Stephen Kinzer on Trump’s Iran Policies

We asked Stephen Kinzer, national best-selling author of All The Shah’s Men, about his thoughts on Trump and Pompeo’s Iran policies. Watch what he said below.

Kinzer doesn’t believe that the Trump administration has Iran’s best interests in mind, and neither do we. That’s why we’ve written an open letter, and we’d like you to add your name to it. Read an excerpt of the letter below:

“Iran’s only chance to achieve a sustainable democracy that reflects the wishes of its people comes from a process driven by the people of Iran, for the people of Iran. In short, change must come from inside of Iran – not from Washington or anywhere else. It is also crucial to bear in mind that Iranians have a long history with the United States, one that is alive in the memory of even young Iranians, and would compel them to respond to any American destabilisation with wariness and hostility.  However, efforts to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy through external pressures and sanctions, or a US-sponsored regime change in Iran (in the image of Iraq) will not bring about democracy in Iran but rather destabilize the country and put democracy out of the reach of the Iranian people. That is what it did in Iraq, where after a decade of devastating instability with more than 500,000 dead, Iraq holds elections but is far from a democracy that reflects the hopes and aspirations of its people.”

Read more and sign our open letter here.

Why Trump’s Hawks Back the MEK Terrorist Cult

(Photo by Siavosh Hosseini/NurPhoto via Getty Images) MEK leader Maryam Rajavi presiding over a rally in memory of the group’s members killed in Iraq in 2013, Tirana, Albania, September 1, 2017

On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address an Iranian-American audience at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. The speech is part of a deliberate policy of escalating tensions with Iran, targeting its economy and supporting Iranian opposition groups—all for the purpose of pressuring and destabilizing Iran. At least one member of an Iranian terrorist group that has killed American citizens will also be in attendance. But it won’t be to disrupt Pompeo’s speech; rather, to support it. In fact, the member is on the invitation list.

Last month, the same terrorist group held an event in Paris, busing in thousands of young people from Eastern Europe to hear Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani call for regime change in Tehran. A similar event in Paris last year was addressed by John Bolton, who recently became President Trump’s national security adviser.

How an organization that was only delisted by the US Department of State as a terrorist group in 2012 could so soon after win influential friends at the heart of America’s current administration is the strange and sinister story of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known by its initials, MEK. Commonly called a cult by most observers, the MEK systematically abuses its members, most of whom are effectively captives of the organization, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Regardless of its delisting by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—a political calculation on her part since many senior Democrats, as well as Republicans, had been persuaded by the MEK’s lavish lobbying efforts—the group has never ceased terrorizing its members and has continued to conduct assassinations inside Iran.

In the 1980s, the MEK served as a private militia fighting for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Today, it has a different paymaster: the group is believed to be funded, in the millions of dollars, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Washington, D.C., as in Paris, France, the MEK pays tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to US officials. Bolton, in particular, is a long-time paid supporter of the MEK, reportedly receiving as much as $180,000 for his appearances at the group’s events.

The group is so awash with cash that it doesn’t just pay the speakers; it buys the audience, too. Those young Poles and Czechs who traveled to hear Giuliani’s speech on June 30 came not out of fascination with Trump’s lawyer but for the free weekend in Paris they were offered. The only thing the MEK’s money can’t buy is popular support among Iranians.

The MEK goes back a long way. Founded in the early 1960s, it was the first opposition group to take up arms against the repressive regime of the Shah. Its ideology was based on a blend of Marxism and Islamism, and the group enjoyed widespread support inside Iran in the 1970s. But a series of missteps saw its popularity dramatically dwindle. After the Shah was deposed, the group’s rivalry with Ayatollah Khomeini came to a head not long after the MEK opposed Khomeini’s decision to release the fifty-two American embassy staff held hostage by Iran, and instead, called for their execution. In fact, only a few years earlier, as part of a campaign targeting the Shah’s regime, the MEK assassinated three US Army colonels and three US contractors, in addition to bombing the facilities of several US companies.

Many of the MEK’s members fled to Iraq and established military bases with the blessing of Saddam Hussein. Siding with Saddam in that long and devastating war, which was estimated to have killed more than 300,000 Iranians, turned the MEK into traitors in the eyes of the Iranian public. Nothing has happened since then to change this view of the MEK inside Iran. But the more politically irrelevant the MEK became, the more extreme and cultish it got. After suffering a military defeat in 1988 in which it lost around 4,500 of its 7,000 fighters in a disastrous incursion into Iran, the MEK was in crisis. To prevent the organization’s collapse, its leader, Massoud Rajavi, intensified the cult-like character of the organization in order to prevent its members from defecting.

In 1990, all members of the organization were ordered to divorce and remain celibate. Their love and devotion should be directed only toward the leaders of the organization, Rajavi determined. To reinforce the leadership’s control, some eight hundred children of MEK members were sent abroad from their camp in Iraq to be adopted by exiled members of the group in Europe or North America. If the adult members tried to leave the MEK, they would completely lose touch with their children. To this day, there are scores of MEK members who dare not leave the terrorist group for this very reason. And there are countless children of MEK members who dream of one day being reunited with their parents. I know several of them.

The MEK’s human rights abuses have been well documented by human rights organizations. The MEK leadership has reportedly forced members to make taped confessions of sexual fantasies that are later used against them. In Iraq, disobedient members were routinely put in solitary confinement—in at least one case, for as long as eight years, according to HRW. Other members were tortured to death in front of their kin. As one US official quipped to me in 2011 when the organization was running its ultimately successful multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to be removed from the State Department’s terrorist list: “Al-Qaeda actually treats its members better than the MEK treats its.”

The MEK, of course, rejects all accusations of terrorism and abuse. The group is not a cult, its advocates insist, but Iran’s strongest democratic opposition group in exile, which seeks a free and democratic Iran. Its members were not forced to divorce, a senior MEK official told the BBC in 2010. Rather, they all divorced their spouses voluntarily. En masse. And anyone who raises these accusations against the group is immediately branded a partisan for the theocratic regime in Tehran.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani at an MEK memorial event, New York, 2013

Given the MEK’s long record of terrorism, human rights abuses, and murder of US citizens, one would think that senior American officials like Giuliani, Pompeo, and Bolton wouldn’t go near the MEK, let alone fraternize with its members or take its fees. But when it comes to Iran, the usual rules don’t apply.

 

Even when the MEK was on the terrorist list, the group operated freely in Washington. Its office was in the National Press Club building, its Norooz receptions on Capitol Hill were well attended by lawmakers and Hill staff alike, and plenty of congressmen and women from both parties spoke up regularly in the MEK’s favor. In the early 2000s, in a move that defied both logic and irony, Fox News even hired a senior MEK lobbyist as an on-air terrorism commentator.

Al-Qaeda may treat its members better, but rest assured, neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS has ever rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered US officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the US government’s terrorist list. The money that Maryam Rajavi (Massoud Rajavi’s wife, who has taken over leadership of the organization since Massoud’s mysterious disappearance in Iraq in 2003) offers to American politicians and the organization’s aggressive advocacy and lobbying only partly explain the group’s freedom of action at the heart of America’s political capital. Certainly, some politicians have likely been duped by the MEK’s shiny image, but Washington’s better-informed hawks are not duped; they simply like what they see, even at the risk of running afoul of federal ethics laws.

At the heart of this improbable-seeming affinity lies a sense of common interest between these anti-Iran fundamentalist, pro-war elements in Washington and Rajavi’s terrorist militia. The US hawks have no problem with the MEK’s terrorist capacities because the group’s utility is beyond dispute—after all, NBC reported that Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, relied on MEK operatives to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists during Iran and Israel’s secret dirty war between 2010 and 2012.

American officials, including the national security adviser, can have no illusions about the MEK’s disingenuous propaganda lines about seeking democracy or enjoying support inside Iran. They know very well how despised the MEK is in that country. Unlike other Iranian opposition groups, however, the MEK can mount military operations. Its members are experienced in sabotage, assassinations, and terrorism, as well as in guerrilla and conventional warfare. These are not qualities that lend themselves to any project of democratization, but are extremely useful if the strategic objective is to cause either regime change (by invasion) or regime collapse (by destabilization). In other words, for Washington’s anti-Iran hawks, the MEK doesn’t have to replace the theocracy in Tehran; it just needs to assist its collapse. The ensuing chaos would weaken Iran and shift the regional balance of power toward US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When my organization, the National Iranian American Council, campaigned against the delisting of the MEK in 2012, I gathered that some in Washington were uncomfortable with our position even though they had no sympathy for the group. They viewed the MEK as irrelevant and felt that resources should not be spent on fighting to keep the group on the list. Others feared the harassment that inevitably follows speaking up against the MEK. But we remained firm in our opposition and pointed out that if the MEK was taken off the list, the warmongers in Washington would be able to throw their full support behind the organization and use it to advance its policy of confrontation against Iran.

In 2012, my organization warned that the MEK was an Iranian version of the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition-in-exile to Saddam Hussein led by Ahmed Chalabi, which the neoconservatives in Washington tirelessly promoted in the early 2000s to provide grounds for going to war in Iraq. Sadly, it is now clear that our worries were warranted: the MEK’s greatest friends and allies in Washington—its paid advocates, in fact—now have the ear of a president who already tore up the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran.

On May 5, just two weeks after he joined Trump’s legal team, Giuliani told an audience at a D.C. convention organized by an MEK front group that Trump was “committed to regime change.” The war party in Washington has its Iranian version of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

This piece originally appeared in NYR Daily.

 

Sign Our Open Letter to Pompeo

Secretary Pompeo,

We the undersigned strongly oppose any efforts to destabilize Iran and bring about its economic collapse. The people of Iran have struggled to achieve democratic rule and independence for more than a century, and while this noble struggle has both made positive strides and suffered setbacks, outside interference has invariably undermined their efforts and strengthened Iran’s authoritarian rulers

Today, the Iranian people’s struggle continues unabated. The Iranian government’s mismanagement and corruption have once again increased the people’s suffering and both political and economic frustration is on the rise. The Iranian government’s ability to adequately meet the demands of the people remains unclear.

Iran’s only chance to achieve a sustainable democracy that reflects the wishes of its people comes from a process driven by the people of Iran, for the people of Iran. In short, change must come from inside of Iran – not from Washington or anywhere else. It is also crucial to bear in mind that Iranians have a long history with the United States, one that is alive in the memory of even young Iranians, and would compel them to respond to any American destabilisation with wariness and hostility.  However, efforts to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy through external pressures and sanctions, or a US-sponsored regime change in Iran (in the image of Iraq) will not bring about democracy in Iran but rather destabilize the country and put democracy out of the reach of the Iranian people. That is what it did in Iraq, where after a decade of devastating instability with more than 500,000 dead, Iraq holds elections but is far from a democracy that reflects the hopes and aspirations of its people.

Support for violent organizations such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – which has used terror to kill Iranians and Americans alike – by key advisors to and Members of the Trump administration raises serious concerns as to whether your administration’s objective is to support the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy and independence or to use their legitimate grievances to destabilize Iran and turn it into a failed state. Indeed, your administration’s treatment of Iranians by preventing them en masse from traveling to the United States, certainly did not reflect any positive intent towards the people of Iran.

We urge you to cease all efforts to destabilize Iran and repeat the costly mistake the US committed in Iraq. If you truly wish to help the people of Iran, lift the Travel ban, adhere to the Iran nuclear deal—the JCPOA—and provide the people of Iran the economic relief they were promised and have eagerly awaited for three years, as every independent media has reported.

Those measures, more than anything, will provide the Iranian people with the breathing space to do what only they can do – push Iran towards democracy through a gradual process that achieves the benefits of freedom and liberty without turning Iran into another Iraq or Syria.

Sincerely,

Sign Our Open Letter to Pompeo

Secretary Pompeo,

We the undersigned strongly oppose any efforts to destabilize Iran and bring about its economic collapse. The people of Iran have struggled to achieve democratic rule and independence for more than a century, and while this noble struggle has both made positive strides and suffered setbacks, outside interference has invariably undermined their efforts and strengthened Iran’s authoritarian rulers.

Today, the Iranian people’s struggle continues unabated. The Iranian government’s mismanagement and corruption have once again increased the people’s suffering and both political and economic frustration is on the rise. The Iranian government’s ability to adequately meet the demands of the people remains unclear.

However, efforts to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy through external pressures and sanctions, or a US-sponsored regime change in Iran (in the image of Iraq) will not bring about democracy in Iran but rather destabilize the country and put democracy out of the reach of the Iranian people. That is what it did in Iraq, where after a decade of devastating instability with more than 500,000 dead, Iraq holds elections but is far from a democracy that reflects the hopes and aspirations of its people.

Iran’s only chance to achieve a sustainable democracy that reflects the wishes of its people comes from a process driven by the people of Iran, for the people of Iran. In short, change must come from inside of Iran – not from Washington or anywhere else. It is also crucial to bear in mind that Iranians have a long history with the United States, one that is alive in the memory of even young Iranians, and would compel them to respond to any American destabilisation with wariness and hostility.

Support for violent organizations such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) - which has used terror to kill Iranians and Americans alike - by key advisors to and Members of the Trump administration raises serious concerns as to whether your administration’s objective is to support the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy and independence or to use their legitimate grievances to destabilize Iran and turn it into a failed state. Indeed, your administration’s treatment of Iranians by preventing them en masse from traveling to the United States, certainly did not reflect any positive intent towards the people of Iran.

We urge you to cease all efforts to destabilize Iran and repeat the costly mistake the US committed in Iraq. If you truly wish to help the people of Iran, lift the Travel ban, adhere to the Iran nuclear deal—the JCPOA—and provide the people of Iran the economic relief they were promised and have eagerly awaited for three years, as every independent media has reported.

Those measures, more than anything, will provide the Iranian people with the breathing space to do what only they can do – push Iran towards democracy through a gradual process that achieves the benefits of freedom and liberty without turning Iran into another Iraq or Syria.

**your signature**

   

Join Prominent Iranian-Americans, including:

Farrokh Negahdar, Pro-reform Political Activist; Mohsen Kadivar, Professor, Duke University; Reza Aslan, Best-Selling Author; Sanam Naraghi, ICAN; Farshad Farahat, Actor; Ahmad Kiarostami, Kiarostami Foundation; Touraj Daryaee, Professor of History; Gholam Peyman, Inventor of Lasik; Mehran Kamrava, Professor, Georgetown University-Qatar; Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar; Steven Saeed Nasiri, Nasiri Ventures; Hamid Dabashi, Professor, Columbia University; Asieh Namdar, Journalist; Ervand Abrahamian, Professor Emeritus, CUNY; Muhammad Sahimi, Professor, University of Southern California; Trita Parsi, President, NIAC; Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor, University of London; Arang Keshavarzian, Professor, New York University; Nader Hashemi, Professor, University of Denver; Ali Kadivar, Professor, Boston College; Mahmoud Sadri, Professor, Texas Woman’s University; Ahmad Sadri, Professor of Sociology; Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, University of Oxford; Jamal Abdi, Executive Director, NIAC Action; Danesh Moradigaravand, Research Associate at Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; Arash Eshghi, Heriot-Watt University; Banafsheh Madaninejad, Southwestern University; Siobhan Amin; Ahmad Shams; Dianati Elmira; Mohammad Reza Salehpour, University of Texas; Mark Amin; Danesh Moradigaravand, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute; Seyed Hosseini, Retired Railroad Director; Masoud Loghmani; Ali Fatemi, DePaul University; Sahar Hooshdaran; Amirhassan Boozari, UCLA; Homayoon Kazerooni, University of California at Berkeley; Goudarz Eghtedari, Systems Scientist; Hadi Enayat, Aga Khan University; Ziba Mir-Hosseini, SOAS, University of London; Fatemeh Keshavarz-Karamustafa, Professor, University of Maryland; Sussan Siavoshi, Trinity University; Dina Esfandiary, CSIS; Yashar Salek; Parsa Sorbi, Persian TV Host; Kia Hamadanchy; Ardavan Moaveni; Ali Khademhosseini, UCLA; Mina Houtan, Houtan Foundation; Kevan Harris, UCLA; Mojtaba Mahdavi, University of Alberta, Canada; Noosheen Hashemi

Latest Signatures
930 Brad Duell
929 Mehrnoosh Ardalanyekta
928 Faramarz Farbod
927 mohammad ferdosi
926 Razieh Behnamifar
925 Houshang Hemmati-Arass
924 Perry Pakravan
923 Fay Fiuzat
922 Abbas Fiuzat
921 Saeid Saidi
920 Shohreh Mohebbi
919 Khashayar Nourishad
918 Fatemeh Sharifi
917 Mary Shesgreen
916 Art Ehteman
915 sam Sabz
914 Foroud Moradi
913 Shakiba Salehian
912 Alice King
911 Shiva McGee

NIAC Hiring Office Administrator

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is looking for a highly motivated and dedicated Office Administrator to join our team. The Office Administrator provides accounting and administrative support to NIAC and its staff to help advance our mission of strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. S/he reports to the COO.

Responsibilities:

  1. Financial & Accounting: Assistant external accountant by coding expenses and revenues in QuickBooks Online. Process invoices and reimbursements for payment.  Prepare checks for signature to pay bills/invoices as needed. Prepare bank deposits. Gather and organize account statements for reconciliation by accountant.
  2. Donation Processing & Database Management: Process donations and maintain donor records in EveryAction database. Provide ongoing maintenance of supporter records and account information to ensure clean and accurate data.  Mail correspondence as appropriate to donors and supporters in coordination with Development Consultant. Provide donor database support to other staff members as needed.
  3. Reception & Inquiry Management: Welcome and direct visitors and route or respond to incoming calls and email inquiries as appropriate. Process mail.
  4. Recruit and Manage Interns: Place ads as needed to recruit for internships; maintain correspondence with applicants; interview, screen, and onboard interns.
  5. Document Management: Manages document retention and maintains an organized filing system for financial and other retained records.
  6. Office Upkeep: Maintain inventory of supplies and order office supplies and equipment as needed. Maintain office space appearance and arrange repairs as needed.
  7. Budgeting Support: Prepare budget for basic office supplies and services.
  8. Travel Logistics: Book airfare and lodging accommodations for traveling staff as requested.
  9. Employee Records: Assists the COO with employee onboarding, ensure timesheets are completed on time, and maintain accurate records for employee holiday requests.
  10. Organize Staff Gatherings: Plan in-house or off-site activities, such as intern appreciate lunches or holiday gatherings
  11. Meeting Management and Reporting: Assist with meeting agenda preparation, maintain and distribute accurate meeting notes, and assist with preparation of monthly reports to the Board
  12. Other Support: Provides support with additional administrative and other duties as required by the COO or Executive Director, and may support NIAC events as needed.

Requirements:

  • Associate’s degree (Bachelor’s preferred)
  • Experience with QuickBooks Online and/or general accounting experience
  • Relevant work experience, preferably in a nonprofit setting
  • Familiarity with the Iranian-American community and Persian (Farsi) language ability a major plus
  • Proficiency with Microsoft Word and Excel
  • Support for NIAC’s mission
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Highly organized with solid time management skills
  • Highly responsible, takes initiative and finds ways to improve systems and outcomes
  • Manages and communicates up effectively
  • Excellent communications and customer service skills

To apply:
Send cover letter and resume to David Elliott at delliott@niacouncil.org with “Office Administrator” in the subject line.  No calls please.

Compensation:
Salary for the position is $35,000 – $42,000, depending on experience. Compensation includes Fortune 100-style benefits:

  • Generous medical, dental, vision, long-term disability, and life insurance plan subsidies (a value of at least $3,600.)
  • 15 days of annual paid leave and 12 paid holidays
  • 401K with 2% company match

NIAC Welcomes Appointment of New Iran Human Rights Rapporteur

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

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement welcoming the appointment of Dr. Javaid Rehman as the next UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran:

“The appointment of Dr. Rehman to serve as the next Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran will ensure the continuation of important and neutral work aimed at holding Iran’s government accountable to its international human rights obligations. The recent arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer who had previously been unjustly imprisoned in Iran, underscores the continuing failure of Iran to live up to its international obligations and the need for Dr. Rehman to pick up on the important work of his predecessors. The Special Rapporteur position had been vacant following the tragic passing of the last Special Rapporteur, Asma Jahangir, in February.

“NIAC was a key supporter of the reestablishment of the Special Rapporteur mandate in 2011 and has supported its subsequent extension in recent years. The reports produced by the Special Rapporteurs have helped document human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, discriminatory treatment of women and religious minorities, and deeply concerning executions. These balanced reports provide an important opportunity for the Rapporteur, backed by the UN and broader international community, to press Iran to abide by the recommendations of the report and move toward compliance with its human rights obligations.

“It is ironic that the appointment of Dr. Rehman follows the withdrawal of the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council just last month. Rather than work through multilateral mechanisms that have proven successful at pressuring and engaging Iran, the Trump administration has chosen to isolate itself and reduce its leverage. Fortunately, the work of the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran will continue in spite of this administration’s preference for unilateral demands over patient and good-faith multilateral diplomacy.

“We urge Iran to comply with the requests of Dr. Rehman, including any requests for meetings with Iranian officials and visits to the country. Moreover, we urge Iran to fully implement the recommendations of Dr. Rehman and past reports.”

###

Analyzing the Supreme Court Decision on Trump’s Muslim Ban

The Supreme Court’s Muslim Ban opinion can be divided into three parts: (1) the majority opinion, also known as the opinion of the Court; (2) concurring opinions that support the opinion of the Court but wish to expand upon it; and (3) the dissenting opinions that disagree with the opinion of the Court. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch to uphold the latest iteration of the Muslim Ban. This means that the case returns to the lower court for additional litigation but the Muslim Ban will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. The summary below is intended to provide a basic outline of the decision for a reader unfamiliar with law and some of the Court’s more complex arguments have been simplified for clarity.

  • Summary of the Majority Opinion:  It is within President Trump’s discretion to suspend the entry of aliens to the US if he determines their entry would be detrimental to US interests or if the policy is plausibly related to the Government’s stated objective which in this case is to protect the country’s national security. Therefore, Proclamation 9645 is lawful.
    • The President has broad discretion under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to suspend the entry of aliens into the US. The INA §1182(f) gives the President “ample power” to restrict entry of aliens if their entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
    • The President is also not required to provide an end date for his suspension of entry and the existing vetting procedures do not address the failure of particular high-risk countries to provide reliable information.
    • The INA distinguishes between admissibility, i.e. general eligibility to receive a visa, and allocation of immigrant visas. It is forbidden to discriminate based on nationality in the case of visa issuances but the President is permitted to restrict eligibility in the first place on the basis of nationality.
    • When the Court strikes down a policy under rational-basis scrutiny it looks to see if the policy is divorced from any factual basis and this is not the case for the Proclamation because the Muslim-majority countries included in it were previously designated and a worldwide review process was undertaken by the Trump administration.
    • The majority addressed the dissent’s reference to Korematsu v. United States, a Supreme Court case from 1944 that upheld the policy of placing Japanese Americans in internment camps, and determined that the set of facts between the two cases are entirely different. However, the Court took the opportunity to formally reject the Korematsu decision.
  • Summary of Dissenting Opinions: Proclamation 9645 should fail the rational-basis scrutiny test because it is not rooted in facts and there is an extensive record of anti-Muslim animus among President Trump and others in his administration involved in the implementation of the Muslim Ban. Additionally, publicly available information suggests that the waiver process has not been applied adequately which further places the intent of the Muslim Ban into question because a significant number of individuals who do not pose a national security risk to the US should qualify for a waiver. Lastly, the record itself does not indicate that there is any evidence that the Muslim Ban was designed based on national security concerns.
    • The dissent written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justice Kagan rejects the majority opinion that Proclamation 9645 was not significantly affected by animus against Muslims. It places significant emphasis on whether the waiver provision of the ban is being implemented fairly and Justice Breyer writes “How could the Government successfully claim that the Proclamation rests on security needs if it is excluding Muslims who satisfy the Proclamation’s own terms? At the same time, denying visas to Muslims who meet the Proclamation’s own security terms would support the view that the Government excludes them for reasons based upon their religion.” Justice Breyer expressed serious concern that the waiver provision is not being applied adequately both due to the lack of guidance provided to consular offices and based on publicly available information that shows low waiver issuances and dwindling visas even for categories that are permitted under the ban such as student visas.
    • Justice Sotomayor wrote a separate dissent and was joined by Justice Ginsburg. It opens by asserting that “based on the evidence in the record, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus. That alone suffices to show that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.” The Establishment Clause of the Constitution forbids the government from favoring or disfavoring any one religion. Justice Sotomayor argued that the background of the ban is enough to convince a reasonable observer that it was enacted for the purpose of disfavoring Muslims. She accused the majority of downplaying the full record of President Trump’s hostility toward Muslims to simply gloss over a few of his most egregious anti-Muslim statements and then fail to address them in its analysis. The dissent questions the majority’s use of rational-basis scrutiny as a standard of review rather than heightened scrutiny which it argues should be applied in the case of a policy involving discrimination on the basis of religion.
    • Justice Sotomayor contends, however, that even under rational-basis scrutiny, the Muslim Ban is unconstitutional because it is divorced from any factual context that could discern a relationship to a legitimate state interest. She asserts that the worldwide review process was conducted by officials who themselves have expressed hostility toward Muslims and the inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela in the ban was intended “precisely so the Executive Branch could evade criticism or legal consequences for the Proclamation’s otherwise clear targeting of Muslims.” Furthermore, former high-ranking national security officials have indicated that the ban does not enhance the security of the US and Congress has already erected a statutory scheme that adequately protects national security interests.

What You Need to Know about Trump’s Muslim Ban After SCOTUS

This Question & Answers page is designed to answer your questions in regard to Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 after the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it on June 26th.

What has changed?

Unfortunately, not much. If you were impacted by the Muslim Ban last week then you are still impacted by it today. What has changed is how we are fighting the Muslim Ban. We have always focused on a dual strategy of legal challenges and legislative initiatives. That is why our sister organization, NIAC Action, will double-down with other allied organizations to lay the groundwork for legislative repeal of the Muslim Ban. We will win this fight but until that happens we will continue to provide you with guidance on the ban.

Who is still affected by the ban?

The issuance of immigrant visas (including “green card lottery” diversity visas) to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and North Korea is suspended indefinitely. Permanent residence applications are not being processed for the listed countries. This means no immigrant visas will be issued or processed. The entry of nonimmigrants from Iran is also suspended, with the exception of student visa holders (F and M visas), or exchange visitor visas (J visas). B-1/B-2 nonimmigrant visas are suspended for nationals of Libya and Yemen. Certain Venezuelan government officials and their families are also barred from entry on B-1/B-2 visas.  No nonimmigrant visas will be issued to Syrians or North Koreans. Somalis are subject to additional scrutiny but remain eligible for nonimmigrant visas.

Who is not affected by the ban?

The ban does not apply to individuals from the included countries who have been granted asylum or are already admitted as refugees inside the US.

Iranians on F, M, and J visas should be subjected to standard visa issuance procedures and not affected by the Muslim Ban.

Certain nonimmigrants from Libya (except B-1/B-2 visas), Yemen (except B-1/B-2 visas) and Venezuela (except certain government officials and their families) will be permitted to enter.  

The suspension of entry will not apply to travelers with other travel documents such as a transportation letter or advance parole document.

Section 3 of the Proclamation allows for case-by-case waivers for individuals otherwise barred from entry when the following conditions are met:

  1. A foreign national demonstrates undue hardship.
  2. Their entry would not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
  3. Their entry is in the national interest.

In practice it remains unclear what particular cases actually qualify for a waiver and the issuance of one is highly unpredictable. More information is provided in the section on waivers.

If I have a multiple-entry visa can I travel outside the U.S. and return?

This is by far one of the most common questions that U.S. visa-holders from the countries included in the Muslim Ban ask. The short answer is “yes” but do so with caution. For example, if you have a valid multiple-entry F1 visa then you can travel outside of the U.S. and return. We have heard of Iranian students with multiple-entry F1 visas who visited Iran since Muslim Ban 3.0 took effect and then returned to their studies in the U.S. without any issues. However, it is important to remember that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents can deny you entry to the U.S. even if you have a valid visa. There is always a risk of being turned away at the border and this risk existed prior to the Muslim Ban but appears to have risen slightly.

If I have a multiple-entry student visa, what do I need to travel outside the U.S. and return?

Since the vast majority of individuals who ask this question hold student visas, the next question will address what an F1 multiple-entry visa holder needs to travel outside the U.S. and return.

  • Valid passport with 6 months left before expiration with a valid multiple-entry visa stamped in it.
  • Valid I-20 with a signature from your ISO advisor on page 2 that is less than one year old.
  • Proof of financial support (e.g., award letters, bank statements).
  • Proof of university enrollment (e.g., admission letter, university ID, class registration).
  • Form I-901.
  • Check with your international student services for their list of recommended documents before departing as this list is subject to change.

It is best to bring as much documentation as possible. Additionally, while it is unnecessary to document your reason for travel, it always helps to be able to provide proof where possible (e.g., a wedding invitation) in case you are subjected to secondary screening.

Did the Supreme Court clarify the waiver process?

No. One dissenting opinion, i.e., the opinion of a judge who disagreed with the majority ruling, argues that the available evidence suggests that the waiver process is a sham as so few are granted. This depiction is backed up by the testimonials of consular officers, who have described the waiver process as a “fraud.” As letters responding to Sen. Van Hollen’s queries have clarified, very few waivers have been granted – less than 2% of applicants from Muslim-majority countries under the ban received a waiver, almost all of which were granted after Congress requested information from the administration.

Section 3 of the Proclamation allows for case-by-case waivers for individuals otherwise barred from entry when the foreign national demonstrates (1) undue hardship, (2) that their entry would not pose a threat to national security, and (3) that their entry is in the national interest. It remains unclear what circumstances satisfy these criteria but a medical emergency of a close family member is one situation that could hypothetically qualify for a waiver. Some individuals with fiances and spouses who have been impacted by the Muslim Ban have incorrectly presumed that a close relationship with a US person on its own satisfies the waiver standard. This does not appear to be the case. NIAC Action will continue to challenge this in Congress. For now, we recommend that anyone who believes they have a compelling case for a waiver continue to apply for a visa. Individuals in the US can also ask their legislators to check in with the administration on individual visa applications, which could help secure a waiver for family members of friends.

Is this permanent? Will banned classes of Iranians never be able to come as a result of this Ban?

Muslim Ban 3.0 does not have a set expiration date and the Supreme Court decision held that “the President is not required to prescribe in advance a fixed end date for the entry restriction.” We are confident that we will eventually defeat the Muslim Ban and “extreme vetting” procedures legislatively. This will be done through NIAC Action’s support of political candidates who are dedicated to rescinding the ban, keeping the issue in the spotlight, and working with partner organizations and allied lawmakers on a legislative solution.

Will Green Card holders be affected?

Under the terms of the proclamation, entry suspensions will not apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States, commonly referred to as LPR’s or Green Card holders. However, green card applications are not being processed.

How does Muslim Ban 3.0 affect dual nationals?

Dual nationals who are traveling on a passport issued by a country other than the eight covered countries will not be affected. So if you are a citizen of an EU country, for example, and also hold an Iranian passport, as long as you are entering the US on a passport issued by the EU country you will not be affected by the proclamation. However, nationals of the seven banned countries under Muslim Ban 3.0 will still need a valid F, M, or J visa. Dual Iranian nationals with visas issued prior to October 18, 2017 will not have their visas revoked, but it remains to be seen whether they will be permitted to enter the United States, as the language of the proclamation is unclear on this point.

MEDIA AVAILABILITY: Experts Available to Discuss Trump’s Muslim Ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jamal Abdi, Vice President of Policy – 202.386.6408, jabdi@niacouncil.org

Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325, tparsi@niacouncil.org

Mahsa Payesteh, Outreach Director – 214.236.4440, mpayesteh@niacouncil.org

Ryan Costello, Assistant Policy Director – 703.963.1901, rcostello@niacouncil.org

Adam Weinstein, Policy Associate – 202.386.6319, aweinstein@niacouncil.org

Experts from the National Iranian American Council are available to discuss the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision to uphold Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the necessity for Congress to take action to end the ban once and for all.

Iranians and their Iranian-American families in the U.S. have been the group most impacted by the ban. Families have been ripped apart with no end in sight and students have been unable to pursue their dreams. The Iranian-American community has been praised by the Trump White House as one of the most successful immigrant communities in the United States, yet will be barred on a permanent basis because of Trump’s ban and the Supreme Court’s morally hollow decision.

The following experts are available to discuss this dark day for American justice:

Jamal Abdi is Vice President for Policy for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Executive Director of NIAC Action. He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education on civil rights and immigration issues, as well as diplomacy with Iran. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York Times, CNN, Foreign Policy, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributor in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, and BBC News. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi

Trita Parsi, is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on civil rights and US-Iranian relations. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007) and A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press 2012).

Parsi’s articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

Mahsa Payesteh joined the National Iranian American Council as a Community Outreach Associate in January 2015 and works to empower and organize Iranian Americans to have a strong voice on the political issues that matter most to them.

Mahsa studied Psychology at The University of Texas at Dallas. She formerly worked as a Physical Therapy Assistant in Dallas, TX. Mahsa served as a volunteer NIAC Ambassador in Dallas for two years. She has always felt a strong connection to her Iranian heritage and has had a special interest in issues affecting the Iranian people. Following her experience volunteering at the 2014 Leadership Conference, Mahsa consequently decided to pursue a more active and permanent role with NIAC.

Ryan Costello joined NIAC in April 2013 as a Policy Fellow and now serves as Assistant Policy Director. In this role, Ryan monitors legislation, conducts research and writing, and coordinates advocacy efforts on civil rights and U.S.-Iran policy.

Ryan previously served as a Program Associate at the Connect U.S. Fund, where he focused on nuclear non-proliferation policy. He has published in American Foreign Policy Interests, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, CNN GPS, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Huffington Post and Roll Call. Ryan graduated from American University’s School of International Service with a Master of Arts in U.S. Foreign Policy, and from Ursinus College where he majored in history and international relations. Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RN_Costello

Adam Weinstein joined the National Iranian American Council as a Policy Associate in April 2017. In this role, Adam monitors legislation, policy briefs, and legal cases, conducts research and writing, and supports advocacy efforts. He focuses on national security, diplomacy, immigration and civil rights issues.

Adam served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan. He received his J.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia, where he focused on international law, national security law, and immigration law. He graduated from the University of Miami with a B.A. in International Relations.

Adam has written for Foreign Policy, CNN, The Diplomat, Newsweek, Haaretz, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Insight, the London School of Economics Middle East Centre and South Asia Centre, and the Huffington Post.

###

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

NIAC Outraged by Supreme Court Decision Upholding Muslim Ban

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

Washington, D.C. – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement following today’s Supreme Court decision upholding Presidential Proclamation 9645, commonly referred to as Muslim Ban 3.0 in the case of Hawaii v. Trump: 

“The effort to end the Muslim Ban is far from over. We will do everything in our power to organize our community and collaborate with other communities to ensure that Trump’s shameful policy is repealed by Congress.

“The promise of a United States that is inclusive, diverse, tolerant, and free has been rendered hollow for millions of Muslims, Iranian Americans, and other impacted communities as a result of this outrageous decision. Having been failed by the President, the Congress, and now the Supreme Court, it is now up to the most powerful office in our democracy – the office of citizen – to rise to the occasion and elect representatives who have the political courage to repeal this policy that has cast a shadow over our nation.

“The Supreme Court has added Trump’s Muslim Ban to the list of American moral failures that future generations will lament. This travesty of justice is a far cry from the Supreme Court that struck down segregation and bans on same sex marriage. History will view this decision along with other outrageous decisions that upheld and solidified official government-sanctioned discrimination.”

“Donald Trump stared directly into a camera and boldly proclaimed that he would have a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’. He then worked assiduously to enact that ban. Members of Congress, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and the future Vice President Mike Pence condemned issued full-throated rejections of a Muslim Ban or religious test on the campaign trail. However, when Donald Trump became President, spines weakened as the Republican Congress and establishment played defense for Trump’s bigotry.

“We have been betrayed by our elected officials. Rather than intervene and uphold their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Republican Congress has not held a single hearing on the Ban. Legislation to repeal and defund the Ban has been introduced and endorsed by nearly every Democrat in Congress but has been blocked by the Republican majority. The basic values and freedoms enshrined in America’s constitution have been reduced to the most vile of partisanship. Lawmakers of both parties have an obligation to protect their constituents against unconstitutional exercises of power. Instead, GOP lawmakers have run interference for the President to abuse his office and destroy our country’s bedrock values. 

“The only solution now is to elect a new Congress that will repeal Trump’s Muslim Ban and stand up to this President’s egregious abuses of power. Today’s disappointing Supreme Court decision will only deepen the convictions of Americans on the right side of history, and will only reinforce the resolve of NIAC and other grassroots civil rights organizations to continue fighting for this country’s sacred principles.”

This is not over.

 ###

Nike Petition Update: Demanding Accountability from Nike

An update on our petition , “Tell Nike Not to Politicize the World Cup,” in regards to Nike’s refusal to provide cleats to the Iranian World Cup Team:

We are all proud of how Team Melli played in the World Cup, but we are also so proud of how this community was able to come together to support the Iranian national soccer team. With every new petition signature, we show Nike that Iranian-Americans are willing to unite in the face of discrimination against our people and community.

Though our petition has not received a response yet, we wanted to let you know that we are putting additional pressure on Nike. We have sent their CEO, Mark Parker, a letter detailing our concerns and asking for answers. You can find an excerpt of the letter below.

Over the past eighteen months, our community has been living under a Muslim Travel Ban that prevents our families from visiting us in the United States. With the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, we collectively worry about the prospect of a war with Iran. The World Cup is a rare chance to put aside the many political challenges of the moment and to celebrate what unites us – sport. This is a principle that so many of us have viewed as a core element of Nike’s brand and mission. I hope you understand how disappointing your decision is for our community, but, in the spirit of transcending what divides us and instead celebrating what unites us, we would like to request a meeting to discuss this issue further and help broker a resolution or understanding.

Nike’s statement to the press explained that “sanctions mean that, as a U.S. company, we cannot provide shoes to players in the Iran national team at this time.” However, many in the Iranian-American community believe that Nike made a political decision rather than one rooted simply in legal obligation. We fully understand that corporations are placed in the tenuous position of navigating a labyrinth of U.S. sanctions laws. However, like most of the Iranian-American community, we too do not understand Nike’s legal rationale in this particular situation.

We would be interested to learn in more detail why Nike made this decision so that we can communicate it to our community and, as appropriate, conduct our own outreach with U.S. government agencies to address this challenge and prevent similar issues from arising in the future.

Please continue sharing the petition with your family and friends.

If you’re interested in getting involved with any of the groups sponsoring this petition, please click the links below:

Aftab Committee
Iranian Alliances Across Borders
Iranian-American Bar Association
National Iranian American Council
United For Iran

Restrictions on Mailing Items to Iran Have Been Lifted!

Recent complications in shipping gifts to friends and family in Iran may finally have been resolved. Following NIAC’s correspondence with several government agencies detailing our concerns and urging a solution, we are pleased to report that the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have taken steps to restore the ability to ship permissible items to Iran via the U.S. Postal Service.

Since late 2017, NIAC received reports from Iranian Americans who had shipments to Iran turned away from the U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) in spite of long-standing U.S. policy to permit mail and low-value gifts to be shipped to Iran.

NIAC requested clarification from relevant government agencies and subsequently requested a formal rule change to rectify the situation. The United States Census Bureau and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have now confirmed with NIAC that the USPS has been advised by both agencies to “forego rejecting or returning gift items [intended for Iran that are] within the scope of the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (“OFAC”) general license, where the only issue is the lack of evidence that the mailer has filed electronic export information.”

In short, it appears that government agencies have reverted back to the enforcement of regulations that existed prior to August 2017. Iranian Americans should once again be able to ship permissible items to Iran via the U.S. Postal Service.

NIAC would like to extend our gratitude towards all agencies involved in rectifying this situation – in particular, the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

We do still believe more must to be done to ensure that Iranian Americans are not inadvertently barred from sending shipments to Iran in line with U.S. policy. While the Postal Service has been advised to not reject or return items shipped to Iran, the policy that such items technically require a “Electronic Export Information” filing remains in place. While this should no longer have practical implications, NIAC is continuing to engage relevant government agencies to eliminate this policy altogether to prevent further complications in the future.

If you have sought to ship items to Iran and had those packages denied transfer or returned in recent weeks, please contact us through email (info@niacouncil.org) or through our main office phone (202-386-6325).

Iran is Not North Korea: Trump’s Regional Allies Prefer Civil War to Peace

As US President Donald Trump returns from a successful photo-op in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, his focus will soon return to Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia have eagerly hoped that the Singapore summit would help neutralise the Korean issue so that Trump could turn all his energy towards Tehran. 

Yet no one seems to know what Trump’s Iran policy actually is. Is he looking for another deal? Is he paving the way for war? Is regime change the real goal? If Saudi Arabia and the UAE decide, it will be none of the above – it’ll be much worse.

Trump’s next diplomatic ‘success’

Trump loves to keep the world guessing. He has a national security adviser – John Bolton – who has been pushing the US to bomb Iran for more than decade. A key supporter of the disastrous Iraq war –which he still claims was a success – Bolton has also propagated US-sponsored regime change in Iran, going as far as carrying water for the Iranian terrorist organisation the Mujahedin-e Khalq. In fact, the former Saddam Hussein-funded terrorists pay him $40,000 per speech he gives in their support.

In Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump has another hawk who has flirted with military actionagainst Iran, while upholding a veneer of interest in diplomacy. Yet, his infamous 12 demands of Iranwere not an invitation for negotiations but rather a diktat for capitulation.

Even the more mild-mannered Rex Tillerson, his former secretary of state, hinted on a few occasions that the real goal of US Iran policy was regime change, suggesting that this objective originates with Trump himself.

Iran is not North Korea and the depth of America’s (at times, fabricated) animosity towards Tehran is incomparable to the more cartoonish image it has of its adversaries in Pyongyang

Trump himself has characteristically been all over the map on Iran. His confidence high after successfully shaking the North Korean dictator’s hand, Trump told reporters that he was now getting ready to move on to score his next diplomatic success.

“I hope that, at the appropriate time, after the sanctions kick in – and they are brutal what we’ve put on Iran – I hope that they’re going to come back and negotiate a real deal because I’d love to be able to do that but right now it’s too soon to do that,” Trump said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un meet at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018. Picture taken June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

But Iran is not North Korea and the depth of America’s at times fabricated animosity towards Tehran is incomparable to the more cartoonish image it has of its adversaries in Pyongyang. It’s not even been a year since the North Koreans returned the tortured body of American student Otto Warmbier. Yet, Trump heaped praise on Kim, saying it was an “honour” meeting him and calling the dictator “a very talented man” with a “great personality”.

In contrast, while a reprehensible act, none of the American diplomats taken hostage in Iran 40 years ago were killed. Yet the scar of the hostage crisis continues to run deep in the American psyche and some elements appear to wish to keep it open.

Keeping US-Iran enmity alive

This is one of the main differences between the US-North Korea and US-Iran conflicts: while America’s regional allies in the former conflict seek to avoid war and favour a diplomatic solution, US allies in the Middle East oppose negotiations in the latter conflict. In fact, they have played an important role in keeping the US-Iran enmity alive.

Which then raises the question: what do Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE – the three countries cheerleading Trump’s confrontational policy with Iran – want?

Contrary to the rhetoric of these countries, their main problem with Iran is not the nature of its regime, but rather its power and its ability to shift the balance of power in the region against their interests. An Israeli intelligence officer admitted to me in 2009 that a potential victory of the Iranian Green Movement would be “Israel’s worst nightmare” as it would enable Iran to break out of its isolation and expand its power further.

The pursuit of regime change may in reality be an avenue to achieve a far more sinister objective: A civil war in Iran that could either lead to Iran’s dismemberment or at a minimum, a prolonged state of debilitating instability

Similarly, the Netanyahu government’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal had little to do with the details of the deal and more to do with how the deal signalled an end to almost four decades of America’s policy of containing Iran. With the sanctions lifted and Iran on a path towards political rehabilitation, the United States was succumbing to Iran’s rise rather than committing itself to reversing it.

Given this, regime change towards a stable democracy in Iran does not appear to be beneficial to Iran’s regional rivals. Indeed, the idea that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia – who contends that there’s nothing wrong with an absolute monarchy – yearns for liberal democracy in Iran is preposterous.

A more potential rival

If Iran had a proper democracy that respected the rights of the Iranian people and provided them with the freedom to realise their full potential, Iran’s power in the region would arguably rise well beyond what it has so far achieved through taking advantage of America’s regional missteps.

Such an Iran would be a far more potent rival to Saudi Arabia – a scenario Riyadh hardly wants to help bring about.

Iranian protestors burn an effigy of US President Donald Trump dressed in an Israeli flag during a rally to mark “Qods day” (the day of Jerusalem), an annual day of demonstrations against Israel first initiated in 1979 to fall on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, in Tehran on June 8, 2018.
Iran held its annual day of protest against Israel, determined to show defiance at a time of mounting pressure from the United States and its regional allies. / AFP PHOTO / STR

Instead, the pursuit of regime change may in reality be an avenue to achieve a far more sinister objective: a civil war in Iran that could either lead to Iran’s dismemberment or at a minimum, a prolonged state of debilitating instability. While democratisation in Iran would not shift the regional balance in Saudi Arabia’s favour, turning Iran into Syria would.

This may also explain Saudi Arabia’s support for the MEK terrorist group. Riyadh surely understands that the MEK hasno support inside Iran and that the prospects of it taking power in Iran is close to nil. From that perspective, Riyadh’s investment in the MEK makes no sense. But the MEK can help spark an internal conflict in Iran and from that vantage point, Riyadh’s investment in the terror group could serve a purpose.

Saudi Arabia may not be alone in viewing the promotion of instability in Iran as a path to shift the balance of power against Iran. Senior Israeli Mossad official Haim Tomer recently told the Jerusalem Post that Israel can and should promote regime change in Iran because “even if regime change does not succeed… it is better to have the Iranians fighting among themselves”.

This would not be the first time Iran’s regional rivals would seek instability in Iran or the dismemberment of the country. During the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister Tariq Aziz famously lamented Iraq’s geopolitical dilemma being situated next to the much larger and more powerful Iran.

“[I]t is better to have five Irans, five small Irans rather than one big Iran,” he told the Washington Post in 1981 as he spelled out Saddam’s goal of dismembering Iran, as recounted to David Ottaway.

This may not be where Trump aims to go. But unlike with North Korea, disregarding the pressures and designs of America’s allies in the region will likely prove far more difficult on Iran.

This piece originally appears in Middle East Eye