Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on Muslim Ban

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in the case of Trump v. Hawaii challenging the constitutionality of Presidential Proclamation 9645, otherwise known as Muslim Ban 3.0.

Americans and impacted communities have been fighting back against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban for over a year, and today is the culmination of our collective efforts. By June of this year, we will learn whether the Supreme Court will allow a Muslim Ban to forever be enshrined into law as a shameful American moral and ethical blunder.

Lawyers on both sides argued their positions today on three key questions presented to the Court: First, whether the President’s travel ban is justiciable. In order for a case to be justiciable, there is a requirement that there be some existing controversy between the parties, that the case be neither premature or a case where the threat of injury has been removed, and that the case does not ask the court to make a determination of a political question. The Supreme Court also heard argument about whether the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Solicitor general, Noel Francisco, arguing on behalf of the government relied heavily on the argument that there was a wide, multi-agency, international review conducted to determine which countries would be designated under the travel ban for failing to meet a baseline of information sharing, and added that the vast majority of Muslim countries were excluded from the ban. Justice Sotomayor pushed back early and asked if the government could represent that no other country that failed to meet the cooperation test was excluded from the travel restrictions. The government responded that Somalia and Iraq were excluded under the “tailored nature” of the ban, also making reference to Chad being taken off of the list of banned countries.

Justice Kagan joined in with a hypothetical of an “out-of-the-box kind of president” posed to the government: suppose a president is elected after a vehemently anti-semitic campaign where the candidate regularly disparaged Jews. The president then asked his staff to issue recommendations for security and what emerged was a travel ban on Israeli’s. The government responded that it was a tough hypothetical and he was not sure that this type of ban would survive rational basis scrutiny because of Israel being a close ally. Justice Kagan went on to say that this hypothetical, bearing a strong resemblance to President Trump, would not be about what is in the president’s heart, rather what the reasonable observer of the president’s conduct would think.

Justice Sotomayor pressed the government hard on the Kagan hypothetical questioning why the actions of the committee charged with finding a way to keep Jews out should not be subject to great suspicion and thorough review given that the committee is responsible to the president and they have been told what the outcome of their responsibility must be. Justice Sotomayor also eluded to the worldwide review report that served as the basis for the Presidential Proclamation and how it has been kept confidential and not been shared with either the litigants or the courts.

Justice Kennedy followed up on the hypothetical asking the government whether challengers, under that scenario, could bring claims under the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses, which the government conceded that they could.

The questioning later shifted to Trump’s campaign statements. The government asserted that the Presidential Proclamation is “very transparent” and that statements made by candidate Trump are “out of bounds” for consideration by the court. The government’s reasoning is that the taking of the oath as president marks a “fundamental transformation” from private citizen to public servant.

Justice Kennedy, widely considered a crucial swing vote, gave the government another hypothetical in which a candidate for mayor repeatedly made hateful statements, and took actions consistent with those statements once taking office. Justice Kennedy asks if those statements are irrelevant. The government again responds arguing that the actions taken by Trump are not a Muslim ban because the travel ban does not apply to the majority of the Muslim world and it was based on neutral criteria.

Justice Breyer shifted the questioning to the case-by-case waiver process and expressed skepticism that the number of individuals that have received waivers is enough to overcome the “real problem” of not having a good waiver process in place.

Neal Katyal argued next on behalf of Hawaii and began by saying that Congress has decided to reject nationality based bans before, opting to use a “carrot and stick” approach to reward countries that comply with requirements by fast-tracking entry. Katyal argued that in fact, the government has only identified a single problem, which is not individualized vetting but rather certain countries not cooperating.

Justice Alito questioned Katyal on the president’s authority under the current federal immigration law to exclude any alien or class of aliens whose presence would be deemed detrimental to the United States. Alito also asked if this Proclamation actually does anything to establish a new perpetual immigration policy for the United States. Katyal responded that this Proclamation is a perpetual, indefinite, open-ended ban with no sunset provision.

Justice Kennedy interjected saying that re-examination by the administration every 180 days in the form of a report submitted to the White House indicates a reassessment, adding “you want the President to say ‘I’m convinced in 6 months we are going to have a safe country?’” Justice Kennedy also quotes statutory language indicating he believes the president has broad latitude and authority in immigration policy.

Testing the outer limits of Katyal’s Establishment Clause theory, Justice Roberts posed another hypothetical: if the president’s advisors recommended an airstrike on Syria, would that violate the Establishment Clause because Syria is a Muslim-majority country and, therefore, anti-Muslim discrimination? Katyal pushed back arguing that this Proclamation was not introduced in the context of a pressing national security emergency like the hypothetical. In addition, Katyal stressed that the Establishment Clause is not at the heart of Hawaii’s position, but rather the flouting of Congressional authority in the context of immigration law. Arguing this point, Katyal said that if there are no limits to the president’s ability to prohibit the entry of any class of aliens, he could potentially ban software engineers from entering so as to protect the technology sector. Katyal argued that generally, the president can supplement congressional policy, but cannot completely supplant it.

Chief Justice Roberts also returned to the political rhetoric of the president from the campaign, promising a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Katyal argued that if President Trump had repudiated his campaign remarks, the Establishment Clause arguments would not exist, but the president has not repudiated; he has doubled down by complaining about his administration drafting a “watered down, politically correct version” to cure legal deficiencies, and retweeted anti-Muslim videos with captions like “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” and “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!’

Justice Alito questioned how a reasonable observer could conclude that this was a Muslim Ban when only 8% of the world’s Muslims are impacted. Katyal rebuts by arguing that the point of focus should not be the 8% of the world’s Muslims, but the fact that 98% of the people affected are Muslim, or what he referred to as “religious gerrymandering.”

It becomes clear towards the end of the hearing that the Supreme Court’s decision may turn on whether it believes that the exceptions to the travel ban are substantive exceptions allowing individuals admission into the U.S., or whether they are merely “window dressing” for a broader categorical ban much different than those imposed by Presidents Carter and Reagan. Along these lines, Katyal directed the court’s attention to the case of a 10-year-old Yemeni girl with cerebral palsy who was denied medical entry into the United States. Justice Sotomayor questioned Mr. Francisco about the girl to which he responded that he was was not familiar with the case

Interestingly, the government revealed that to date, 430 exceptions (or case-by-case waivers) have been granted, though he stopped short of saying how many have been requested or rejected. Mr. Francisco also revealed that consular officers automatically check visa applications to see if they qualify for an exception/waiver. This is in direct contrast to what NIAC has heard from visa applicants who have received form letters and categorical denials of visas without being considered for waivers.

The Supreme Court will likely issue its decision by the end of June. In any event, other components of the broader Muslim Ban policy will remain no matter what the court decides. NIAC will continue to fight back against ‘extreme vetting’ and the sham waiver process in court, and on the Hill. Congress must immediately put an end to its shameful side-stepping and finally fulfill its duty to fully repeal this hateful and bigoted ban.

After the Deal Ends: The Regional Implications of Trump Killing the Iran Deal

On May 12, President Trump is expected not to renew sanctions waivers that are critical to the continuation of the JCPOA, effectively withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal. Mike Pompeo is President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State and John Bolton is already serving as National Security Adviser and will likely counsel the President to leave the deal and prioritize military power over diplomacy. This also comes at a time when the wars in Syria and Yemen continue without a clear end in sight, Saudi Arabia and Iran are effectively engaged in a proxy war, and regional conflict involving Israel appears more likely than ever.

Join us on Monday, May 14, 2018 from Noon to 1:30 PM in Rayburn House Office Building Room 2226 for one of the first discussions on President Trump’s decision. Both the US and Israel have conducted strikes in Syria within the last month. Will we see greater conflict between the US and Iran? Is a confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah now more likely? What does this mean for Washington’s alliances with Europe? 

 

Mehdi Hasan

Host of UpFront on Al Jazeera

Robert Malley

President and CEO, International Crisis Group and former Special Assistant to the President, Senior Adviser to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign, and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region

Amjad Atallah

Former Editor-in-Chief of Al Jazeera America

Farideh Farhi

Independent Scholar and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

Nahal Toosi

Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Politico (Moderator)

* Particularly for those guests who are not Hill staffers, please allow sufficient time to get through security.

FDD Scholar: War with Iran ‘Is On’

“The war is on”, declared Michael Ledeen, a “Freedom Scholar” with the anti-Iran deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at an event to discuss Iran policy following President Trump’s appointment of John Bolton and nomination of Mike Pompeo. “We’re in the war now. So all these people who keep on saying, ‘well if we sign, or if we don’t re-sign, or if we renew or we don’t renew (the Iran nuclear deal) then war,’ that’s all crazy. The war — we are in the war.”

Speaking on a panel at the Hudson Institute last week, Ledeen asserted his belief that the Iranian people had asked the U.S. for help in toppling the regime. His assertion was challenged by an Iranian American supporter of NIAC in the audience who asked Ledeen why he felt Iranians would want the United States’ help. “All they have to do is look at the neighboring countries and see that every country the United States has tried to change the leadership there, it has created a stateless country,” she said. “It’s like asking me to go to a doctor who all of his patients have died in the hospital, and asking ‘could you please operate on me?’ Why would they want the United States to aid them for any sort of help in the regime change?”

Ledeen’s response was to insult and bully rather than to engage in serious debate. Ledeen stated, “the question from this woman right here is not a question, but a provocation. So I am sorry that you’ve wasted your time coming here today to voice the line of your friends in Tehran…The reason why the Iranian people look to us for help, support, guidance in carrying out a revolution against the regime is because they hate the regime.” Ledeen then rudely told her to “sit there quietly” as the moderator moved on to the next question. The tense exchange showed both the stakes of the Iran debate in the months ahead – that Trump’s supporters think “war is on” with Iran – and that so-called “freedom scholars” will go out of their way to stifle debate on the road to confrontation.

Hawkishness and dismissiveness of alternative views was not limited to Ledeen. Richard Goldberg, another FDD adviser who served as a staffer for the hawkish former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), predicted that Trump would kill the deal. Goldberg indicated that with negotiations between Trump and the Europeans stalled and Bolton and Pompeo poised to enter the administration, “we have set the stage now for the likely exit of the U.S. from the nuclear deal and the potential for re-imposition of sanctions – at least on the Central Bank on May 12th, and perhaps much more.” Goldberg went on to argue that the reimposition of such sanctions, which he helped to initially pass as a staffer in Congress, would help topple the Iranian regime but avoid harming the Iranian people.

I asked Goldberg how the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran could be designed to be in favor of the Iranian people and avoid causing mass devastation. “With respect to our sanctions policy, the Iranian people are our greatest asset and we do not target the Iranian people, we do not target them, we have no quarrel with them,” Goldberg said. “And so our policy, when it targets the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), when it targets government banks, when it targets the Supreme Leader’s empire, this is about the lifeblood that keeps the Islamic Republic in business of oppressing its people.”

Goldberg’s answer might sound persuasive, yet the reality is that ordinary Iranians themselves are intricately connected to the Iranian economy and banking system – not just the regime. There is absolutely no way a country’s entire banking system can be sanctioned without its people suffering the consequences of the sanctions. We saw this at the height of nuclear sanctions, where the Iranian people suffered from mass unemployment and sanctions while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its business empire.

Michael Pregent, a fellow with the Hudson Institute, stated that president Trump “has his Iran team in place,” with John Bolton in as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo hoping to be confirmed as Secretary of State. If Pompeo and Bolton share the Hudson panelists’ proclivities, it appears that war could be very difficult to avoid.

“Peace is not the opposite of war,” Ledeen ominously concluded. “Peace is the result of war. Peace happens when a war is fought and one side beats the other.”

NIAC Concerned over Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Push for War

WASHINGTON, DC – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding the official visit of Prince Mohammad bin Salman:

“The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s official state visit to Washington DC tomorrow has one purpose above all and that is to fulfill what former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates warned about in 2010: The Saudis “want to fight the Iranians to the last American.” But while the Saudi effort to drag the US into war with Iran was blocked by previous administrations, Riyadh now appears to be pushing an open door.
 
“The tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are destabilizing the Middle East and necessitate strong diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict before it escalates into a wider war. But the Saudi Crown Prince has rejected all offers of mediation, including from the Germans and the Chinese. 
 
“Serious diplomacy can reduce tensions and begin a process of positive confidence-building measures between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The alternative apparently favored by the Saudi Crown Prince is for the United States to send American service men and women into a potential war aimed at returning the region’s balance of power to the Saudi’s favor. That may be an attractive proposition to the rulers of Riyadh. But it does not lie in the national interest of the United States of America to rent its military to Saudi princes – regardless of what business opportunities they may be offering Donald Trump and Jared Kushner in return.”

 

Apple’s Shut Down for Iranians is Disturbing Trend U.S. Government Must Reverse

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Tel: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council issued the following statement regarding Apple’s apparent decision to block access to its App Store inside Iran:

“We are very concerned that uncertainty around the Iran deal, and the political instability in the United States regarding the future of our Iran policy, is pressuring companies like Apple to back away from permissible business inside Iran to the detriment of ordinary Iranians. We urge that the Administration take steps to ensure that its policies are not undermining legitimate interests like human rights and freedom of speech for Iranians. 

“Two years ago, there were signs that Apple may be expanding its operations into Iran – which was a positive signal for ordinary Iranians as well as for Iranian Americans who want to see a more open Iran. That move never came to fruition, likely as a result of hardliner pressure inside Iran and the limitations imposed by U.S. sanctions.  Unfortunately, now we are seeing the erosion of even the most basic sanctions exemptions for communications technology that were put in place under the Obama Administration to ensure the U.S. wasn’t helping Iran’s government silence Iranians.

“This latest news about Apple shuttering services for Iranians is part of a disturbing trend that must be reversed. We have already been in communication with the U.S. government about decisions late last year by Apple and Google to block Iranian developers from hosting applications on their platforms. We have emphasized the need to broaden exemptions to reverse such decisions and will redouble our efforts to address these new challenges. We have also been in communication with appropriate agencies regarding other troubling signs, including the fact that the U.S. Postal Service has started rejecting packages to Iran despite a longstanding exemption to allow Americans to send mail to Iran. 

“The comprehensive U.S. embargo on Iran makes it all but impossible to target sanctions against bad actors and the current environment has only increased the difficulty. But the limited efforts to exempt key goods and services from sanctions are now being undermined by fears that the U.S. is planning to snap back extraterritorial sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal and what appears to be a new crackdown against Iran. The embargo has exemptions for humanitarian goods like food and medicine, as well Internet communications tools aimed at enabling Iranians to communicate freely. Because they are so narrowly tailored, and because the embargo and sanctions on Iran are so broad, these exemptions can only work to the extent that there is confidence the U.S. government will honor them companies have confidence they will not be punished for engaging in permissible activities inside of Iran. 

“Access to communication technology is important for both humanitarian as well as U.S. strategic interests, which is why exemptions for Internet communication tools were put in place under the previous Administration. Allowing these exemptions to fall by the wayside helps no one except those who seek to keep the Iranian people silent.”

###
 

Don’t Let Trump Turn Iran into North Korea


Thirteen months into Trump’s presidency
, the Iran nuclear deal is alive but wounded. Ironically, while many in the U.S. argued that Iran could not be trusted to abide by its terms, it is the U.S. under Trump that has violated the agreement on multiple occasions. Ominously, Iran has warned that if the status quo does not change, it could withdraw from the accord. Unless the administration changes course and halts its diplomatic sabotage, the JCPOA risks the same fate as another landmark nonproliferation agreement, the Agreed Framework with North Korea, to the profound detriment of U.S. security and the nonproliferation regime.

Read the full article on Defense One…

 

Think Again: Iran’s Missile Program

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In spite of Iran’s verified implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and subjected it to far-reaching inspections, Iran’s periodic testing of ballistic missiles has provoked substantial angst in Washington. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the resolution endorsing the JCPOA, Iran is “called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” including tests for a period that will last up to eight years. While that language does not impose a binding legal obligation on Iran, both the U.S. and other parties have criticized Iran’s missile testing as “inconsistent” with UNSC Resolution 2231, though not a formal violation.

Since President Trump entered office, his administration has rolled out eight rounds of new sanctions designations and signed new sanctions legislation into law targeting Iran’s missile program. Moreover, the President in January threatened to terminate the JCPOA unless Congress passes legislation stating “that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”

Despite this flurry of activity, there have been subtle shifts in Iran’s missile program that could reduce the program’s threat. In particular, Iran’s articulation of a range limit to its missiles and a shift toward short-range solid fueled missiles signals an interest in conventional, regional deterrence, not long-range nuclear missiles.

Iran is Focusing on Short-Range Missiles Aimed at Conventional Deterrence

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, asserted that Iran’s missile program is limited to a 2,000 kilometer radius around Iran under a policy endorsed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Similar statements have been issued in the past, though Jafari’s statement appears to be a firming up of prior policy and a signal to the U.S. and others regarding the relative limits of Iran’s missile ambitions.

Moreover, Iran’s testing since the conclusion of the JCPOA appears consistent with this limit. According to an analysis from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Nuclear Threat Initiative, Iran has shifted from seeking longer range systems toward short-range missiles primarily suited for conventional deterrence. According to the study:

“the JCPOA has helped redirect Iran’s priorities for its missile program away from developing an ICBM (whose only purpose would be as a nuclear delivery system), to developing solid-fueled versions of its short-range missiles. While such missiles could also be nuclear-capable, they do not extend Iran’s range or payload capabilities meaningfully, and appear intended to serve a conventional purpose.”

While a 2,000 kilometer range limit would include Israel and Saudi Arabia, in addition to numerous U.S. bases in the region, Iran’s focus on conventional solid-fueled missiles suggests they are indeed aimed at regional deterrence – as opposed to long-range missile development that could threaten Europe or the U.S. mainland. Such a shift also meshes with Iran’s signing of the JCPOA, which ensures Iran’s missile program cannot be fitted with nuclear warheads. This is a positive that could be built upon through deft diplomacy, or undermined via diplomatic sabotage.

Pressure Is Unlikely to Change, and May Even Reinforce, Iran’s Missile Calculus

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats stated in the annual Worldwide Threats Report this week that Iran “has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.” Yet, Iran’s competitors are not without missile inventories that match or exceed Iran’s capabilities. Saudi Arabia reportedly maintains dozens of missiles capable of striking Iran, with a maximum range of 2,650 kilometers. Israel is believed to possess both a sizable nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles capable of traveling up to 6,500 kilometers. Moreover, Iran lacks a modern air force due to a continuing arms embargo and is outspent militarily by Saudi Arabia at a 5:1 rate.

While Iran may prove willing to negotiate over the range of its missiles or confidence building measures with other states if the JCPOA is adhered to, Iran views its missile program as a regional deterrent that is central to its national defense doctrine. Sanctions have not altered that calculus and major arms buildups among Iran’s neighbors have likely strengthened it.

Much of this doctrine stems from Iran’s experience in the Iran-Iraq war, when Iran was almost completely isolated within the region and globally as the world turned a blind eye and even aided Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks on Iran. Moreover, while Hussein was able to target missiles at Iranian cities from within Iraq, Iran had no similar deterrence or response capability. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has stated that Iran needs its missile program “to prevent another Saddam Hussein around the corner attacking us with chemical weapons because the international community has failed miserably in protecting the Iranian people.” The development of a conventional deterrent and response capability is one that has broad support within Iran across political divides. Unless the U.S. and international community engages on the fundamental issues at the heart of Iran’s missile calculus, no amount of sanctions or regional arms sales will succeed in altering it.

Iran’s Missile Testing Has Remained Sporadic

There were only a handful of confirmed reports of Iranian missile launches in 2017. These include:

  • Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile January 29;
  • Iran test-fired a pair of short-range ballistic missiles in early March;
  • Iran launched eight missiles at ISIS (a U.S. enemy) on June 18 in response to a terror attack in Tehran;

While President Trump took to Twitter to allege another Iranian missile launch September 23, this report was actually based on old video of the January test. Further, while Iran test-fired a Simorgh satellite rocket July 27 amid passage of Congressional sanctions targeting Iran’s missile program, that rocket is not designed to be capable of reentering the atmosphere and thus has limited military applications.

It is noteworthy that the July 27 launch appears to be the last undertaken by Iran – a testing pause of more than six months that has extended into 2018. In roughly the same period, the U.S. Navy has reported a significant lapse in dangerous run-ins with the IRGC in the Persian Gulf. While these trends should be monitored, it appears possible that Iran is attempting to avoid giving the U.S. a pretext to sabotage the JCPOA and turn Europe against Iran.

Iran launched roughly five missile tests per year from 2006 to 2012 before nuclear negotiations involving the U.S. gained traction in 2013, according to Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Iran largely abstained from missile tests while the negotiations that led to the JCPOA were underway. Since then, the frequency of Iran’s missile tests has been largely consistent with past practices, and – barring major changes – there remains little reason to expect Iran to dramatically ramp up or seek to field a missile capable of reaching beyond the region.

To put Iran’s missile testing in perspective, the CNS-NTI report notes that North Korea tested 14 missiles capable of traveling more than 3,000 kilometers between the signing of the JCPOA and August of 2017, a feat that has not been replicated by Iran.

Transfers to Yemen?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has taken the lead for the administration in alleging that Iran transferred missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, which were in turn launched against Saudi Arabia. Iran has vociferously denied the claim while indicating that Houthi missile stocks were left over from prior Yemeni governments. While Russia has dismissed the Trump administration’s allegations as inconclusive, a confidential UN report has indicated that Iran “failed to block ballistic missile supplies from being used by Houthi rebels.”

Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen – with substantial military assistance from the U.S – has been heavily focused on rolling back Iran’s alleged influence there. Yet, at least at the outset of the conflict, ties between Iran and the Houthis were tenuous at best, with Houthi rebels ignoring Iran’s warnings against taking the capital Sanaa in 2014. If Iran-Houthi ties have now progressed to the point where Iranian support has enabled the Houthis to nearly strike key targets in Riyadh, it should be a clear signal to policymakers that U.S. backing of Saudi Arabia’s intervention is having the opposite of its intended effect and is endangering Saudi and regional security.

What is needed is what the Trump administration has avoided since it came into office: serious, multilateral diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen and ameliorating all the actors’ security concerns. Absent this, the negative trend line of the war in Yemen is likely to continue, with disastrous results for the Yemeni people and regional security.

Trump is Escalating Missile Sanctions without a Serious Diplomatic Plan

Thus far, the Trump administration has continued to designate entities and individuals with ties to Iran’s missile program, while also signing new legislation into law targeting the program. Calls to subject Iran’s program to “severe sanctions” would be largely redundant, as the program is already heavily sanctioned. The administration and Congress’ actions since January 2018 include:

  • February 2, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on 25 individuals and entities following Iran’s January launch;
  • May 17, 2017 – The Treasury Department sanctions seven individuals and entities, including a Chinese network, for supporting Iran’s missile program;
  • July 18, 2017 – The Department of State designates two entities for supporting Iran’s missile program while the Treasury Department designates sixteen entities and individuals for supporting the IRGC;
  • July 28, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on six Iranian entities supporting Iran’s missile program in response to its launch of the Simorgh space rocket;
  • August 2, 2017 – The administration signs the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law, which mandates the imposition of additional sanctions in response to Iran’s missile program;
  • August 14, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on eleven entities and individuals, including one entity for supporting Iran’s missile program;
  • October 13, 2017 – The Treasury Department designates the IRGC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), while also designating four entities including for ties to Iran’s missile program;
  • October 25, 2017 – The House of Representatives passes H.R. 1698, the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act.
  • January 4, 2017 – The Treasury Department sanctioned “five Iran-based entities subordinate to a key element of Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
  • January 12, 2017 – In addition to sanctioning Iranian persons and entities under human rights sanctions, the Treasury Department designated persons and an entity for ties to entities sanctioned for supporting Iran’s missile program.  

In the absence of serious, direct diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Iran, there is little possibility of changing Iran’s security calculus and no possibility of trading in sanctions for concessions on Iran’s missile activity or other concerning behavior – ensuring that the status quo remains the same or worsens, but never sustainably improves.

Moreover, while it is fair to be concerned about the potential uses of Iran’s missile program or other Iranian activity that runs counter to U.S. interests, it is important to ensure that economic pressure is calibrated and proportional. Continuing to ramp up sanctions designations and legislation at such a pace risks undermining sanctions relief obligated under the JCPOA and could harden domestic political pressure within Iran to begin hedging on JCPOA-compliance and take a more aggressive stance towards the U.S. across the region.

Instead of replacing nuclear escalation with missile escalation, the Trump administration and Congress should protect the gains of the nuclear accord and seek to build on them through serious diplomatic engagement. Failure to do so will risk the unraveling of the nuclear accord and the U.S. once again facing the threats of a nuclear-armed Iran or war.

NIAC Calls for Investigation into Death of Canadian-Iranian Academic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Email: tparsi@niacouncil.org
Phone: (202) 386-6325

The National Iranian American Council released the following statement after Iranian authorities claimed Iranian-Canadian academic and environmentalist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, committed suicide in prison:

“The death of Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami while in custody at Evin Prison on vague charges of espionage is deeply concerning. NIAC calls on Iranian authorities to allow an independent autopsy and uninhibited investigation into the circumstances that led to Seyed-Emami’s death in order to determine whether his human rights were violated and to hold accountable those responsible.

“Iran is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which obligates Iran to ensure that everyone has the right to ‘life, liberty and security of person,’ and that ‘[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Seyed-Emami does not appear to have posed a security threat nor does the Iranian Judiciary’s explanation of his death add up. Moreover, coming on the heels of at least two other deaths at Evin Prison ruled officially as ‘suicides’ since the outbreak of protests in late December, Seyed-Emami’s death creates the suspicion that Iranian authorities are killing political opponents with impunity. If this is not the case, Iranian authorities should be eager to permit an uninhibited independent investigation.

“Iran is facing major and serious environmental issues which have worried the population at large, and the government needs to take those concerns seriously. Instead, given the treatment of Seyed-Emami and other environmental activists by Iranian authorities, it appears that Iran’s government is intent on securitizing the environmental sphere like so many other parts of Iranian society.

“NIAC once again reiterates its call on the Iranian government to fully abide by its international human rights obligations, including by releasing all prisoners of conscience.”

Poll of Iranians Punctuates Points Made in Protests

 

Conducted after weeks of sweeping protests across the country, the latest national poll of Iranians by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and IranPoll underscores growing Iranian discontent with the economy, Tehran’s mismanagement and corruption, disillusionment with the JCPOA and the effectiveness of international diplomacy, and increasing disapproval of the policies of the Trump White House.

When asked their opinion regarding “how good or bad our country’s [Iran’s] economic situation” was, 68.9% of Iranians believed the economic situation in Iran was somewhat or very bad, with 40.7% of all Iranians responding the state of the economy was “very bad.” This overwhelming negativity comes as little surprise to most pollsters, given unemployment rates among Iranian youth as high as 40% and the depreciation of the Rial by 25% in the past 6 months. Dr. Ebrahim Mohseni, a research scholar at CISSM, commented on the discontent among many young Iranians at a panel discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, stating “[I]f the educated segment of the population feels they are not being utilized or are unemployed, then that becomes a severe source of discontent; both for the people who have attained the education and the people who have paid for it.”

When asked what has had the greatest negative effect on the economy, 63.3% of Iranians believed that domestic economic mismanagement and corruption,were the most responsible for Iran’s current economic issues, while only 32.1% of the population believed foreign sanctions and pressures were the most culpable.

This frustration and discontent with domestic economic policy manifested itself in the protests this January. When polled on the issue of price inflation for food products, 81.3% of Iranians strongly agreed the government should do more to prevent this issue. Likewise, 85.2% of Iranians strongly agreed with the statement that “the government should do more to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption in Iran.”

The poll also demonstrated growing disappointment with perceived lack of economic benefits from the JCPOA, and strong sentiments that diplomacy has been ineffective in achieving the country’s interests.  When surveyed on the effect of the JCPOA on people’s living conditions, 74.8% of Iranians responded that their living conditions have not improved. Regarding their opinion of the success of the JCPOA, 67.4% of Iranians supported the statement that the “JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of the agreement.”

The poll found growing disapproval of the Trump Administration’s policies toward Iran. 60% of Iranians believe the United States has not complied with all of its promised sanctions removals, and 89% percent lack confidence that the United States will live up to its JCPOA obligations. When asked to rate President Trump’s Iran policies on a scale of 0-10 (0 being completely hostile and 10 being completely friendly), 69% of Iranians found his policies to be completely hostile, and when asked to indicate to what degree [they] held a favorable or unfavorable view of the United States government, 67% had a very unfavorable opinion.  

Also speaking at the Atlantic Council presentation on the survey was Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder and publisher of the online platform Bourse & Bazaar which supports Iranian “business diplomacy.” He expressed his concerns that the botched execution of sanctions relief under the nuclear deal –  by the current U.S. administration in particular – devalued the very idea of diplomacy to the Iranian people. “Sanctions, at least in the Iranian context, have been one of the most self-defeating diplomatic tools imaginable; because in their application and flawed removal, they have actually harmed the idea and the prospect of diplomacy moving forward,” stated Batmanghelidj.

When analyzing these findings, it is also vital to bear in mind potential constraints associated with conducting national polls in an authoritarian country. Dr. Mohseni acknowledged the need to phrase polling questions in a manner that those surveyed would not feel compelled to self-censor, particularly with phone interviews.

Briefing Addresses Iranian Protests and Implications for Washington and Tehran

Washington, D.C – “Public dialogue with the (Iranian) state occurs through protest and those protests force changes to come about,” observed Sanam Anderlini, Executive Director and cofounder of the International Civil Society Action Network, speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the National Iranian American Council. “Each time there are protests, the regime gives some space and the public moves along, and there is an accommodation” that pushes the country in a more progressive direction.

Narges Bajoghli, research associate at the Watson Institute at Brown University, outlined how the protests began. On December 28th, she said, hardliners in Mashhad attempted to mobilize protests against Iranian President Rouhani and his economic policies. The protests, coordinated to take place ahead of an annual pro-government rally marking the suppression of the Green Movement post-election protests in 2009 and 2010, quickly escalated. The instigators “couldn’t control the slogans, so eventually protests came out 

against the system as a whole, not just President Rouhani.”

Political factionalism played a major role in the protests according to Bajoghli. She pointed to President Rouhani’s budget proposal to the Majles on December 10th, 2017 where, “he named the main conservative foundations in the country that were receiving blocks of money without any oversight,” referring to these entities as a “financial mafia.” In response, various groups retaliated with sophisticated media campaigns intended to give the impression of “grassroots videos and testimonies against Rouhani.”  

Bajoghli emphasized the Iranian economy, “which has been in a spiral due to mismanagement and a lack of sanctions alleviations,” as a major motivation for the protests. Over the past several years, she said, Iranians have struggled with rampant inflation, astronomically high costs of living, and high rates of unemployment and underemployment particularly among women and young people.

Bajoghli also observed that Iranians are frustrated with the lack of promised economic benefits under the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement which was initially overwhelmingly supported by Iranians. Sanctions relief obstacles under the deal, and the hostile rhetoric of the Trump administration, have helped create a situation in which 67% of Iranians no longer believe that it is worthwhile to engage with the international community to further their interests. Anderlini also discussed how sanctions against Iran have empowered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other state-connected elements at the expense of independent actors ever since their imposition under the Clinton administration. “The minute you impose economic sanctions,” she said, “…you reduce the capacity of independent actors to engage and you take away a lot of the transparent ways to transfer money.”

In his analysis of the U.S response, Reza Marashi, the current Research Director at NIAC and former official in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, juxtaposed the Obama administration’s measured response in 2009 against the Trump Administration’s in 2017. He cited the current administration’s poor wording, and the presumptive nature in which Trump appeared to speak for the Iranian people as to what the sentiments of these protests were.  He also characterized the administration’s timing to sanction the Iranian ballistic missile program as overwhelmingly unproductive and unhelpful for Iranian protests, “Rule Number one is do no harm…Don’t gien an excuse [to blame protests on foreign influence], Do No Harm.”

Anderlini contextualized the Iranian government’s response to the protest, saying the regime’s ultimate goal is survival, “but there is a recognition, that to survive they are going to have to be responsive to what the public is asking for.” According to Bajoghli, the political response in Iran to the protests have been markedly different than previous engagement toward major demonstrations because of the breadth of constituencies involved. “Unlike the 2009 protests, in which the political establishment eventually decided they should be suppressed, in this protest almost all factions have said publicly ‘we should let the people protest and let the people air their grievances’ because no one wanted to be seen as suppressing their base.” Summarizing the importance but also the limitations of the demonstrations, Bajoghli observed, “Protesting does not equal revolution; it does not equal regime change…This is a way in which the people [of Iran] can communicate with the state.”

NIAC Condemns Trump’s Divisive Address

 

 

 

 
Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to tonight’s State of the Union address:

“President Trump’s first year in office was spent dividing our union and undermining American credibility abroad. Far from taking actions to restrain a President woefully unfit for the job and dedicated to discriminatory and un-American policies like the Muslim ban, Congress has aided and abetted Trump. The American people, including the Iranian-American community, will remember those legislators who have defended Trump’s disgraceful policies and then stood and applauded him tonight. They will also remember those who criticized Trump’s actions on the sidelines but refused to challenge him when it really counted.

“Trump’s words of praise for the Iranian people were once again utterly hollow. Only a President without any conscience could praise the very people he is banning. Trump should drop the ban, but if he is too attached to his bigotry to do so, he should at least stop pretending to be a friend of the Iranian people.

“Trump once again reminded Congress that the buck stops with them on the Iran nuclear deal and broader areas of concern with Iran. But Congress cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a multilateral agreement without violating its terms. Moreover, there is already a blueprint of success on issues of concern with Iran: serious, multilateral negotiations aimed at mutual compromise. Unfortunately, Trump has shown outright disdain for this successful approach, with the administration having zero communication with Iran outside of what is required by the nuclear accord.

“Trump, of course, neglected to mention that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord and that international inspectors in Iran are implementing the most robust verification regime in the world thanks to the nuclear deal. Congress should continue to abstain from any action that would push the U.S. into violation of the accord, while also undertaking steps to pressure the administration to recommit to fully abide by all the terms of the deal. There is no excuse for Members of Congress to be an accomplice to Trump’s undermining of an accord that is forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran over its nuclear program – otherwise, they will share the blame for the accord’s collapse.”

###

NIAC Seeks Clarification on Postal Service Rejections of Packages to Iran

Washington, DC – Connections between Iranian Americans and their family members in Iran may have hit another roadblock thanks to the Trump Administration. According to numerous complaints received by NIAC, Iranian Americans have had their shipments of personal items to Iran blocked by the U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection, apparently on the basis that the items lack sufficient approval.

NIAC is contacting relevant agencies to determine if there has been a change to U.S. policy concerning shipping mail to Iran. The rejections of such packages undercut the long-standing U.S. policy of allowing the shipment of personal gifts, remittances and other permitted items to friends and family in Iran.

In a letter sent to Census Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Service, we highlight that general licenses issued by the Treasury Department permit the export of gifts to Iran under the value of $100 and thus do not require separate authorization. Moreover, it clarifies that separate regulations do not appear to contradict the general license. The letter requests clarification from the agencies as to the regulatory authority under which these authorized exports to Iran are being rejected. NIAC will seek answers and conduct follow-up to resolve this issue that has affected many members of the Iranian-American community.

The text of the letters is below:

January 25, 2018

We are 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 apparent policy changes at the United States Census Bureau and/or the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) concerning licensed exports to Iran.  Recently, we have received contact from a number of Iranian Americans detailing CBP and the U.S. Postal Services’s rejection of intended shipments to Iran on the grounds that such shipments lacked an “electronic export information (EEI) filing or exemption per the U.S. Census Bureau.”  In light of the fact that Iranian Americans have been able to ship licensed items to family in Iran for decades without this issue, we request clarification from the relevant U.S. authorities regarding the applicable laws and/or regulations under which this apparent new policy is being promulgated and enforced.

       As an immigrant community to the United States, many Iranian Americans retain close ties to family members and friends based in Iran.  As a result, Iranian Americans habitually send gifts, personal remittances, and other licensed items to families and friends in Iran.  For decades, U.S. policy has facilitated the shipment of such items to Iran, including via general license and statutory exemptions.  U.S. policy has sought to ensure that familial and personal ties between U.S. and Iranian persons are not undermined by the broader disputes in the U.S.-Iran relationship. Iranian Americans have thus been able to ship permissible items to Iran free from the hassle of requiring specific license authorization or other export-related filings.

       However, it appears that there has been a recent shift in U.S. policy.  Many Iranian Americans have contacted us, noting that their shipments to Iran of personal gifts, etc., have been rejected by CBP and the USPS.  This rejection apparently stems from the fact that such shipments lack a validated export license and/or an Electronic Export Information (“EEI”) filing.  As Iranian Americans whose packages have been rejected note, never before have their shipments to Iran been rejected for these reasons, and the burden of having to make an EEI filing to ship gifts to family and friends in Iran is significant enough to erode their willingness to do so.       

       It is unclear the legal basis for this recent shift in U.S. policy.  Most transactions with or otherwise involving Iran are regulated exclusively by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), which administers and enforces a comprehensive trade and investment embargo with Iran – the prohibitions of which are promulgated via the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560.  Due to OFAC’s primacy in Iran-related regulatory matters, “if OFAC authorizes an export or re-export [to Iran], such authorization is considered authorization for purposes of the [Export Administration Regulations] as well.”[1]  

       While the ITSR prohibits most transactions with Iran from the United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located, certain categories of transactions are deemed either exempt from the prohibitions as a matter of statute or authorized by OFAC via general license.  For instance, the export from the United States to Iran of certain information and informational materials – including, but not limited to, newspapers, magazines, films, etc. – are exempt from the ITSR’s regulations,[2] while the export from the United States to Iran of goods sent as gifts to persons in Iran are authorized via general license, provided that the value of such gifts is not more than $100 and the gifts are of such type and quantities as normally given as gifts between individuals.[3]  U.S. parties seeking to export items to Iran consistent with applicable exemptions and general licenses promulgated under the ITSR do not require specific authorization from OFAC or any other U.S. regulatory authority prior to the export of such items to Iran.

       It does not appear that regulations promulgated by the U.S. Census Bureau contradict this law.  Indeed, CBP’s own website notes that an EEI filing is required for U.S. exports in two specific cases: (1) where the value of the commodity classified under each individual Schedule B number is over $2,500; and (2) where a validated export license is required to export the commodity.[4]  While we have not received clarification from any of the relevant U.S. agencies regarding the reasoning behind their rejection of lawful U.S. exports to Iran, it appears that such exports are being rejected out of a belief that a validated export license is required to export exempt or licensed goods to Iran.  If true, that would be inconsistent with the plain language of the Census Bureau’s own regulations and would contradict long-standing practice by the relevant agencies permitting Iranian Americans to export licensed goods to Iran absent an EEI filing.

       We thus request clarification as to the regulatory authority under which the Census Bureau, CBP, and the U.S. Postal Service are rejecting authorized exports to Iran.  We trust that this issue can be resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to all relevant parties and that the relevant U.S. agencies can issue a policy statement specific to the Iranian American community regarding the laws and regulations surrounding exports of licensed goods to Iran.  Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.  

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi

National Iranian American Council

[1] 15 C.F.R. § 746.7(a)(2).

[2] 31 C.F.R. § 560.210.

[3] 31 C.F.R. § 560.506.

[4]CBP Info Center: When to Apply for an Electronic Export Information (EEI), United States Customs and Border Protection, last updated Sept. 29, 2017, https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/292/~/when-to-apply-for-an-electronic-export-information-%28eei%29.