NIAC Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest Sanctions on Iran

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

In response to the Trump administration’s announcement of new sanctions on Iran for its alleged role in attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Ryan Costello, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“President Trump’s recent sanctions designations appear duplicative at first glance, but in fact will likely eviscerate humanitarian trade with Iran that had already been sharply reduced following the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) had continued to play a major role in existing humanitarian trade with Iran, despite its prior designation, due to preexisting exemptions set down by Congress and the prior administration. 

“The new terrorism authorities (EO 13224) that the Central Bank of Iran has been designated under contains no similar exemption, nor has the Trump administration updated its guidance to add a new exemption. In fact, the Treasury guidance hints at this potential complication by noting that the U.S. ‘will continue to consider requests related to humanitarian trade with Iran as appropriate.’ Such actions were previously exempted by general license.

“The end result of this shift in policy – whether out of criminal negligence or willful vindictiveness – is likely to be pain for the Iranian people in the form of more medicine shortages for drugs produced in the West and sharply rising prices for food. 

“Congress and prior administrations understood the importance, and basic humanity, of exempting humanitarian goods from sanctions. The Trump administration has never updated its guidance related to humanitarian trade, creating a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and now appears to have deliberately removed one of the pillars allowing further humanitarian trade with the Iranian people. If the Trump administration does not immediately reverse its decision, Congress needs to legislate an exemption with haste. 

“After the crisis triggered by attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the President should be doing everything he can to undo his senseless actions that once again brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Instead, he is building a sanctions wall designed to lock both the Trump administration and a potential future administration into a playbook for war. There is no bigger loser of this policy than the Iranian people, who are crushed between their own government’s repression and inhumane sanctions that will now deliberately target humanitarian trade. This latest move – which could be illegal under international law – should be a wake-up call to all in the United States who claim support for the Iranian people. You can’t support maximum pressure and the Iranian people at the same time. It’s imperative that this dangerous step be reversed before the full impact is felt.”

NIAC’s Statement on President Trump’s Tweet Concerning Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

WASHINGTON DC – Today, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States was “locked and loaded” for a response after senior administration officials said Iran was to blame for an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, for which Yemen’s Houthi group had earlier claimed responsibility.

In response to these developments and President Trump’s latest comments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“If Trump fails to heed his anti-interventionist instincts and listens to the warmongers surrounding him, the U.S. risks triggering a regional war more catastrophic than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cooler heads must prevail and invest seriously in deescalatory measures to stabilize the whole region.

“Even before the facts have become clear, President Trump tweeted that he is prepared to launch military strikes pending Saudi verification of the perpetrators. The U.S. is not obligated to fight Saudi Arabia’s wars  and we urge Trump to discard his repeated willingness to cede U.S. policy to other nations and instead fulfill his self-professed aim to put America’s interests first.

“We do not know definitively who was behind the attacks, though Houthi forces in Yemen have been at war with the Saudi coalition since 2015 and have claimed responsibility for them. Iran has a motive, given the economic warfare being waged against it, but there is no smoking gun to implicate them. Those jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence seem eager to embroil the U.S. in another war that does not serve our interests.  

“Congress has not authorized war, nor has the U.N. greenlit any military action in response. As the region’s tensions near the boiling point, hot rhetoric can lead to miscalculation and must be avoided at all costs. There is a skeleton of a deal in place if Trump sets aside the strategy for war left behind by John Bolton and kept warm by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The international community would offer economic relief in exchange for Iranian restraint, with an agreement for further negotiations. The status quo of escalation can not hold—Trump must choose peace over war.”

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Flight Ban on Iranian Students

In response to recent reports that the Trump Administration is preventing Iranian students with visas from boarding their flights to the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by reports that a large number of Iranian students with visas were barred from boarding their flights at the last minute by the Trump administration. The students were fully vetted and set to study in the United States during the fall semester, and now have had their futures thrown into disarray with no explanation from either the State Department or Department of Homeland Security. 

“NIAC calls on the Trump Administration to provide a full and transparent accounting of what is behind these recent actions and whether a new policy has been put in place. NIAC is working with several of those impacted, as well as Congress, regarding these cases and inquiring with several branches of government. We will keep working to ensure that this and all bans imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian nationals are lifted once and for all.”

“The current iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban – which continues to unfairly discriminate against Iranian nationals – includes narrow exemptions for Iranian students to secure visas. However, many of those lucky enough to secure entry to American colleges and visas from the State Department now appear to have encountered a second ban that turned them back from the airport. The Trump administration owes it to the American people – which strongly opposes the Muslim ban – as well as to Congress and those impacted to fully detail the reason for its flight ban on Iranian students, the number of individuals impacted and to permit those who pose no security risk to travel to the United States to begin or resume their studies.”

Did you have a visa to study in the United States, but were turned away prior to boarding or upon entry to the United States? Fill out our form so that we can track the impact and help determine the cause of this change in government policy. We will keep all information confidential.

NIAC Congratulates Trump for Firing Bolton

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Just now, reports broke that President Donald Trump dismissed John Bolton from his role as National Security Advisor.

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

“We congratulate President Donald Trump on what may become the best decision of his Presidency. This single move dramatically reduces the chances of a new, catastrophic war in the Middle East. We have long said that the key first step in resolving the crisis with Iran was for Trump to fire Bolton. So long as Bolton was in the administration, he would always be the fox in the henhouse working to sabotage diplomacy.

“John Bolton should have never been in the White House to begin with and nearly took this country into the disastrous war with Iran that he has long dreamed of. Bolton came into Trump’s administration with a long agenda on Iran to kill the nuclear deal, start a disastrous war, and empower radical undemocratic groups like the MEK. Now the work can finally begin to put out the fires that Bolton started.

“The timing of this move is fortuitous given recent French efforts to facilitate dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. Bolton was a major obstacle to any resumption of diplomacy and, now that he has been dismissed, the Trump Administration should take proactive steps to enable dialogue and a diplomatic resolution with Iran. As with Bolton’s time in office, the time has come to dispense with the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and halt necessary sanctions to enable talks to move forward.

“If Trump prefers to be a dealmaker rather than a war-starter, his Administration and National Security Advisor must reflect this. We hope the White House will find someone to succeed Bolton who aims to resolve challenges through diplomacy rather than endless wars.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Intent to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

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

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran would reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this Friday. This is the third time Iran has taken such steps since the Trump Administration abrogated the agreement last year. The latest declaration comes ahead of the deadline set by Iran for Europe to uphold sanctions lifting obligations in exchange for Iran’s continued compliance with the nuclear accord. 

Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for returning to full compliance with the deal. The proposal includes a $15 billion credit line to offset oil revenue lost under U.S. sanctions, but its payout requires a commitment from the U.S. not to block the funds.

In response to these latest developments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement: 

“Iran’s announcement is a predictable consequence of the Trump administration seemingly closing off every opportunity to resolve the Iran standoff diplomatically. A U.S. failure to pivot from maximum pressure to the diplomatic opportunities initiated by France and other American allies ensures a continued cycle of escalation that could quickly spin out of control.

“Iran’s decision to stop abiding by further JCPOA restrictions risks playing into the escalation trap set by John Bolton and other diplomatic spoilers. While France and other mediators have sought to mitigate U.S.-Iran tensions and safeguard the JCPOA, Bolton and other administration hawks are furiously attempting to fuel the flames of hostility.

“Importantly, Iran’s actions on the JCPOA are reversible and it has indicated its readiness to return to full compliance with the deal if parties to the accord provide Iran with sanctions relief. The current French proposal to establish a $15 billion credit line for Iran stands to achieve this, but only if President Trump allows it to materialize. 

“The ball is in the President’s court. He has the option to de-escalate the dangerous tensions with Iran and move the two countries off the path to war. But only if he shifts away from counterproductive “maximum pressure” and towards practical actions that build the confidence necessary for successful diplomacy.”

NIAC Congratulates Sharif University Students on 2019 AIAA Win

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

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding travel and sanctions restrictions placed on Iranian students from Sharif University of Technology, who won the engine design competition at the 2019 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum:

“We would like to commend the group of Sharif students who defied the odds to win an engine design competition at a prestigious AIAA forum, as well as to extend our apologies on behalf of our elected government for the ridiculous and offensive hurdles placed in these students’ way.

“This group of engineering students from Sharif University entered the AIAA competition only to have their entry into the U.S. denied due to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban that denies visas for all Iranians with few, apparently arbitrary, exceptions. Undeterred, the group participated by video conference and managed to win the competition only to learn that they could not receive the cash prize for their program due to U.S. sanctions.

“These students are among Iran’s best and brightest, and U.S. policies should seek to empower them and allow humanity to benefit from their ingenuity. However, instead of celebrating their successes, these extraordinary students have been met with hurdles and indignities. This is a microcosm of the self-defeating and nonsensical treatment of Iranians by U.S. government policies. The Iranian people already have to deal with their own government’s deplorable human rights record, corruption, and other failings. Unfortunately, our American government often chooses to makes the situation worse. 

“NIAC reiterates its condemnation of the Trump administration’s unjust and xenophobic Muslim ban and the broad sanctions policies that are punishing ordinary Iranians. NIAC calls for an end to these destructive measures and for a U.S. approach towards Iran that prioritizes peace and engagement. We will continue our work to press for change and remain determined to remove barriers and instead build bridges between the American and Iranian people.”

NIAC Statement on the Trump Admin’s “Public Charge” Regulation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 12, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Today, the Trump administration announced that it will penalize legal immigrants relying on programs such as food stamps and government-subsidized housing in its latest attempt to reduce legal immigration into the US.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“NIAC is deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s public charge rule change, which is yet another step from this administration designed to target immigrant communities in pursuit of its discriminatory, white nationalist goals. This administration’s hostility toward immigrants began with the Muslim ban, which is still in force, and continued with its disgraceful raids and family separation. Unfortunately, Trump has not yet been sufficiently reined in by the courts or Congress, to the detriment of our nation. Bolder action is needed to stop this administration from continuing to implement its radical immigration agenda.”

NIAC previously drafted an FAQ and invited its members to oppose the public rule change in 2018.

NIAC Statement on the Imposition of U.S. Sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was imposing sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The sanctions were imposed on Zarif, according to the Treasury, because he has acted on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader. The move comes after reports earlier this month that Trump had instructed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on the Iranian diplomat, before reversing his decision.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“Again, President Trump has chosen an action to push Iran away from the negotiating table, isolate America on the world stage, and take diplomatic options off the table. If Trump was serious about negotiating with Iran, he would appoint a credible envoy and direct them to negotiate with Iranian diplomats rather than subjecting them to a ridiculous sanctions designation. Instead, Trump is ensuring that there will be no serious negotiations with Iran during his tenure. Once again, without a clear line to Zarif or any other Iranian officials to de-escalate tensions, the next crisis that the U.S. or Iran precipitates will once again risk war.

“Regardless of any personal animosities Trump’s team felt toward Zarif, dealing with him has served U.S. interests on several occasions. Zarif assisted the U.S. in forming a government in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion, credibly hammered out a nuclear accord with former Secretary of State John Kerry, and was pivotal in both freeing American sailors who strayed into Iranian waters and the prisoner swap that freed unjustly detained Americans in 2016. All the while, Zarif represented Iran’s interests and was able to convince the Supreme Leader and other Iranian officials to buy into the more moderate approach represented by the Rouhani administration. His sanctioning now by Trump plays into the hands of Iranian hardliners and forces on all sides that want to entrench U.S.-Iran hostilities.

“It is without a doubt that Zarif has deflected from the regime’s human rights abuses and other Iranian actions to escalate around the region. Yet, if that were a credible standard for imposing sanctions, the U.S. should also designate top diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and countless other nations around the world.  

“The timing of this move, coming after Sen. Rand Paul reportedly was dispatched to meet with Zarif on behalf of Trump, underscores that hawks like John Bolton are trying to box in the administration and eliminate diplomatic off-ramps. Trump can’t simultaneously hold out the option of credible negotiations while implementing the path to war plotted by John Bolton. Only yesterday did we publish a letter in conjunction with prominent foreign policy practitioners outlining pragmatic steps that the U.S. and Iran can take to deescalate this crisis. The time is running out for Trump to shift tracks, lest he be locked into the inevitable result of his failing maximum pressure strategy leading to a disastrous war.”

Coalition of Foreign Policy Experts Outline 8 Recommendations to Deescalate Tensions with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 30, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, an expert group of foreign policy practitioners published a letter underscoring the dangerous new phase that has put the U.S and Iran on the path toward war. The signatories include prominent academics, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Andrew Bacevich; foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal; former Member of Congress John F. Tierney;  former ambassadors and diplomats, such as Thomas Pickering, François Nicoullaud, and Peter Jenkins; national security expert Edward Price; and Iran experts such as Jamal Abdi, Dina Esfandiary, and Farideh Farhi.

The letter outlines a series of eight bold but practical recommendations to the U.S., Iran, and Europe that could widen the path to diplomacy that has narrowed considerably since the U.S. initiated a tit-for-tat ratcheting up of tensions with Iran. 

The signers urge the U.S. to suspend recent sanctions to provide space for deescalation and Iran to return to full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal. After these initial trust-building steps, the signers recommend further negotiations aimed at a prisoner swap and an Incidents at Sea agreement to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf. 

The full text of the letter and signatories is below and can be found on the web here.

Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

July 30, 2019

As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.

The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy

  • The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

  • Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap

  • Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.

Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations

  • Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels 

  • The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel with Iran to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high. 

The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy

  • To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

  • The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

  • Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.

Signatories: 

Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame

Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation

John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners,  a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985) 

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs -Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University.

Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel.

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council

John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

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

NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

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

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Statement on Iran Surpassing Enriched Uranium Stockpile Limit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday July 1, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to reports that Iran has surpassed the enriched uranium stockpile limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement:

“The consequences of President Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal continue to mount. Less than two weeks after the “maximum pressure” campaign nearly brought the U.S. into war, Iran has now exceeded nuclear stockpile limits that had been in place before Trump took office. President Trump inherited a successful nuclear deal and, with the goading of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, shredded that agreement with no serious endgame in place besides war.

“Thanks to Iran’s continued voluntary adherence to other provisions in the nuclear deal, Iran remains far from an undetectable nuclear breakout capability. Yet the further fraying of the nuclear deal is a setback for those who support diplomatic solutions to the standoff with Iran, and risks providing fodder for hawks like National Security Advisor John Bolton who are eager for military action.

“Make no mistake: the Trump administration’s approach towards Iran has senselessly and recklessly restarted the Iranian nuclear crisis. The goal of hawks like Bolton has from the get-go been to collapse the deal, and according to recent reports Bolton is now seeking even more aggressive sanctions to goad Iran towards this end.

“When you’re in a hole, the best advice is to stop digging. Returning the U.S. to compliance with the nuclear deal would be the best way to reverse the damage of Trump’s withdrawal. At minimum, Trump should suspend the “maximum pressure” sanctions in exchange for Iran suspending recent breaches of the nuclear deal and to allow space for negotiations. The top priority of the Trump Administration should be to reopen communication channels with Iran and engage in serious talks. Unless and until he does so, the U.S. and Iran will remain on the path to war.”