” The UN Secretary-General promised to further detail the impact of the sanctions on Iranians’ human rights in a coming report timed for the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. In previous reports, the Secretary-General has noted the detrimental effects of the sanctions on human rights  in Iran, partially ascribing the rise in commodity and energy prices, increased rates of unemployment, and the shortages of medicines and other necessary items to the sanctions.

NIAC has strongly supported multilateral mechanisms such as the UN mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and consistently called for Iran’s government to release political prisoners, honor its human rights obligations, and grant unhindered access to the Special Rapporteur to investigate the human rights situation in Iran. Recently, NIAC reiterated its call for the U.S. and others to expand engagement with Iran beyond the nuclear issue to include human rights, arguing that doing so is ultimately the only means to achieve a sustainable diplomatic solution.

Congressman Keith Ellison Joined NIAC’s Day of Service!

He released the following statement about the event on his website:

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“Ear-to-ear smiles and hugs were shared all around by the Minneapolis NIAC Day of Action concluded. But when NIAC volunteers arrived at Caring and Sharing Hands, a shelter for homeless families, the youngsters and parents who greeted them were a little shy.  NIAC set out to give homeless parents a break from the grind and anxiety associated with living without a stable home.  Many parents of homeless families spend all day either looking for a place to live, a home, or just getting around doing chores.  The NIAC volunteers were a huge hit with the kids and parents seemed genuinely relieved to have a break, even if for only an afternoon. Volunteers broke the ice with board games, tag, good conversation, and even some singing. Many of the residents of Sharing and Caring Hands are new Americans, having only arrived in the United States from life in a refugee camp days before.  Some volunteers remembered their own days as new Americans and shared common stories of immigration with the residents. Many were families struggling with English, but the NIAC volunteers employed the universal language of smile. After a few hours of quality time, volunteers said good bye to their new friends at the shelter, but many NIAC volunteers pledged to return to spend more time in the future.”

NIAC’s 4th Annual Day of Service engaged Iranian Americans in community service projects in 10 cities nationwide. For photos of this event, please visit our Facebook page.

 

Bank of Hawaii Re-Opens Accounts for Iranians in U.S.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – NIAC welcomes the decision by Bank of Hawaii to re-open bank accounts for Iranian customers. As NIAC Advisory Board member Dr. Farideh Farhi first reported, the bank had terminated the accounts of Iranian customers in the U.S. in an effort to comply with U.S. financial sanctions against Iran. NIAC called on the bank to reverse the decision and worked to help facilitate a solution with the bank and the Department of Treasury that meets sanctions compliance requirements while not punishing Iranians in the United States. NIAC applauds Bank of Hawaii for acting promptly and for satisfactorily addressing all concerns.

Bank of Hawaii issued the following statement:

“Bank of Hawaii, in consultation with its technology providers, regulators and advocacy groups such as the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), has developed a solution to allow it to once again make accounts available to Iranian residents.

“In recent months, we have had to take steps to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions regarding Iran, in particular those prohibiting access to U.S. bank accounts by persons in Iran.  Unfortunately, this placed burdens on customers whose primary residence was indicated as Iran but who reside in the United States. (Iranian customers whose primary residence is in the U.S. are not subject to the same restrictions). Bank of Hawaii strongly values its relationship with our Iranian customers and with the Iranian-American community, and we regret any inconvenience this has caused.

“We plan to contact the seventeen customers whose accounts were closed, and to provide them with information about restarting their banking relationships with Bank of Hawaii in the next week or so. As part of the solution, areas where access will need to be restricted are banking-by-mail and transactions over the telephone. Access through debit cards, checks, ATMs and over the internet will be available while the customers are in the U.S.

“Bank of Hawaii thanks NIAC for its outreach and efforts to help us craft a solution that meets the banking needs of Iranian residents while adhering to its obligations under the U.S. Government’s economic sanctions program.”

NIAC is pleased that this issue has been resolved. While broad sanctions have created significant compliance issues for banks and private companies, it is critical that these policies do not negate the basic rights and protections afforded to Iranian citizens in the United States.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.