Trump and Netanyahu Risk Repeating Mistakes of Iraq War with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: rcostello@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, issued the following statement after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during his speech before the UN General Assembly

“It is telling that Netanyahu, who has sought to undermine international diplomacy with Iran at nearly every turn, was one of the only observers impressed by Trump’s inflammatory UN General Assembly speech this morning. Both he and Trump appear determined to unravel the accord successfully preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran, regardless of the consequences.

“After the disaster of the Iraq war that Trump supposedly opposed, it is a sad state of affairs for Americans and the world to once again be subjected to lies and distortions as part of a campaign to sell a new confrontation, this time with Iran.

“The reality is that the Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, continues to fully affirm that Iran is complying with its commitments under the nuclear accord and that Iran is subject to the world’s most robust verification regime. This conclusion is shared by our allies in Europe, the U.S. intelligence community and Israel’s own security establishment. Yet, Trump and Netanyahu appear determined to repeat the mistakes that led the U.S. into Iraq.

“Netanyahu’s new demand to “fix” the nuclear deal was to make its restrictions permanent. He knows very well that is an impossibility. The entire premise of the nuclear deal was to punish Iran for past transgressions while also providing a path for Iran to restore the confidence of the international community that its nuclear program is solely peaceful. If that confidence is restored in the years ahead, Iran’s nuclear file would be normalized and it would be in good standing within the Non-Proliferation Treaty, though still subject to intrusive inspections.

“If this path towards normalization and regaining of confidence was not provided, Iran would have no incentive to agree to the deal. It was not going to agree to a deal that would see it permanently punished. Netanyahu is fully aware of this and is pushing this demand precisely because he knows it will kill the nuclear deal. His track record of consistently seeking to destroy any realistic nuclear deal with Iran speaks for itself.

“While it is reasonable to seek solutions regarding Iranian activities outside the scope of the nuclear sphere, it is counter to U.S. national security to unravel the nuclear accord on the basis of those concerns. Netanyahu’s alarmism on Iran’s nuclear program was itself critical to forcing the U.S. to prioritize the number one national security threat – that of an Iranian nuclear weapon – to all other concerns presented by Iran. Yet, it was diplomacy that resolved what seemed to be the most intractable of issues. It is diplomacy that must be utilized to resolve all other outstanding concerns.

“The notion that Trump can be trusted with re-negotiating the JCPOA, as Netanyahu suggested, is laughable. Not only did the agreement take two years to negotiate in the first place, but no other parties to the accord – including our partners in Europe – support re-opening the nuclear file. While NIAC strongly supports the administration engaging in serious negotiations with Iran to address other concerns – from regional security to detained Americans in Iran – the possibility of any future diplomacy bearing fruit hinges on the U.S. backing away from its threat to upend the most important agreement between the U.S. and Iran in more than three and a half decades.

“Trump has a clear choice. He can listen to Netanyahu and repeat the mistakes that led to the war in Iraq with Iran, thus squandering any credibility that the U.S. has as a leader on security issues, or he can step back from the brink and commit to the nuclear accord. In so doing, he would preserve his political capital for future security crises – including negotiations with North Korea. Unfortunately, in his shameful and outrageous speech this morning, Trump appears to be doubling down on the path that risks war and an undetectable Iranian nuclear weapon capability.”

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Trump’s Outreach to Iranian People Rings Hollow

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: rcostello@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, issued the following statement after President Trump addressed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during their speeches before the UN General Assembly:

“If Trump was determined to demonstrate to the world that he is unhinged and an imminent danger to world peace, he has succeeded with this speech, and will only make it harder for him to win over the world to his self-destructive goals.

“There was a remarkable tone deafness in Trump’s outreach to the Iranian people. After having imposed on them a Muslim ban, despite the fact that no Iranian national has committed a lethal act of terror in the US, after declaring that Iranians only have themselves to blame when ISIS struck Tehran with terror, and after undermining and threatening to kill the nuclear deal that the Iranian people overwhelmingly support, Trump shockingly believes he can position himself as a friend of ordinary Iranians. But actions speak louder than words, and in all of his acts, he has shown deep animosity towards the people of Iran.

“Contrary to their government, Iranians are known to be one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East. Through his policies, however, Trump has and continues to do great damage to that reservoir of goodwill towards America. His address at the UN only revealed that he is painfully unaware or arrogantly indifferent to how he is being perceived.

“If Trump was interested in genuine outreach to the people of Iran, he would end his bigoted Muslim ban and help promote people-to-people contacts, he would respect and honor the nuclear deal, and he would seek to resolve remaining tensions between the US and Iran through peaceful diplomacy. This would also be the most effective way of advancing American interest and security.

“Instead, Trump has chosen hollow expressions of solidarity while he lumps Iran into the same category of “wicked” states as North Korea, which he threatened to completely destroy. This speech will not strike fear into the hearts of Iranian leaders. If anything, they will find it easier to rally the Iranian people behind their government.

“If Trump continues on his path, he will only succeed in undermining any remaining goodwill in Iran, repeating the mistakes of the Iraq war with Iran and devastating American security.”   

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Netanyahu Is Meeting Trump To Push For War With Iran

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Donald Trump at the White House and push the U.S. to withdraw from the nuclear accord with Iran. Netanyahu will present an argument that Trump already has come to accept: America’s adherence to the nuclear deal cannot solely depend on Iran’s compliance with the agreement, but also whether Iran’s other policies challenge U.S. national interests. It’s a more honest argument compared to the slogans Netanyahu has used in the past. But it is also a line that fundamentally contradicts Netanyahu’s central message of the past decades: That Iran’s nuclear program constitutes an existential threat to Israel.

The Trump administration has desperately sought a pretext to quit the nuclear deal and shed the limits the deal imposed on the U.S.’s ability to pursue aggressive policies against Iran ― even if it also sheds the limits the deal imposed on Iran’s nuclear activities. The latest idea is to use the Congressional certification ― due every 90 days ― where the president has to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the deal or not. But unlike the reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency ― who is tasked to oversee the implementation of the nuclear deal ― the president’s report to Congress goes beyond the nuclear issue: Trump must also report whether the suspension of sanctions against Iran is “appropriate and proportionate to the measures taken by Iran and vital to U.S. national security interests.”

The Trump plan ― as telegraphed by several administration officials ― is to certify that Iran is in compliance with the deal (Trump has no leg to stand on to claim otherwise ― both the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence services have consistently reported that Tehran is living up to its obligations), but to argue that the deal and its sanctions relief nevertheless is unjustified due to Iran’s policies in the region that are anathema to U.S. national security interests.

In her by now infamous presentation at AEI ― riddled with falsehoods and lies ― Ambassador Nikki Haley argued that the nuclear deal was “designed to be too big to fail” and that an artificial line was drawn “between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest of its lawless behavior.” The push to keep the deal, Haley argued, was put above all other concerns about Iran’s policies. As such, the deal is constraining America’s ability to act aggressively against Iran, much to the chagrin of hawks such as Haley and her neoconservative allies at AEI.

But it is not President Barack Obama, or the proponents of the deal for that matter, that Haley and Trump should blame for the nuclear deal not addressing non-nuclear issues. It’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.

As I document in my new book Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, Netanyahu has argued ever since the mid-1990s that Iran’s nuclear program and its enrichment of uranium constituted an existential threat to Israel. During the George W. Bush administration, he repeatedly warned that “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” The implication being that the U.S. must attack Iran before Tehran invades the West. No Israeli leader pushed this line harder than Bibi.

Netanyahu’s argument that Iran was on the verge of being able to destroy Israel served to achieve several objectives. First, an existential threat combined with the claim that the Iranians were irrational and suicidal could ensure that preemptive military action needed to be taken. After all, an irrational, suicidal entity cannot be negotiated with it.

Secondly, existential issues take precedence over all other matters. With the nuclear program defined as an existential threat, it superseded all other concerns ― and opportunities ― the U.S. had with Iran. In case Israel would fail to prevent negotiations from taking place, defining the nuclear issue as an existential threat ensured that there could be no bargaining between the nuclear question and other regional matters. Ideally, it would ensure that the U.S. would not even negotiate with Iran over non-nuclear issues, but rather only focus on Iran’s atomic program.

And that is exactly what happened. Largely due to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. adopted the position that the negotiations would solely address Iran’s nuclear activities. (the Iranians originally insisted that the agenda would have to include a whole set of issues, including global warming). From Netanyahu’s perspective, the sole focus on the nuclear issue would ensure that the talks would fail. “Leaders in the region were saying to me personally, and to the president, President Obama, you should bomb these guys,” then-Secretary of State Kerry recently commented. “That’s the only way to resolve this issue.”

For the Obama administration, the opposite held true: In order to ensure unity between the countries negotiating with Iran, it was critical to only focus on the matter they all agreed on: The need to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons option. Had the agenda been expanded to include regional questions such as Syria, Tehran could split the major powers as Russia and China were closer to Iran on that question than to Washington.

Now, Washington’s hawks and Netanyahu are complaining about the nuclear deal’s singular focus on Iran’s nuclear activities. The real threat is Iran’s regional “expansion,” they suddenly claim. Allowing the nuclear deal to restrain the U.S. from confronting Tehran in the region, or allowing sanctions relief to proceed under these circumstances, would not serve U.S. national security interests, the Trump administration argues.

It is not invalid to point out that the sanctions relief put an end to more than three decades of U.S. efforts to completely isolate and contain Iran. That argument, however, cannot be combined with the central assertion made by Netanyahu and Washington hawks in the past: That Iran’s nuclear program constitutes an existential threat.

If the hawks truly believed in that contention, they would not complain about the nuclear deal’s singular focus on this existential threat. They would celebrate it.

But in their effort to kill the deal, they are twisting and turning, contradicting the very premise that ensured that Iran’s nuclear program would top the U.S.’s and the international community’s security agenda for the first fifteen years of this century.

Nevertheless, whatever line Netanyahu uses to compel Trump to quit the nuclear deal, the end result is inescapable: Killing the deal will put the U.S. back on a path to war with Iran. Which is exactly what Netanyahu has sought for the past twenty-five years.

With Trump in the White House, he finally has a receptive ear for his shifting and contradictory arguments to push the U.S. into yet another war in the Middle East.

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Honor The Existing Iran Deal To Restore Badly Tarnished U.S. Credibility

The think tanks, advocacy groups, and major funders who spent tens of millions of dollars to stop Obama from securing the nuclear agreement between Iran and UN powers in 2015 are back at it again. Reinvigorated by the Donald Trump administration, there is now a full-scale campaign underway in Washington to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and convince the public that it is Iran – not the U.S. – who is violating the accord.

Some are campaigning for Trump to tear up the deal immediately, regardless of the consequences for the U.S. But the more sophisticated opponents of the deal offer an approach that is far more insidious – they want Trump to unravel the deal by demanding the agreement be re-opened and renegotiated to deliver a “better deal.”

If the Trump administration is serious about negotiating a “better deal”, it would first have to honor the deal that is before it and restore badly tarnished U.S. credibility. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite.

Continue reading on Iranian.com >>

Congressional Republicans Force Votes on Iran Deal, Pass on Muslim Ban

With a full legislative calendar in September, including funding for the government for the 2018 fiscal year, hurricane relief efforts and legislation to protect DREAMers, Congressional Republicans continue to find ways to force political votes on the Iran nuclear deal. This time, legislators once again passed amendments through the House that would kill the Boeing and Airbus deals with Iran, thus threatening U.S. compliance with the nuclear accord and the sorely needed sale of new aircraft to the country. Worse still, Republicans on the House Rules Committee ruled these partisan amendments in order while barring votes on whether to strike down the Muslim ban that had been offered by Democratic legislators.

While the anti-aircraft amendments passed during debate over the House appropriations package, the provisions face an uncertain future. Similar provisions were passed by the House last year, but were not picked up by the Senate – which will have its own appropriations package and has been known to bypass partisan provisions included in House-passed legislation.

Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), in addition to Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), put forward two separate amendments to the appropriations package (H.R. 3354) to block the sale of aircraft permitted by the JCPOA. The first amendment would prevent the Department of the Treasury from licensing the sale of aircraft to Iran, violating the JCPOA requirement that the U.S. must permit such sales.

When defending this amendment on the House floor, Rep. Roskam insisted “This does no violence to those who are supporters of the JCPOA. They like it, this has no impact on it whatsoever, and furthermore it doesn’t put American companies at any other disadvantage that other companies have.” Of course, Iranians whose lives have been jeopardized as a result of sanctions prohibiting their country from replacing their aging aircraft would disagree with Rep. Roskam’s notion that blocking the sale of new aircraft to Iran “does no violence” to JCPOA supporters. In recent decades more than 2,000 Iranians have died in air crashes, which most Iranians blame on U.S. sanctions.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) spoke in opposition to the amendment, arguing that despite ongoing disagreements with Iran “we should be strengthening ties with them through diplomacy and job creation,” urging his colleagues to vote against this amendment and protect the aircraft sales.

The second amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Treasury from using its funds to authorize U.S. financial institutions to engage in licensed aircraft sales to Iran. This would prevent companies such as Boeing from financing the sale of aircrafts to Iran, which would again violate U.S. commitments to the JCPOA. Rep. Mike Quigley from Illinois stood in opposition to this bill, stating that should the amendment pass, it would “put the U.S. in breach of JCPOA.”

Should either provision pass the Senate and be signed into law by Trump, the U.S. would risk killing the JCPOA and threatening Iran’s continued adherence to its nuclear commitments.

Prior to debate on the House floor, the Rules Committee did have the chance to allow debate on two amendments that would bar funding from being used to implement the Muslim Ban. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX), Judy Chu (CA) and Keith Ellison (MN) offered one of the amendments to bar funding from implementing the ban. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), along with Reps. Sander Levin (D-MI), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) offered the second amendment to block the ban. However, these amendments were not ruled in order to enable a debate.

Only one vote on the ban has gotten past Republican obstruction, when Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) offered an amendment in the Appropriations Committee in July that would have blocked the administration from barring grandparents and other close familial relations. Only one Republican voted against that effort, although the courts have since affirmed that the administration is prevented from barring those close familial relations with a bona fide relationship in the United States.

The Republican Congress has had plenty of chances to distinguish itself from Trump and his efforts to unravel the Iran nuclear accord and ban Iranians and other nationals from Muslim-majority countries. With votes to bar aircraft sales and destabilize the nuclear accord, in addition to once again blocking votes on Trump’s discriminatory ban, Congressional Republicans are proving they are in lock step with the worst elements of the White House agenda.

Trump Still on Course to Kill Iran Nuclear Deal Despite Sanctions Waivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: rcostello@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding reports that the President will renew sanctions waivers pursuant to U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):

“Trump’s renewal of sanctions waivers as mandated by the Iran nuclear deal fulfills only the most basic obligation of the U.S. under the accord. Unfortunately, Trump has already explicitly violated the terms of the JCPOA by warning foreign leaders not to invest in Iran at the most recent G20 Summit, and he has done nothing to allay concerns that he and his team are laying the groundwork to kill the JCPOA. Trump’s administration continues to sow doubt that it will certify the deal to Congress on October 15, despite Iran’s continued compliance, which would enable Congress to snap back sanctions under expedited procedure that would materially violate U.S. commitments under the accord.

“Despite Trump’s inclination to withhold certification, his national security team has pushed him to renew waivers and certify at each deadline since January. This is because the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal from the deal would be disastrous, isolating the United States while risking a second nuclear crisis and a disastrous war.

“Now there are indications that, instead of withholding certification or outright violating the deal, the Trump administration may attempt to ratchet up tensions with Iran and demand that the parties to the nuclear deal “strengthen” the accord. In reality this plan is a disingenuous attempt to provoke Iran, rather than the U.S., to abandon the agreement. Already, America’s partners abroad in Europe have indicated that they see through this transparent ploy, but there is a danger that it could gain traction domestically.

“As sixteen national grassroots organizations urged Congress in a letter yesterday, legislators must resist Trump’s efforts to unravel the nuclear accord and set us on the path to war. Further, the European Union must insist that the Trump administration abide by the terms of the JCPOA and remain committed to its goals.

“Were this situation reversed, and Iran was openly advertising its intent to break out of the nuclear accord, there is no doubt that the U.S. and its international partners would be presenting a unified diplomatic front and urgently preparing a host of options in response. The other parties to the agreement must act with the same sense of urgency to the U.S. advertising its nefarious intentions.

“Trump and his team must drop their efforts to jeopardize one of the few sources of stability in the Middle East. Not only must Trump and his advisors halt their disingenuous rhetorical attacks on the accord, they must also clarify their intent to fully uphold U.S. obligations and continue sanctions relief so long as Iran remains committed to the accord. Anything less will devastate American credibility and global stability.”

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This Bombast From Trumpland Was A Gift To The Iranian Government

In the latest installment of “Trump Tells the World He’s Going to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was dispatched this week to Washington’s neoconservative beehive – the American Enterprise Institute – to wag the dog.

It was hard to keep up with all the little fibs and deceptions that she weaved into her remarks with such speed and tenacity. They were ridiculed across the world in real time on social media and, subsequently, by the commentariat.

Equally important but less understood, however, is the gift that Haley served to Iran’s government on a silver platter. Two key points illustrate why her speech left Iranian officials smiling.

Reinforcing unity

First, Haley’s bluster has reinforced the strategic decision made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani four years ago: maintain unity on policy towards America, regardless of whether there is a nuclear deal or not. The foundation of this decision was predicated on avoiding the diplomatic and financial isolation that plagued Iran from 2005-13 – which in turn eroded government legitimacy in the eyes of many Iranians, thereby widening the gulf between Iran’s state and society, and destabilising the former.

Like any politicians, the two men have their political differences, but this does not change the baseline: Khamenei needs Rouhani to continue digging Iran out of the political and economic hole shoveled by Ahmadinejad. And Rouhani needs Khamenei to protect him from hardline political sniping as he tries to put Humpty Dumpty – the government’s legitimacy – back together again.

For this reason, Rouhani has maintained one of the most diverse political coalitions in the history of the Islamic Republic – over the duration of two election campaigns and four years in office. Now the hostile deceit from Haley and her fellow Trump administration foreign policy hawks is incentivising Iran’s disparate political factions to further strengthen ties around the shared goal of resisting and surviving American aggression.

By contrast, the aftermath of the nuclear negotiations forced the same Iranian stakeholders to grapple with countless internal divisions – from economic policy, to press freedoms, to ending the house arrest of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi – that returned to the forefront when hostility from Washington was not a potent unifying force. 

Shifting blame

Second, Haley’s screed is yet another example of bombast from Trumpland that Iranian officials can use to deflect domestic political pressure by shifting the onus of US-Iran conflict onto Washington. To that end, the growing unity amongst political elites on the issue of American aggression is also matched by increasing cohesion between state and society.

Today, Rouhani and Khamenei continue to utilise the domestic narrative they constructed when negotiations with Washington began in 2013, based on three interconnected premises: 1) We are exhausting all options in pursuing peaceful solutions that protect your rights, interests and dignity; 2) Thus, it is America that bears responsibility for any remaining conflict, so do not blame us for sanctions; 3) And since America is killing the nuclear deal despite our compromises and compliance, the onus is on them to cease hostility, resume constructive dialogue, and resolve this unnecessary standoff.

Each sentence uttered by Haley at the podium helped deflect responsibility onto America in the eyes of Iranian society. If Washington kills the deal, Iranians will not blame their leaders because they can correctly accuse the Trump administration for reigniting a nuclear conflict that was resolved two years ago.

Political unity intact, state-society relations improved, blame shifted to the United States, rally-around-the-flag nationalism on the rise – and the Iranian government did not have to lift a finger to produce this favourable outcome. Decision-makers in Tehran may not be strategic masters, but they are masterful at taking advantage of America’s self-inflicted wounds.

I served at the US Department of State during the George W Bush administration, and one of the marching orders we received from the White House was to promote fissures within the Iranian government to weaken it, isolate it, and – over time – help it crumble. Republicans demonstrably failed then, and they will fail now.

Haley’s speech was only the latest in a long line of own goals that empower the very government this administration is trying to pick a fight with. Iran would prefer to keep the nuclear deal alive and reduce tensions with the United States.

America killing the deal will likely reduce nuclear, financial and geopolitical constraints on Iran at little cost to its political elite. If Trump’s team wants to allow Tehran to have its cake and eat it too, Iranian officials will gladly oblige.

This piece originally appeared in the Middle East Eye.

5 Lies Nikki Haley Just Told About The Iran Deal

At the home of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank whose scholars helped make the case for the devastating war with Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the case for Trump to kill an agreement that is effectively forestalling both a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran.

In so doing, Haley relied on a host of lies, distortions and obfuscations to paint an Iran that is cheating on its nuclear commitments and terrorizing the world. Lest the U.S. once again repeat the mistakes that led the U.S. to war with Iraq, it is worth rebutting several of these lies:

“Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The IAEA, in its eighth report since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect, once again affirmed that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitments last week. Yet, Haley falsely asserted that Iran has been caught in “multiple violations” since the accord went into effect. 

Her evidence centers around Iran exceeding a “limit” on heavy water on two separate occasions in 2016. Unfortunately for her accusation, there is no hard limit mandated by the JCPOA – which indicates that Iran shall export its excess heavy water, and that Iran’s needs are estimated to be 130 metric tons. Thus, there is no violation on heavy water, and Iran continues to abide by the  provisions of the JCPOA – including notably on uranium enrichment and inspector access.

“There are hundreds of undeclared sites that have suspicious activity that they (the IAEA) haven’t looked at.”

In the question and answer portion of the event, Haley asserted that there were not one or two suspicious sites that the IAEA can’t access – but hundreds! Of course, the U.S. intelligence community likely monitors dozens if not hundreds of non-nuclear sites in an attempt to detect any potential covert Iranian nuclear activities. Yet the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, stated in July that “Based on the evidence that’s been presented by the intelligence community, it appears that Iran is in compliance with the rules that were laid out in the JCPOA.” Hence, there is no indication of Iranian cheating and no need for the IAEA to knock on the door of hundreds of “suspicious” sites, as Haley suggests. 

If there is solid evidence that a few of those suspicious sites that Haley cited are harboring covert nuclear activities, the U.S. can present the evidence for those suspicions to the IAEA and press them to investigate. Critically, however, Haley declined to do so at her meeting with the IAEA last month. According to a U.S. official, “Ambassador Haley did not ask the IAEA to inspect any specific sites, nor did she provide the IAEA with any new intelligence.” 

“Iranian leaders…have stated publicly that they will refuse to allow IAEA inspections of their military sites. How can we know Iran is complying with the deal, if inspectors are not allowed to look everywhere they should look?”

While Iran barring an IAEA request permitted under the accord would be concerning, the IAEA has not recently had cause to request access to any non-nuclear site. Again, Haley has reportedly even declined to present evidence to the IAEA indicating that they should access any suspicious sites – military or otherwise. Hence, one can reasonably conclude that Haley’s statements are not based on legitimate fears, but are part of a political attack on the deal that her boss wants to unravel. 

In fact, initial reporting on the U.S. pushing for military site inspections cast it as a justification for Trump withholding certification of the nuclear accord. As a result, when considering Iranian statements on military site access, one must also factor in the ample evidence suggesting that the Trump administration is fabricating a crisis to withdraw from the accord. 

Further, there is little reason to take Iranian statements in response to Haley’s at face value. Iran issued similarly threatening statements ruling out inspections of military sites during negotiations in 2015, yet eventually allowed IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano access to the Parchin military base as well as the IAEA to collect samples at the site later that year.

“The deal [Obama] struck wasn’t supposed to be just about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening with Iran; a welcoming back into the community of nations.”

As the Obama administration outlined ad-nauseam, the nuclear deal was limited to the nuclear sphere. There is no annex in the JCPOA directing the U.S. and Iran to settle their differences on Iraq, Syria or Yemen, or obligating Iran to comply with its international human rights obligations or transform to a true democracy. The Obama administration did hope that the JCPOA could build trust to enable the U.S. and Iran to potentially resolve issues outside of the nuclear sphere, but such hopes rested on engagement outside of the contours of the JCPOA. The JCPOA dealt with the number one national security threat presented by Iran – the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Haley’s assertion to the contrary is merely meant to cast the deal in a negative light.

“We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate.”

The U.S. Congress held dozens of hearings over several years to examine the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and – midway through the negotiations ― passed a law instituting a 60-day period of Congressional review wherein Obama could not begin to waive sanctions. Congress engaged in heated debate, and opponents of the accord poured in tens of millions of dollars in order to pressure Members of Congress to vote against the deal. No Republican legislator supported it despite there being no favorable alternative, and enough Democrats backed the accord in order to block resolutions of disapproval that would have killed the JCPOA in its crib. 

That intensely partisan, fact-optional debate would once again decide the fate of the accord if Haley has her way – only this time, there would be no filibuster. If Trump withholds certification, even if Iran remains in compliance, Congress could consider and pass sanctions that kill the deal under expedited procedure thanks to little-noticed provisions in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Trump could pass the buck to Congress and if every Member of Congress votes as they did in 2015, the deal would be dead.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

John Bolton Urges Trump To Foment Sectarian Civil War In Iran

Madness. Madness is the word that comes to mind at the mention of John Bolton. The late under secretary that helped mastermind the disastrous war in Iraq is once again in the news for releasing a plan on how to kill the Iran deal and instigate a civil war in Iran. It is important we not gloss over the gravity of what he is suggesting.

Given his supposed lack of access to the President, Bolton decided to take his advice to the media, in hopes of catching Trump’s eye. His advice? Secretly conspire with “allied” nations to fund terrorist organizations in an ethnic civil war inside Iran. Then, control all of Iran’s territories through terrorist proxies and failed states, deny all Iranians visas, and ultimately make the Iranian government “pay for 9/11.” 

The memo encourages U.S. backed ethno-sectarian bloodshed, similar to that of Syria today. Specifically, it proposes the backing of Balochi and Kurdish insurgents. Baloch terrorist and criminal networks have already claimed the lives of approximately 3,000 Iranian border guards and soldiers.

But there’s more. Bolton even suggests ending “all visas for Iranians, including so called ’scholarly,’student, sports, or other exchanges.” That means that his plan is to start a sectarian civil war in Iran and then trapping every single civilian in the war zone. So much for Bolton’s self-proclaimed love for the Iranian people. 

Moreover, he demands compensation for Iranian acts of terror, “including 9/11”. The notion that Iran orchestrated 9/11 is completely unfounded, only adding to the insult of Saudi Arabia being on the list of nations he intends to “conspire with against Iran”. After all, 15 out of 19 hijackers in the September 11th attacks were Saudi nationals. 

It’s hard to understand the rationale behind Bolton’s thirst for war. After all, Iran is being compliant with the nuclear deal, despite many hardline conservatives predicting that they wouldn’t be.

In his memo, Bolton justifies his actions by claiming that Iran is a “grave threat to Israel”, and that “Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of military sites also provide important reasons for the Administration’s decision.” He continues by speculating that Iran is working with North Korea on missiles and promises that the truth can be exposed by “providing new, declassified information on Iran’s unacceptable behavior”. So all in all, Bolton’s grounds for waging war on Iran are “classified” and the nation ought just take his word for it.

Ultimately, Bolton is looking for excuses to wage war against Iran, and deliberately get thousands of civilians killed. When there is no presentable excuse, he formulates his own under the guise of “classified information.” 

Instead of creating a legacy of war, death, and betrayal, America ought to honor the Iran nuclear deal and double down on diplomacy in the Middle East, instead of continuing Bolton’s decades long project of destabilizing the region. 

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

NIAC Statement on IAEA Report Confirming Iran’s Compliance with the JCPOA

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 206-369-2069
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

  
  
Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after reports indicated that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) issued a quarterly report once again affirming Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal:

“The IAEA has once again affirmed what everyone outside of the White House appears to know: that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. There is a reason why Trump can’t point to any specific evidence to justify his assertions that Iran is noncompliant with the nuclear accord. The IAEA, U.S. intelligence community and our allies in the P5+1 have all affirmed Iran’s compliance. Yet, Trump has violated the JCPOA and continues to hold the fate of the accord in doubt by threatening to withhold a Congressionally-mandated certification of Iran’s compliance in mid-October, which would trigger expedited consideration of snapback sanctions.

“While Iran continues to abide by its nuclear commitments, the evidence is mounting that the U.S. is trying to unilaterally withdrawal from the JCPOA. There appears to be little other way to explain Amb. Nikki Haley’s efforts to stir up controversy in the media over IAEA inspections of non-nuclear military sites in Iran, while at the same time reportedly abstaining from presenting any evidence to justify such inspections at her meeting with the IAEA in Vienna. As IAEA officials affirmed, the agency isn’t going to conduct such activities just to send a political signal, so the administration should halt its efforts to politicize their work.

“The JCPOA is working. Barring any unforeseen events, Iran will be adhering to it on October 15. The Trump administration must halt its transparently political efforts to subvert an accord that is blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and forestalling a disastrous war.”

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NIAC Statement on Apple’s Decision to Restrict Iranian-Made Apps

 

 

   
 
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after sending a letter to Apple Inc. raising concerns about its decisions to restrict mobile applications made by Iranian developers:

“Apple’s decision to restrict mobile apps made by Iranian developers may be an overly cautious approach to U.S. sanctions compliance that undermines U.S. interests by limiting the Iranian people’s access to technologies used for personal communication. Apple’s move has the effect of punishing the Iranian people, not Iran’s government, and only succeeds in discouraging Iran’s burgeoning tech entrepreneurs and forcing Iran’s youth back under the umbrella of government censors.

“NIAC calls on Apple and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to take all necessary steps to ensure that Iranians are able to once again make their mobile applications available on the Apple app store.
 

“Today, NIAC published a letter directed to Apple, seeking an explanation of the legal basis for its move and whether Apple has undertaken efforts to receive license authorization to host Iranian apps in its App Store.  In NIAC’s view, Apple’s current policy ‘risks undermining core U.S. foreign policy interests in ensuring Iranians are able to utilize the Internet for personal communications absent the censorship of their home government.’

“Apple’s decision to remove Iranian apps is yet another indication of the deleterious impact of broad U.S. sanctions targeting Iran and impacting the Iranian people. Apple, like many other U.S. companies, have to figure out how to navigate broad, often intentionally ambiguous, U.S. sanctions, and the conclusion for many has been to exercise undue caution in ways that may undermine U.S. interests. For instance, we have seen cases where U.S. banks close the accounts of Iranian students studying in the United States, despite there being no prohibition on U.S. banks maintaining such accounts. Ultimately, because such caution is likely to persist into the future, it is incumbent on the U.S. Treasury Department to provide sufficient guidance to companies so that they do not undertake actions counter to U.S. interests.

“We trust that Apple shares our interest in encouraging young Iranian tech entrepreneurs and promoting internet freedom around the world. We hope they will respond and look forward to discussing these matters with them.”

The full letter can be found here.

Post-Charlottesville And Phoenix, Do You Still Believe Trump’s Muslim Ban Isn’t Racist?

When Donald Trump first put into place his Muslim ban, he justified it on security grounds. The targeted nations were allegedly failed states and hotbeds for terrorists. At first, a majority of Americans gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. The media even referred to it as a temporary “travel ban,” as if it only affected people’s short-term vacation plans rather than permanently disrupting their lives and treating them differently solely based on their place of birth. Those who pointed out that the ban lacked a security justification or that it was racist at its core were met with skepticism. But all of that was before Charlottesville and Trump’s speech in Phoenix last night.

In the aftermath of Trump revealing his sympathy with the “decent folks” who chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, it is incumbent upon us to review our previous assessments of Trump’s Muslim ban. Indeed, while the inherent Nazi/KKK theme of the protest was frustrating to many, one thing is now clear: The self-described “alt-right” movement has a far larger presence than expected, and Trump stands behind it. If Trump’s aides are angry with him for showing his true, racist colors, how does that affect the way we look at his past decisions such as the Muslim ban?

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argued that the courts “engaged in a pretty dubious practice by using Trump’s campaign utterances against him,” when ruling that the Trump’s intent with the ban was to target Muslims and as a result was unconstitutional. “Candidates (and, to a lesser extent, Presidents) talk publicly all the time,” Toobin argued. “They say things off the cuff, improvising in the moment and sometimes making foolish statements or outright mistakes.”

But after Charlottesville, are we still willing to believe that Trump’s bigoted speech against Muslims was just “improvisation” and “outright mistakes” and not a genuine window into Trump’s deep-held beliefs? What does Trump have to do for us to believe that his racist statements and his defense of bigots and Nazis are accurate reflections of who he really is?

We are reaching a point in which denial of Trump’s evident racism begins to directly enable Trump to continue on this divisive path.

Perhaps those who still cling on to an excessively optimistic interpretation of the nature Trump’s Muslim ban remain convinced that measures of this kind – even racist ones – are needed to keep America safe. After months and years of fear-mongering by Trump about Muslims in general and refugees from the Middle East in particular, it is not surprising that many (uninformed) Americans have become so terrified of this exaggerated threat that they will cling onto any measure they’ve been lulled to believe will make them safe. 

But the facts never supported the idea that the Muslim ban could make America safer. A leaked Department of Homeland Security report concluded that “citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” Since the inception of the Syrian conflict, foreign-born US-based who engaged in terrorism in the United States were citizens of 26 different countries, according to the report. No single country accounted for more than 13.5 percent of terrorists. Perhaps even more importantly, a CATO study revealed that not a single national from the Muslim-majority countries on Trump’s list had engaged in any lethal act of terrorism in the US. Nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt ― countries Trump has forged close political and economic relations with both during and prior to his presidency ― account for 94.1% of all deaths in the US through terrorism. Yet, these states were not included in the ban. 

In his speech Monday explaining the rationale behind his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, he argued that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.” Yet, Trump did not include Afghanistan or Pakistan in the Muslim ban.

This is not to argue that a ban on Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia would have made the ban more effective. On the contrary, it only demonstrates that security concerns cannot justify or explain the ban. 

Racism, however, can.

And racism only makes America less secure. Not only does the ban take America’s attention away from effective tools to combat terrorism, such as pressing Saudi Arabia to stop funding Wahhabi terrorists, it also makes America less safe by giving a green light to violent, supremacist groups. The terrorist attack in Charlottesville by an American Nazi is a case in point. (In fact, in the first six months of this year, there have been 451 confirmed hate crimes targeting Muslims, a 91 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016.)

America’s own history makes this abundantly clear. Racist policies adopted decades and centuries ago (such as the Jim Crow laws), continue to breed inequality and violence today, making America less safe. The Muslim ban is no different. It is a policy rooted in racism that if not stopped now, will create a legacy of bigotry that will breed insecurity by turning Americans against each other, long after Trump has left the White House.

This piece originally appeared The Huffington Post.