NIAC Statement on Protests across Iran over Gas Price Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iranian Americans Increasingly at the Center of Systematic Discrimination Across the U.S.

Today we learned that the federal officers who inexplicably gunned down a young Iranian-American man at point blank range will not be held accountable. Bijan Ghaisar’s parents and family have sought answers for over two years and have been stonewalled by their own government. Bijan’s murder is just one part of a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence being carried out by American police forces against primarily black but increasingly also against brown men. For Iranian Americans who looked on as other men of colorincluding Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—were killed by police officers and thought it would never happen to us, Bijan’s death is a wakeup call.

Iranian Americans are caught in the crosshairs of some of the most urgent national political and social challenges America faces today.  From police violence to family separation owed to draconian immigration policies at home to brutal imperialism abroad, our community has a dutyand a unique opportunityto fight back and protect the values we believe in for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Today’s despairing announcement came on the heels of another official release concerning a civil servant, Sahar Nowruzzadeh, who was targeted by her bosses at the State Department and ultimately demoted because of her Iranian heritage. This is the same state department that illegally funded IranDisinfoa group that attacked Iranian American journalists, organizations, and human rights activists with taxpayer dollars.

The department’s inspector general released its findings from an investigation into the matter and found conclusively that Brian Hookthe lead official charged with formulating Iran policy under Trump and Pompeo discriminated against Sahar because he believed she was born in Iran. Will there be any accountability for Hook’s actions? Or will he too be let off the hook and become just one more perpetrator not held accountable for his offenses against Iranian Americans? 

As Americans, we entrust authorities with powers on the promise that they will not be abused and if they are, we the people hold the ultimate authority to take that power back. In looking at just the above two examples, Iranian Americans can connect the dots as to a whole host of trends underscoring how the authorities who we have elected into office and paid for with our tax dollars are abusing those powers. State sanctioned violence at home is matched by the eagerness to use state sanctioned violence against powerless populations abroad. 

The targeting of a civil servant based on her perceived national origin is a symptom of the same sickness that has produced a Muslim Ban against all Iranian nationals abroad. The securitization of how police treat black and brown men is part of the same phenomenon that has led us to separate children from their mothers and fathers at the border in the name of national security.

We have a responsibility to grapple with these challenges beyond wringing our hands or lamenting how this impacts our community. We must do something about it in coalition with and support of all communities. Building political power for Iranian Americans should top our community’s list of priorities, particularly for those who see the trends and believe enough is enough. 

Iranian Americans are being targeted, but we also are a community of immense privilege and we owe it not just to ourselves, but also to our compatriots facing similar challenges, to put that privilege to use in service of justice. If we organizepull together our political giving, organize our communities locally and nationally to communicate with our elected officials and hold them accountable, and educate ourselves and the broader public about political engagementIranian Americans can make a major impact in restoring justice and accountability. With 2020 around the corner, we must not simply internalize the outrage of Bijan’s murder or the scandal of the targeting of Iranian American civil servants. We need to fight back. 

یک پیروزی برای زنان ایران و الگویی برای تغییر

مبارزه برای گرفتن حق حضور زنان ایرانی در استادیوم‌های فوتبال سالهاست که توسط مدافعان حقوق زنان و فعالان مدنی داخل کشور در جریان بوده است. همانگونه که در فیلم آفساید، محصول سال ۲۰۰۶ به کارگردانی جعفر پناهی به تصویر کشیده شد، مسئله تنها به برابری حقوق جنسیتی محدود نبوده و حس عمیق غرور ملی و عشق به ورزش و کشور را هم در بر می‌گیرد. در فیلم پناهی که بسیار هم مورد تجلیل قرار گرفت، گروهی از زنان هنگامی که سعی داشتند برای تماشای یک بازی مقدماتی جام جهانی، با گریم مردانه یواشکی وارد استادیوم شوند، گیر میافتند. در حالی که فیلم بر دیالوگ بین این زنان با ماموران محافظ استادیوم متمرکز است، پایان فیلم چالش‌هایی که کماکان زنان ایرانی با آن درگیرند را برجسته می کند. در پایانی تلخ و شیرین، تصاویری واقعی از جشن پیروزی ایرانی‌ها پخش می شود. در حالی که این زنان از ورودشان به استادیوم جلوگیری شده، در اتوبوسی که دارد از استادیوم آنها را می برد به خبر پیروزی تیم ملی کشورشان گوش می کنند.

اما بالاخره خبر خوبی از راه رسید. در هجدهم مهرماه، مقامات ایرانی نهایتا ً کوتاه آمدند و به زنان اجازه دادند تا برای نخستین بار بعد از روزهای اول انقلاب، برای تماشای یک بازی مهم فوتبال به استادیوم بیایند. برای تکمیل این پیروزی، تیم ملی ایران با نتیجه باورنکردنی ۱۴ گل در برابر تیم حریف به پیروزی رسید ــ شاید بواسطه انرژی مثبتی که از تصاویر زنانی که در استادیوم به جشن و تشویق مشغولند قابل لمس است ــ این قطعا ً روز خوبی برای ایرانیان بود.

مبارزه برای حقوق بشر در داخل ایران مسیری سخت و طولانی را طی کرده است. در بین ایرانیان خارج از کشور، تلاش‌های واقعی برای حمایت از این آرمان، به جای آنکه بر پیشرفت معنادار سیاسی و ارتباط سازنده متمرکز باشد، در بسیاری از موارد به شاخصی برای ارزش‌گذاری و آزمونی برای سنجش ائیدولوژیک تقلیل یافته است. پیروزی ــ هر چند کوچک ــ که در تضمین حق ورود زنان به استادیوم‌های فوتبال به دست آمد، فرصتی است برای ارزیابی اتفاقات درستی که به این پیروزی انجامید و اینکه چگونه می توان از این تحولات کوچک برای تحقق تحولات بعدی الگو برداری کرد.

نسبت به سایر جنبش‌های اجتماعی که برای تغییر رفتار حکومت ایران تلاش می کنند، این جنبش از آغاز بر پایه‌ای بهتر برای موفقیت استوار شد، به این دلیل که پیشبرد آن توسط ایرانیان داخل کشور و برای آنها انجام شد. نیل به این هدف هزینه عظیمی در برداشت؛ علاوه بر تمام زنان هوادار فوتبال که در تلاش خود برای به دست آوردن حقوق برابر جرأت کردند که از دستورات مقامهای حکومت سرپیچی کنند و به این خاطر زندانی هم شدند، حد نهایت آن، قربانی شدن سحر خدایاری، معروف به دختر آبی بود. تلاشهای آنها توسط سازمان‌های حقوق بشری و رسانه‌های برون مرزی که مبارزه این زنان برای حقوق برابر را بازتاب دادند تقویت شد. مجموع این تلاشها به اهرمی برای اعمال فشار افکار عمومی بر فیفا تبدیل شد. فیفا نیز به نوبه خود از وزن فدراسیون جهانی برای اعمال فشار بر مقامات ایران استفاده کرد تا این تغییر ایجاد شود.

البته فشار فیفا تنها به این خاطر موثر بود که ایران در این بازی یک سهمی داشت، یعنی به معنای واقعی کلمه امکان حضورش در بازی‌های بین‌المللی در گرو حل این مسئله بود. فرض کنید مثل بسیاری از تشکلها، شرکتها و حتی دولت‌هایی که هیچ ارتباطی با ایران ندارند و در نتیجه هیچ مشوقی هم برای مجاب کردن مقامات ایران به نرمش ندارند، رابطه فیفا هم بواسطه تحریمها با ایران قطع شده بود. در مورد ایران، طبق گفته مشهور جرج دبلیو بوش، آمریکا با اعمال تحریم، خود را از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم کرده است. و حالا، به بواسطه نظام تحریم‌های یک جانبه‌ای که توسط دولت ترامپ علیه ایران اعمال شده، آمریکا تضمین کرده که بخش اعظم سایر کشورهای جهان هم از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم شوند. در نتیجه، به جای آنکه بتوانند از موفقیت فیفا در تاثیرگذاری بر سیاستهای حکومت ایران الگو برداری کنند، مجموعه‌هایی که مایلند تغییری در رفتار حکومت ایران ایجاد کنند تنها می توانند همان کاری را بکنند که دولت آمریکا می کند: یعنی صدور اولتیماتوم و طرح درخواست‌های تخیلی، بدون ارائه مشوقی جز تهدید به اعمال مجازات‌های حتی شدیدتر، تهدیداتی که حکومت ایران تصمیم گرفته با آنها سر کند.
حالا تصور کنید که ایالات متحده به توافق هسته‌ای با ایران پایبند مانده بود، شرکت‌های آمریکایی حضوری تجاری در ایران داشتند، موسسات آموزشی دو کشور برای تسهیل ارتباطات آکادمیک می کوشیدند و دولتهای ایران و آمریکا در عرصه‌های علمی و پروژه‌های زیست محیطی با یکدیگر همکاری داشتند. اگر احتمالی بود که آن شرکتها، موسسات آموزشی و سایر نهادهای مشترک، همانند فیفا تهدید به قطع ارتباط کنند، در آن صورت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن داشت. در عوض سیاست آمریکا در منزوی کردن ایران شرایطی ایجاد کرده که دولت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن ندارد.

البته پیش از راهیابی زنان به استادیوم‌ها، پیروزی‌های دیگری در حوزه حقوق بشر به دست آمد. سازمان نایاک از تعیین یک گزارشگر حقوق بشر در سال ۲۰۱۱ برای ایران حمایت کرد. این تلاش یک تفاوت فرخنده با انواع فعالیتهای حقوق بشری معمول که ما در ایالات متحده شاهد آن هستیم دارد، فعالیتهایی که بعضا ً در حد صدور بیانیه‌های محکومیت، ژستهای سمبولیک یا شعارهای تحریک آمیز محدود می شود، اقداماتی که بعید است در رهبری هیچ کشوری انگیزه‌ای برای تغییر رفتار ایجاد کند. با تعیین گزارشکر ویژه حقوق بشر، سازمان ملل متحد یک مجرای ارتباطی مورد نیاز ایجاد کرد که مقامات ایرانی، بعد از سالها مقاومت، در نهایت آنرا پذیرفتند. هر چند به ندرت به آن اشاره می شود، اما تلاش‌های گزارشگر حقوق بشر سازمان ملل به پایان دادن به مجازات اعدام برای جرائم مواد مخدر کمک کرده و چون از این اتهام برای تسویه حساب‌های سیاسی و سرکوب مخالفان هم استفاده می‌شد، عملا ً جان هزاران نفر را نجات داده است. اینها پیروزی‌های کوچکی هستند که برای ایجاد تغییر به آنها نیاز است. تاثیر این اقدامات به مراتب بیشتر از بیانیه‌های ایدئولوژیک و محکومیت‌های از راه دور احساس می شوند.

بهترین کاری که ما می توانیم به عنوان ایرانی ساکن خارج از کشور و مدافع توسعه اجتماعی در ایران انجام دهیم، تشویق و ترغیب برقراری گفتمان چند جانبه، دو جانبه، غیر رسمی و هر نوع دیالوگ ممکن با ایران است، تا فضاهایی واقعی برای گفتگو درباره حقوق بشر ایجاد شود همراه با نتایج واقعی، ورای ژست‌های تو خالی. پایان دادن به انزوای اقتصادی ایران و ارتباط با این کشور موجب می‌شود که حکومت ایران در قبال عدم پاسداشت استانداردهای حقوق بشری، چیزی برای از دست دادن داشته باشد. این تحول اگر با اطلاع رسانی نسبت به موارد نقض حقوق بشر همراه باشد می تواند تلاش‌های فعالانی که در درون کشور برای ارتقای حقوق بشر تلاش می کنند را تقویت کند. آنچه که ما نمی‌توانیم انجام دهیم، مگر آنکه بخواهیم به جامعه مدنی ایران بیشتر لطمه بزنیم، مصادره به مطلوب تلاش‌ها و جنبش‌های مردم ایران است، و یا اینکه اجازه بدهیم دیگران برای مقاصد پنهان خود از این تلاشها سوء استفاده کنند.

به عنوان آمریکایی‌های ایرانی‌تباری که مشتاق کمک به تسریع پیشرفت مدنی در ایران هستیم، ما باید اینجا در ایالات متحده از دولت آمریکا به خاطر اقداماتش حسابرسی کنیم. هرچند عدم وجود روابط دیپلماتیک رسمی بین ایالات متحده و ایران، تاثیر ما را از ده‌ها هزار کیلومتر فاصله محدود می کند، اما ما می توانیم از دولت ایالات متحده بخواهیم تا با اقدامات سنجیده این امکان را برای ما فراهم کند که بتوانیم بخشی از تلاش‌های مشروع برای متعهد کردن دولت‌ها، از جمله دولت ایران، به استانداردهای جهانی باشیم.

برای آنکه ایرانیان بتوانند به حقوق بشری که حقشان است برسند، کارهای زیادی هست که باید انجام شود. به عنوان یک تشکل خارج از کشور، ما باید نسبت به آنهایی که داخل کشور کار واقعی را انجام می دهند، رویکردی راهبردی و توأم با شکیبایی اتخاذ کنیم. این دستاورد مهم زنان ایرانی به ما نشان داد که نه تنها در ایران راه پیشرفت وجود دارد، بلکه فداکاری صبورانه مردم ایران، همراه با حمایت متواضعانه خارج از کشور ــ در قبال طرح مطالبات حداکثری ــ می‌تواند تدریجا به شیرین‌ترین پیروزی‌ها منجر شود.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muslim Ban Statistics Show Continued Discriminatory Impact

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

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

Waivers Remain Low & Visa Refusals Remain High

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

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

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

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

Muslim Ban Deters Visa Applicants

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

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

Iranians Still Most Impacted Group, Discriminatory Intent Not in Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIAC Calls for Treasury to Protect Iranian Americans from Bank Account Closures

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Re:      Request for Rulemaking—Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

            31 C.F.R. Parts 501 and 560

Dear Ms. Gacki:

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”)—the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans—respectfully petitions the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the issuance of a rule providing license authorization for certain transactions prohibited pursuant to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. This request is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 555(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 501.804(b), the latter of which is applicable to the ITSR by virtue of 31 C.F.R. § 560.101.

NIAC requests that OFAC promulgate a rule providing license authorization for U.S. persons to operate accounts of persons in Iran consistent with license authorizations that have been promulgated with respect to other U.S.-embargoed countries and jurisdictions, including, for instance, Syria and the Crimea region of Ukraine. We believe that such a license authorization will help resolve a problem that has become endemic to the Iranian-American community—namely, the difficulties Iranian Americans have had opening and maintaining bank accounts at U.S. financial institutions. 

Over the past few years, NIAC has heard from countless Iranian-American citizens and Iranian nationals in the United States who have faced continuous harassing inquiries from their banking institutions regarding their legal status and physical presence in the United States and have had their banking accounts shuttered and their life savings mailed back to them via the postal service. Such actions cause tremendous disruptions in the lives of U.S. citizens and Iranian nationals present in the United States, impacting their finances and very well-being, for no reason other than their Iranian heritage. Some individuals who have had their bank accounts shuttered have never even traveled to Iran. 

Banks have justified their behavior with near-unanimous resort to the requirements of U.S. law under the ITSR, including, for instance, the prohibition on the provision of financial services to Iran. While NIAC has repeatedly pointed out to U.S. financial institutions that the ITSR does not require them to deny financial services to Iranian Americans who are neither ordinarily resident nor physically present in Iran, this has not mitigated banks’ practices. U.S. banks have made a ‘risk-based decision’ based on U.S. sanctions under which servicing the accounts of Iranian Americans is not worth the risk inherent in falling afoul of the law.  

We believe that it is OFAC’s responsibility to remedy this situation. We are herein proposing that OFAC adopt a rule similar in scope of that found in the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 542, or the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589. For instance, § 542.515 of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations authorizes the operation of accounts in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than a blocked individual, provided that transactions processed through the account (1) are of a personal nature; (2) do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless otherwise authorized; and (3) are not otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. We believe that such a general license authorization can mitigate the risk that U.S. banks believe to be associated with handling the accounts of Iranian Americans.  

We also believe that this proposed license authorization is an important starting point with which OFAC may consider a remedy to this ongoing problem. NIAC welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with OFAC regarding the best path forward to ensuring that Iranian Americans are not unduly harmed by the U.S.’s trade embargo with Iran. Being unable to procure basic banking services in the United States—a country in which Iranian Americans live (and for some, have only lived)—is understandably an issue of immediate concern, and we trust that OFAC will dedicate the necessary resources to working towards an imminent solution.   

As part of this request for rulemaking, NIAC also intends to provide supplementary materials to OFAC to underline the immediate nature of the problem and to provide additional proposals to resolve the issue. This may include testimony for members of the Iranian-American community who have been especially affected by the practices of U.S. banking institutions. NIAC is also prepared to respond to any inquiries or requests for clarification that OFAC may have regarding this matter.

We thank OFAC ahead of time for its consideration of this issue, and we look forward to being in touch with the agency regarding a mutually satisfactory path forward.  

Sincerely,  

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

How to Deescalate the Dangerous Iran Standoff

The “maximum pressure” campaign, initiated by the Trump Administration under the stewardship of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, has brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. While President Trump apparently reversed course on his decision to launch strikes following Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, the danger of the U.S. and Iran triggering an all out regional war remains imminent.

President Trump asserts he wishes to avoid a military confrontation with Iran. Yet his approach of piling on economic sanctions regardless of Iran’s adherence to the JCPOA lacks coherence or clarity and is highly unlikely to achieve its stated goal of Iranian surrender. Instead, it has led to an increasingly provocative Iranian response. 

If the Trump Administration stays the course on maximum pressure, war is all but inevitable. With both sides now engaging in dangerous brinkmanship, the U.S. must take concrete steps immediately to avert another catastrophic American military intervention in the Middle East.   

Abandon “Maximum Pressure” in Favor of Diplomatic Compromise

A new U.S. strategy on Iran that includes credible economic incentives must be pursued in order to convince Iran of the merits of negotiations. The U.S. should credibly signal that it will suspend sanctions imposed after May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and credible incentive for negotiation. 

  • The Trump administration instigated a new escalation of tensions with Iran and isolation from its allies in May 2018 when it decided to abandon Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, and began its “maximum pressure” sanctions policy in violation of the multilateral accord.
  • After a year of upholding its nuclear commitments in spite of the U.S. withdrawal and “maximum pressure” campaign, Iran is now taking limited, reversible steps to halt compliance with aspects of the JCPOA. This includes a decision to surpass the JCPOA’s limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile on June 27th.
  • Iranian leaders have stressed that they won’t negotiate under pressure and, as recent actions show, have begun increasing their own leverage. Meanwhile, President Trump has exhausted all U.S. pressure tools short of war.
  • Trump must signal to the Iranians that he is prepared to exchange pressure relief in return for pressure relief if he truly wants to get a deal and avoid a disastrous war. To jumpstart negotiations, the U.S. should signal that it will suspend sanctions imposed in violation of the JCPOA. Once both sides have returned to their obligations under the JCPOA, negotiations can begin on building on the deal. 

Reestablish Communication Channels with Iran

The U.S. and Iran must reestablish the permanent communication channel that existed under the previous administration. Doing so is important to guard against a spiraling tit for tat and enable a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation.  

  • The Trump administration eliminated the bilateral communication channels that were established during the negotiation of the JCPOA. These channels, which existed at the level of secretary of state, helped contain tense episodes under the Obama administration—including securing the speedy release of U.S. sailors that had strayed into Iranian waters.
  • The U.S. should appoint a senior special envoy for engaging Iran to focus on confidence-building and decreasing mutual distrust and animosity. The envoy should have a proven track record of successful diplomatic engagement, a deep understanding of Iran, and the confidence of the parties that negotiated the JCPOA.
  • A direct U.S.-Iran channel for dialogue will reduce tensions in the overall relationship, enable a mutual understanding regarding each side’s intentions, and allow both sides to talk quickly should an incident occur–such as dispute over violating territorial boundaries or threats to Persian Gulf stability.
  • Additionally, establishing a permanent emergency deconfliction channel between the U.S. and Iranian militaries will also help prevent misunderstandings and avoid dangerous escalation of accidents.

 

UN Investigation into Drone Downing & Other Recent Incidents

The global and U.S. public skepticism to the administration’s claims regarding the drone downing and sabotage of oil tankers reflect the erosion of American credibility. Any response to an alleged violation of international law and norms should be rooted in those established rules rather than perpetuate lawlessness. 

  • Iran’s shooting down of the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone came one week after the sabotage of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which the Trump administration blamed on Iran. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton also blamed Iran for an attack on four commercial ships in the same area one month ago.
  • The bar for the evidence for the allegations should be extraordinarily high. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bolton both have track records of manipulating intelligence. 
  • Much of the international community, including U.S. allies in Europe, have viewed with suspicion U.S. claims that Iran was behind the oil tanker sabotage.
  • Rather than further isolate itself internationally, the Trump administration should allow for an impartial international investigation spearheaded by the UN into the tanker and drone incidents.

 

Congress Must Act Now to Prevent War

Congress must uphold its responsibility as a coequal branch of government and the only party with the authority to declare war by sending a clear message that Trump and Bolton cannot make an end-run around Congress to start a war with Iran.

 

  • Congress should pass legislation to block funds for the Trump administration to launch a war on Iran without Congressional approval. The Senate can do so by voting on and passing the Udall-Kaine amendment to the annual defense authorization bill. Stand alone legislation in each chamber, the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act (S. 1039/H.R. 2354) – introduced by Sens. Udall, Paul and Durbin and Reps. Eshoo and Thompson – also exists to bar such funding.

Congress should pass legislation to repeal the 2001 AUMF that some in the Trump administration claim provides authorization to wage war on Iran. The Repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill (H.R. 1274) from Rep. Barbara Lee would repeal the 2001 AUMF from using it as legal justification to attack Iran 17 years after it was introduced. The AUMF Clarification Act (H.R. 2829) from Reps. Massie and Levin would clarify that neither the 2001 AUMF nor the 2002 AUMF can be twisted to greenlight a war with Iran.

The Best Way to Avert War with Iran? Fire John Bolton

Iran’s decision to retaliate against the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal was inevitable, so long as its back was pushed against the wall. Iran exercised “strategic patience” for the past year, hoping that the other parties to the deal would stand up to Trump’s bullying and defy U.S. sanctions if Iran remained fully compliant with the deal. Now it has decided on a measured response: to halt compliance with aspects of the accord that recent U.S. sanctions themselves obstruct but leave the window for diplomacy open.

The backdrop to Iran’s decision is incredibly dangerous brinkmanship from senior Trump officials, particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton. Even as Iran has kept open the option of climbing down the escalation ladder, war could become a fait accompli if Trump keeps Bolton in the White House.

Importantly, Iranian officials have stressed their countermeasures with respect to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are reversible and that Iran will not precipitate a conflict. Iranian President Rouhani was careful to state that Iran’s decision did not amount to a withdrawal from the deal, but was permitted by the agreement, in particular its clause that Iran will treat the reintroduction or reimposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Read the full article on Newsweek.

At NIAC Congressional Panel, Experts Warn Trump is Taking Iran Diplomacy Off the Table

“Beyond just violating the deal and unilaterally abandoning it, I think what the Trump administration is trying to do is make it impossible or next to impossible for a future Democratic administration to re-enter [the Iran nuclear deal],” said Ned Price, a former CIA and White House official now with National Security Action who was speaking on Iran policy on Wednesday. The Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) is the “clearest example” yet, he said, of the White House seeking to tie the hands of a successor administration.

Price was speaking at a briefing hosted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on Capitol Hill addressing the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The panelists, which also included Jamal Abdi, President of NIAC; Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Asieh Namdar, anchor and journalist for CGTN, argued that the next administration must return the U.S. to its JCPOA commitments.

On what the Trump administration is hoping to achieve, “it really depends on who you talk to in the administration and on what day,” DiMaggio said. “If the goal of U.S. policy is to get the Iranians back to the negotiating table, then the policy is a failure.” Similarly, if the goal is “the fulfillment of Secretary Pompeo’s 12 goals,” DiMaggio warned, “the Iranians read the 12 goals as regime change.” Rather than send signals that the U.S. is pursuing “flatout economic warfare” that could lead to the use of military force, DiMaggio advocated for more engagement. She warned that as the maximum pressure campaign goes on, “with each pressure point, we are making it impossible for the Iranians to even consider to come back to the table.”

Price added similar warnings, noting that “the fatal flaw in the administration’s policy is that coercive sanctions cannot have the intended effect when the ultimate goal is regime change in everything but name.” In contrast to the Obama administration, which had the backing of the international community in first enforcing sanctions and then negotiating a final nuclear agreement, he outlined how the Trump administration has pursued a unilateral approach. When asked how much of Trump’s latest policies since leaving the JCPOA, including designating the IRGC as a FTO and the Muslim Ban, can be undone, Price was optimistic. “I think if Donald Trump has taught us one thing, it is that you can do a lot, especially in the realm of foreign policy, as long as you explain yourself.”

Abdi, meanwhile, warned that Trump’s policies are undermining the constituency inside of Iran for negotiations. “I think what we are seeing inside of Iran is, at least among the political class, a real consolidation around a more hardline position,” Abdi said. He said the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign is intended to push Iran to leave the JCPOA. In such a case, Iran may lose the international community’s support and the moral high ground.

Noting that National Security Advisor John Bolton has been a long-time proponent of military force against Iran, Abdi warned “If Iran can be goaded to leave the nuclear deal, then I think you will see some of the things that John Bolton had been advocating for potentially to come to fruition.” The Trump administration’s latest escalations are alarming because they have begun to “institutionalize that diplomacy with Iran is off the table.” Abdi argued that the U.S. must uphold its international commitments by returning to compliance with the nuclear deal. “When Pompeo talks about Iran behaving as a normal country, well, the United States is not operating as a normal country, and typically the United States derived its power from the international order and the notion that diplomacy works.” The Trump administration’s current strategy is such a departure from those norms, he said, that “regime change” may have already occurred in the U.S.

The panelists unanimously agreed that the current U.S. strategy toward Iran is not only self defeating but dangerous, including by signaling to other nations that the U.S. is unreliable. Moreover, while Abdi emphasized that Iranians clearly recognize that their government is behind a lot of the suffering inside Iran, he warned that the U.S. has given “the Islamic Republic a pretty compelling narrative for how it is the U.S. to blame for economic challenges in Iran.”

Returning to the negotiating table with Iran would help restore faith in U.S. leadership, but with the current administration, the future remains uncertain, and there may eventually not be a table to return to. Abdi warned that there is work to be done to ensure that “regime change” in the United States is not permanent, “and that the United States returns to being a responsible actor that the U.S. derives so much influence and power from for so many years.”

Sanctioning Iran’s Climate

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

Emblazoned across the jerseys of Iran’s 2014 World Cup soccer team is a symbol of national pride: the endangered Asiatic cheetah. Iranian conservationists have worked for years to reverse the cat’s dwindling population, and sadly their critical efforts are hampered by forces both in and outside of Iran. The world celebrated Earth Day on April 22, 2019 with its theme Protect Our Species; a reminder of the devastating impacts of climate change for species unable to adapt.

Iran’s climate change struggles are nothing new. Eager to develop infrastructure and technology as a way of catalyzing immediate economic benefits, the government paid little attention to long-term environmental impacts. Domestically, the Iranian government is failing to tackle this challenge and instead persecutes environmental conservations, which serves to further damage the environmental movement. On an international scale, additional US sanctions also continue to hamper Iranian efforts to combat current and future effects of climate change.

Iran needs a portfolio of solutions to approach climate change—one grounded in a re-evaluation of its resource management practices, and bolstered by international assistance. Until both domestic and international policies are overhauled, the fate of Iran’s changing climate and its people, looks grim.

Read more on MENASource from the Atlantic Council.

Growing U.S. Pressure is Emboldening Iranian Hardliners

The ingredients for a war with Iran are falling into place. The Trump administration’s termination of oil waivers for importers of Iranian oil and designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s state-run military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) are dangerous acts of escalation. Surprisingly, the Iranian reaction to the IRGC designation has been restrained as Tehran’s top decisionmakers remain committed to waiting out the Trump administration and not being baited into conflict. However, their approach is under immense domestic challenge—and could soon become unsustainable.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and his reformist and moderate allies continue to prefer to minimize foreign tensions through diplomatic engagement. Despite President Donald Trump’s abrogation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and the reimposition of hard-hitting unilateral sanctions, Rouhani has won elite consensus on refraining from retaliatory actions that could spur a multilateral front against Iran or risk conflict.

Rouhani has pushed for a policy that is best described as strategic patience. It has been marked by continuing to adhere to the JCPOA, reticence to escalate regional tensions, and preserving ties with Europe in the face of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. While Rouhani and other senior officials have ruled out talks with the Trump administration, they have left the door open to engaging a future White House that renters the JCPOA.

“[The U.S.] has burned the bridge,” Rouhani declared last August, “Now, the U.S. is standing on the other side … If it is honest, it should fix that bridge again.” In February, Rouhani reiterated that Iran would be willing to engage the United States “if America reverses its course.”

Read more on the National Interest.

NIAC Update on Flash Flooding in Iran

According to the latest report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), over 2 million people in Iran require humanitarian aid. Roughly 10 million Iranians in over 2,000 cities and villages in 31 provinces were impacted by the floods and heavy rains. IFRC further stated that based on the latest information, 78 people were killed, 1136 injured, and over half a million displaced as a result of the floods.

NIAC continues to support relief efforts for those impacted by the terrible flooding. We are urging the Treasury Department, State Department, and members of Congress to press for humanitarian exemptions so that U.S. sanctions and the U.S. trade embargo on Iran does not impede relief efforts. We also are supporting key organizations— which have proof of OFAC licensing— to encourage donations to relief efforts, including Moms Against Poverty, Children of Persia, and Child Foundation. Currently, these fundraisers are the best way for members of the Iranian diaspora to make a contribution to help those who need humanitarian aid in Iran.