Sanders Calls for Sanctions Relief to Assist Iran Earthquake Recovery

Thank you, Bernie!

On behalf of the National Iranian American Council and the Iranian-American community, we express our deepest gratitude to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for spearheading a letter, signed by four of his colleagues, to Secretary Rex Tillerson urging that restrictions and sanctions impeding aid to earthquake victims in Iran be eased. Sanctions on Iran have significantly limited the ability of Americans to send relief to the people of Iran in their hour of need. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN).

The Senators hope that the Trump administration will follow the example of the Bush and Obama administrations, which both eased sanctions after massive earthquakes hit Iran. According to the letter, “Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different.”

You can read the letter below:

View as PDF

November 16, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write today concerning the recent earthquake that struck Iran on November 12. The latest reports indicate over 500 dead and thousands wounded, making this earthquake the world’s deadliest of the year. We urge you temporarily waive any existing restrictions that would impede relief donations in order to speed the delivery of aid.

While the earthquake affected both Iran and Iraq, most of the casualties are on the Iranian side of the border. After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both temporarily waived sanctions, and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued general licenses to simplify aid delivery.

Under the Bush administration, an OFAC license authorized U.S. persons to provide cash donations to nongovernmental organizations, U.S. and non-U.S., assisting with relief efforts in Iran. At the time, OFAC also worked with aid organizations to clarify rules on donations of food and medicine and which Iranian entities could receive aid and eased banking constraints to ensure the timely receipt of donations in Iran. While we understand that a general license issued by OFAC in 2013 allows for U.S. nongovernment organization to deliver aid to Iran, we urge you make it easier for U.S. citizens to contribute to nongovernment organizations not based in the United States that are currently providing relief aid to earthquake victims in Iran.

Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different. We ask that you direct the Department of State to assist in aid efforts and to coordinate such efforts with OFAC and other relevant agencies in order to ensure aid arrives quickly.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.
Sincerely,

BERNARD SANDERS
United States Senator

ELIZABETH WARREN
United States Senator

AL FRANKEN
United States Senator

THOMAS CARPER
United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN
United States Senator

FAQ on Iranian Earthquake Relief

As Iranian Americans, our hearts go out to all of those who were impacted by yesterday’s tragic earthquake that struck near the Iran-Iraq border. Initial reporting indicates that it is the deadliest earthquake of 2017, with hundreds dead and thousands injured, and many more who have lost everything. Like with prior earthquakes in Iran, the recovery and rebuilding is likely to be difficult.

Given the comprehensive trade embargo on Iran, Americans are likely to have questions regarding whether they will be able to assist in recovery efforts. While there are restrictions to navigate, the Treasury Department has licensed U.S. citizens to engage in certain activities to assist relief efforts in Iran following natural disasters. Below, we have detailed a brief Q&A, which we will update as the situation unfolds and we learn more about ongoing relief efforts.

The National Iranian American Council urges the Treasury Department to closely examine whether additional steps are needed to ensure that Americans can effectively contribute to relief efforts, and to issue any additional licenses necessary to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not stand in the way of urgent relief.

Frequently Asked Questions:

I am a resident of the United States and I want to help out with relief efforts in Iran, but don’t know if I can or how I can.  How can I help out with the earthquake relief?

While the United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, you can lawfully engage in certain activities to help out relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran. You can do the following:

  • You can donate food, clothing, or medicine to Iran, provided that the donations are meant to relieve human suffering and are not directed to the Government of Iran, an Iranian bank, or any other restricted parties.  
     
  • You can make donations to a U.S. non-governmental organization (“NGO”) engaged in the provision of humanitarian services in or related to Iran, including in relief and reconstruction efforts related to the earthquake. U.S. persons would not be permitted to send funds directly to non-U.S. charitable organizations specifically intending those funds to be used for relief efforts in Iran.
     
  • You can seek license authorization from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to engage in any other humanitarian-related activities related to the relief efforts in Iran.   
     

I want to help out, but am nervous about running afoul of U.S. sanctions laws.  Are there things that I definitely cannot do to support the relief efforts in Iran?

Yes. The United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, so most transactions between the two countries are prohibited absent an applicable exemption or license authorization. Those activities outlined above are either exempt from the trade embargo or are otherwise authorized. However, certain activities remain prohibited. For instance, the following activities remain prohibited under U.S. law:

  • You cannot send funds directly to Iranian charitable organizations absent prior license authorization from OFAC.  Such activity is currently prohibited under U.S. law and could expose you to civil or criminal liability as a result.
     
  • You cannot send goods or technologies to Iran to help out with relief efforts other than those that fall under the OFAC exemption or those that are licensed by OFAC.  The export of any prohibited goods or technologies to Iran is prohibited – even if such goods or technologies are intended for use in aiding relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran.

Should I contact a lawyer before deciding to send funds or make a donation to Iran?

Because the U.S. trade embargo with Iran is exceptionally broad and prohibits most dealings between the two countries – including what would be regarded as innocuous – it is always a good idea to speak to legal counsel before engaging in a transaction in or related to Iran.  However, due to the obvious need to act expediently to help out with relief efforts in Iran at this time, it would not necessarily be unreasonable to rely on the representations of a U.S.-based NGO providing humanitarian-related services to Iran that they are acting in compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.   

I am an American and saw a fundraiser for earthquake relief efforts on social media. Should I donate?
 
This depends both on what the funds will be used for and the credibility of the campaign. If the fundraiser is seeking donations for an Iranian or non-U.S. charity, you should NOT donate. If the fundraiser is for a U.S. organization that is planning relief efforts in line with U.S. sanctions regulations, you can consider donating to the campaign. However, you should also consider giving to U.S.-based organizations directly rather than using a social media platform.
 

Which U.S. charitable organizations might be planning relief efforts in Iran?

The following U.S. organizations have responded to previous natural disasters in Iran and are planning relief efforts in response to the 2017 earthquake:

We will update this list as additional information becomes available.

NIAC Deplores Trump’s Push to Violate Iran Nuclear Deal

 

 

 

Washington, DC – Dr. 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 in response to President Trump’s speech withholding certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:

“Trump’s speech was a national disgrace. This isn’t an effort to stiff a contractor over a real estate project, it’s a matter of war and peace. Donald Trump is in way over his head.

“Contrary to the reporting, Donald Trump is killing the deal – not in one move, but in several moves. First, Congress will attempt to kill it through deal-killing legislation from Tom Cotton. If that is blocked, Trump has vowed to kill it himself. Either way, the deal will get killed by this process triggered by Trump.

“Cotton’s legislation would seek to unilaterally rewrite the nuclear deal, an unequivocal violation of the agreement. A vote for that bill would be as significant as a vote for the 2002 war with Iraq.

“Trump is single handedly destroying U.S. credibility and all but guaranteeing that no country in their right mind would agree to a deal with the U.S. again. The U.S. has shredded alliances through go-it-alone approaches before, to disastrous effect. Trump’s has reduced America’s allies on Iran to just Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi royal family. Trump’s ‘coalition of the willing’ on Iran makes George W. Bush’s old coalition on Iraq look like a diplomatic masterstroke.

“The most insulting of Trump’s lies was when he sought to pass himself off as a champion of the Iranian people. As we speak, Trump is banning nearly all Iranians from the United States. The majority of people targeted by Trump’s Muslim ban are Iranian. Iranian Americans are being cut off from their family members in Iran thanks to Trump.

“Congress must step in and make it clear that it will restrain this President and that the U.S. is fully committed to upholding its word on the Iran deal.”

###

Orgs Urge U.S. Government to Allow Apple and Google to Host Iranian Apps

Washington, DC – NIAC and a group of Iranian American and human rights organizations are urging the U.S. government to lift restrictions that have recently prevented Iranians from hosting apps on the Apple and Google app stores.

In a Letter to Sec. Tillerson & Mnuchin sent today to the State and Treasury Department, the organizations officially requested that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reconsider the scope of the current licensing policies that affect Iranian developers whose apps have been removed from Apple and Google app stores.

On August 24, 2017,  it was reported that Apple began removing applications developed by Iranians from its mobile app store. Within a week, Google had taken similar action. Iranians reacted by taking their frustrations to social media, with the trending hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps. Many tweeted in English during Apple’s annual iOS event to gain the attention of Apple CEOs to bring attention to this issue. Yaser Bahrami, an Iranian app developer, tweeted: “Today, Apple is the first enemy of iranian [sic] iOS developers. We are developing software not nuclear weapon.” Another user, an Iranian computer engineer named Payam, said this removal of Iranian apps from Apple and Google stores made it seem as if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) never even happened.

While much of the backlash was directed at Apple and Google, the removal of apps was likely due to the existing U.S. trade embargo on Iran. Companies like Google and Apple have begun allowing Iranians to access and download software in recent years,. following the Obama Administration’s decision to exempt communications technology from the Iran embargo. The companies had also hosted apps by Iranian developers on those platforms until recently. That may be because, while the exemption allows for software to be exported to Iranians, it does not necessarily apply to the hosting of Iranian apps. It is unclear if recent threats by Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear deal may have prompted companies to reevaluate their policies regarding Iran, but their interpretation that they are barred from hosting such apps may be correct. A fix may only be possible if the Treasury and State Department broaden the exemption to allow the hosting of Iranian apps, as urged in the organization’s’ letter.

In addition to NIAC, the letter was sent by Access Now, ASL19, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Iranian American Bar Association, PARS Equality Center, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans and United4Iran.

The full text of the letter is below:

October 11, 2017

Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mnuchin:

We are writing to raise concerns regarding recent events in which Apple and Google appear to have deleted mobile applications (“apps”) developed by Iranian users from their respective mobile application stores (“app stores”). These events are an impediment to the free flow of information and private entrepreneurship independent of the government of Iran. We are concerned that the actions by Apple and Google were mandated by current U.S. sanctions laws and regulations administered by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and are herein requesting OFAC to reconsider the scope of its current licensing policies and amend those policies as needed to ensure that Iranians are able to make their own apps available on app stores operated by U.S. parties.

On February 7, 2014, OFAC, in consultation with the State Department, issued General License D-1 (“General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications”) in order to facilitate the Iranian people’s access to information. GL D-1 was widely praised as an effective example of securing human rights, protecting access to online information, and avoiding government censors.

As a result of GL D-1, the Iranian people – including Iranian youth – were permitted access to apps made available from app stores run by U.S. companies, such as Apple and Google. Upon being granted access to apps made available from app stores like Apple and Google, many young Iranian developers themselves created their own apps for purposes specifically relevant to the Iranian people and submitted those apps to app stores operated by Apple and Google, where they were posted. The startup ecosystem created by young Iranian entrepreneurs has gained international attention for its promoting opportunities for both men and women to secure independence from the traditional state dominated economies of Iran. This movement has continued despite persecution by hardline elements.

Recently, though, both Apple and Google appear to have come to the conclusion that GL D-1 does not provide license authorization for U.S. companies, such as themselves, to host apps developed by Iranian users on their app stores. The disappearance of popular apps created by young Iranian developers and previously made accessible to Iranian users has created shockwaves amongst Iranians online – a potent feeling that they are being unfairly punished for the seemingly perpetual geopolitical dispute between their government and the government of the United States. 

We have appreciated the consideration that has gone into previous efforts by the U.S. government to broaden general license authorizations aimed at easing the burdens placed on the Iranian people by the U.S.’s comprehensive trade and investment embargo with Iran. We have likewise valued the manner in which the Departments of State and Treasury have received our ideas in the past regarding these matters. We believe that recent events merit OFAC to consider broadening the scope of GL D-1 as to expressly authorize U.S. parties to host apps developed by Iranian users on their app stores. Alternatively, if OFAC has concerns about issuing a general license authorization regarding the hosting of such apps, then OFAC should promulgate a statement of licensing policy specific to this matter so as to inform interested parties that OFAC will review license applications to engage in such conduct under a favorable presumption. These steps are critical to remediate the backlash that has been stirred amongst Iranians online and to ensure that the Iranian people are able to fully access personal communications technologies and evade the reach of their own government’s censors.

We trust that your agencies will engage in a thoughtful review of this letter and reconsider its current licensing policies regarding this matter. Further, we hope that this recent issue is not the result of any policy shift away from building bridges with the Iranian people through technology, but instead the result of unforeseen circumstances and technological developments outpacing current licensing. We would appreciate a meeting with appropriate representatives to discuss this matter in fuller detail and engage in a frank conversation regarding any concerns about broadening GL D-1. We thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your responses.

Sincerely,

Access Now

ASL19

Center for Human Rights in Iran

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Iranian American Bar Association

National Iranian American Council

PARS Equality Center

Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans

United4Iran

 

Senators Hesitant to Undermine Iran Nuclear Deal Amid North Korea Crisis

Washington, D.C. – With the Iran nuclear deal certification deadline approaching, several Senators have raised concern that decertification would have a negative impact on the ongoing and immediate nuclear crisis with North Korea.

Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), highlighted concern about Trump’s expressed desire to withhold certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a hearing Thursday, and asked whether these statements could undermine diplomatic efforts with North Korea. “Don’t our allies see that when we as a nation renege on one nuclear agreement, that we are not as trustworthy as (they) thought we were as a nation for the next round?” he asked.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stated during the hearing that although she understood concerns about North Korea undercutting possible nuclear negotiations, she was worried about U.S. efforts undercutting the nuclear accord with Iran.  “So far the Iranian nuclear deal is working, and my question is if we blow that up, does it make it harder to get to an agreement that the North Koreans could believe in if we try to negotiate with them?” she asked.

Sen. Warren ended her remarks by quoting Adam Szubin, former Acting Secretary of the Treasury of the United States: “Great nations do not play games when it comes to their international agreements. Doing so would be especially short-sighted when we are trying to convince the world to join us in a North Korean sanctions campaign whose stated objective is nuclear diplomacy.”

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, also warned in a separate hearing that the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal while Iran is still compliant could have several perilous effects, including allies questioning U.S. treaty obligations as well as dissuading North Korea from entering into future discussions to rollback its nuclear program.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reinforced the idea that unilateral actions by the U.S. to pull out of the JCPOA would affect both diplomatic and military options in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat. At a Council on Foreign Affairs event on Friday, he argued that if the U.S. exits the deal, not only would the U.S. be considered an outlier by the international community, but that an already suspicious North Korea would be signaled that “if we make a deal with these folks they might not keep it.”

These sentiments were also expressed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in an op-ed for Time, who wrote that “if we abandon one multilateral deal they helped us achieve, can we really expect they (Russia and China) would work with us to achieve a negotiated resolution on North Korea? And how would we ultimately address North Korea without China and Russia’s leverage and pressure?”

As we get closer to the certification deadline, Congress only appears to be more and more anxious about the ramifications of Trump decertifying and the U.S. backing out of the accord. Even some Republican legislators – not a single one of whom voted against the JCPOA in 2015 – have expressed reservations about the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing. As tensions continue to rise with North Korea over its nuclear weapons test and missile launches, it is likely that legislators will continue to raise concerns about opening up a second nuclear crisis with Iran.

European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

“This agreement is a success, “ asserted European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan in defense of the Iran nuclear deal on Monday. “[It] needs to be maintained, nurtured, needs to be strictly scrutinized to make sure that everyone, and that includes all the people who signed up to this agreement, deliver on their commitments in order to make sure that this global public good of nonproliferation in the Middle East region is maintained.”
 
With just three weeks before the Trump Administration’s decision whether to certify if Iran has been compliant with the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Atlantic Council hosted a panel of top European ambassadors to discuss their government’s views of the pending decision.
 
French Ambassador Gérard Araud called renegotiating the JCPOA “a nonstarter” and reaffirmed that France is willing to engage in further negotiations with Iran regarding their activities in the region, but would not reopen the nuclear deal. “We are willing to work with our allies here and in the region to be up to the Iranian challenge,” but “walking away from the deal would have serious consequences.”
 
Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador, cautioned those who are discussing withdrawing from the deal against undermining the West’s credibility in future diplomatic negotiations. “What kind of signal would this send to countries like North Korea? It would send the signal that diplomacy is not reliable, that you can’t trust diplomatic agreements,” he explained. “To those who advocate to walk away from this agreement, [you] have to come up with an alternative of how to prevent, in a peaceful way, resuming of Iranian nuclear and military capabilities,” something Germany does not believe is possible.
 
Sir Kim Darroch of the United Kingdom highlighted how the deal makes his country safer, and that “as long as the Iranians continue to comply with it, in the view of the IAEA, we will continue to support it.” He put a particular emphasis on the fact that representatives from the UK have been speaking avidly to members of Congress regarding this deal, trying to convince their counterparts to continue to comply with the deal by explaining how it is beneficial to the national security of the UK. Amb. Darroch also told the audience how May and Trump spent nearly half of a fifty-minute long meeting discussing ways to push back on Iran’s non-nuclear behavior, though still asserted that the deal should be maintained. According to Darroch, “In a sense, this administration has changed the climate on Iran…But let’s keep the JCPOA.”
 
Another important aspect of the deal, particularly for the Europeans, was the normalization of trade with Iran. Should Trump choose not to re-certify the deal, Congress will have the power to re-impose new sanctions on Iran under expedited procedure, which would risk breaking the already fragile business ties Iran has started to rebuild since the sanctions were lifted last year. When asked if this would affect European companies dealing with Iran, each ambassador reiterated their commitment to the deal, expounding on how the resuming of normalized trade with Iran has helped each of their economies. “I have no doubt that if this scenario materializes, which it’s not clear it will, the European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies with all the means at our disposal,” said Ambassador O’Sullivan.
 
Amb. Araud reminded the audience that when the US originally imposed sanctions on Iran and forced their European allies to comply, “the burden of the sanctions has been carried by the Europeans,” who, up to that point, had enjoyed a healthy trade relationship with Iran. Now that the sanctions have been lifted, he insisted that France was merely returning to the relationship they had before, a natural result of the deal. If the situation were to devolve into a crisis, Araud said that French companies would “[base] their decision on the basis of their own calculations of their interest.”
 

Amb. Wittig went a step further and explained the history of Iran and German relations, dating back to the Qajar dynasty. He voiced his support for the French Ambassador’s remarks regarding the normalization of trade with Iran, and described how German companies “have suffered billions and billions and billions of dollars because we imposed sanctions [on Iran].” He believes that through the normalization of economic ties with Iran and bringing them into the international economic fold, Western power can strengthen their political with the country to improve Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world over time. “Iran is a very vibrant civil society. It’s a very young society… It’s a country with a future, and we want this Iran to gradually move to our values, to our world view.”

 

Trump Is Conflating Pyongyang With Tehran. The Results Could Be Catastrophic.

President Donald Trump took a page out of the George W Bush playbook at his UN address on Tuesday. To justify confrontation with Iran, conflate it with Pyongyang. To justify confrontation with North Korea, conflate it with Tehran.

This is the latest gimmick in Trump’s desperate efforts to kill the nuclear deal with Iran: by focusing on Tehran’s objectionable non-nuclear policies and false claims of the unevenness of the Iran deal, Trump is arguing that sustaining the international accord can no longer be justified since it doesn’t address the totality of America’s concerns with Iran.

Problem is: there is no deal that could address the totality of US-Iran tensions unless Trump is willing to engage in extensive diplomacy with Iran for such a grand bargain. Thus far, Trump has shown zero interest in negotiations with Iran. And mindful of how he has conducted himself on the world stage, significant doubts exist as to whether his administration has the capacity and competence to face Iran diplomatically.

Instead, the contours of Trump’s Iran policy are crystallizing. Rather than a new deal with Iran, Trump is reigniting the US-Iran cold war that the nuclear deal began to cool down.

On the international stage, Trump calls for Iran’s total isolation, accuses it of being the main source of instability in the Middle East, and describes it as a new North Korea in the making. At home, he plans to give the nuclear deal a death knell by decertifying it on 15 October and leave its fate in the hands of the US Congress – as he did with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (Daca). (The likelihood of the Republican Congress showing restraint and opting to not kill the nuclear accord is minuscule.)

The only countries on the world stage that would welcome Trump’s reigniting this cold war with Iran would be Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They prefer that the United States resurrects Pax Americana in the Middle East and re-establishes strong American hegemony there in order for the region to return to its pre-2003 equilibrium – before, ironically, Iran was unleashed by George W Bush’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Only by having America by their side as a full military partner can these countries balance Iran. The end result would either be a military confrontation at worst or at best a tense cold war-like standoff between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US on one hand, and Iran and its allies (including Russia) on the other.

What this wouldn’t achieve – and isn’t designed to achieve – is stability in the Middle East. Rather, Trump would further inflame the Middle East and intensify the existing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. More arms would be poured into the region, while diplomacy would become an increasing rarity. Nor would this cold war with Iran make America or Europe any safer as instability in the Middle East has a way of finding its way to the west.

All eyes are now on Europe. Strong European leadership may succeed in preventing Trump from destabilizing the Middle East and killing the Iran deal. European leaders have already recommitted themselves to the nuclear deal and pointed out that it is thus far an astounding success.

The deal has blocked all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon and the IAEA has eight times certified that the Iranians are in compliance with the agreement. In fact, the deal has been such a success that Germany’s Angela Merkel has on numerous occasions urged the Iran negotiations to be used as model to find a solution to the North Korean crisis.

Though it did its utmost, Europe failed to prevent the Bush administration from launching the disastrous invasion of Iraq. On Iran, Europe can still stop Trump from following the footsteps of George W Bush. It is not just the nuclear deal that is at stake, but the entire stability of the Middle East.

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.

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.”

###

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.”   

###

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.