NIAC Statement on Bolton Seeking War with Iran

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on reports that John Bolton asked the Pentagon for options to attack Iran in September, rattling officials:

“John Bolton and fellow Iran hawks believe they have two years left to collapse the Iran nuclear deal and trigger a disastrous war that the American people want no part of. We know that Bolton and other administration officials preferred an Iran war to negotiations prior to serving Trump. Now there is confirmation that they are still seeking out opportunities to fulfill their war agenda.

“This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region. It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton’s request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration’s ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations.”

Expert Reacts to Sec. Pompeo’s Speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East Policies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 10, 2019
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | yasmina@unbendablemedia.com

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East policies:

“Secretary Pompeo’s speech failed to outline a coherent strategic logic for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. If Secretary Pompeo wants regional stability, human rights, and an end to U.S. military adventures and endless wars, he would press his boss to return to the Iran deal, pursue and facilitate good-faith diplomacy among all stakeholders, and honor our international agreements.

“Iran’s government engages in the unconscionable repression of its people and violates its international human rights commitments. Unfortunately, legitimate criticism of the Iranian government’s abuses and support for the Iranian people are undermined by this administration’s hypocrisy – from failing to uphold its own international commitments under the nuclear deal, to shielding the Saudi government from accountability for its killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to banning and sanctioning ordinary Iranians.

“A prudent alternative U.S. policy to the region must be predicated on using diplomacy as the preferred method of advancing U.S. interests, acting consistently on human rights, and ceasing our blank-check support for regional autocrats. A diplomacy-driven U.S. Middle East policy would not turn its back on regional people suffering under the yoke of strongmen or monarchs and would build on the successful diplomatic playbook of the Iran nuclear deal.

“If the administration continues on its current path of reflexively backing despotic regional regimes, simplistically blaming Iran as the source of all regional ills, and jeopardizing U.S. relations with European states seeking to preserve the nuclear accord, it will succeed at little other than fueling instability.”

# # #

The National Iranian American Council (www.niacouncil.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. We accomplish our mission through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building.

How Iran and Pakistan Matter for a Post-US Withdrawal Afghan Landscape

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson

Strained relations with Pakistan and zero channels of communication with Iran isolate U.S. foreign policy ahead of negotiations with the Taliban and an imminent U.S. troop drawdown. Washington’s newfound acceptance of the Taliban as one of many stakeholders in a political settlement must be matched by a recognition that landlocked Afghanistan will rely on relations with its neighbors after a U.S. departure.

Four conditions arose soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that set the stage for a potential political settlement to the conflict. First, a robust U.S. bombing campaign routed the Taliban out of major Afghan cities including Kabul and Jalalabad. Second, U.S. special operations coupled with the bombing campaign killed or captured many transnational terrorists using the country as refuge. Others were pushed southward where Pakistani intelligence focused on terrorists from outside the region but largely ignored the Taliban. Third, Iran offered its assistance to the U.S. under the leadership of President Khatami and with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s blessing. Lastly, Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) appeared ready to facilitate a political solution that would offer the Taliban an ultimatum: participate politically in the new Afghanistan to survive or resist and be killed.

Tehran was content to see the Taliban government fall and tolerated a limited International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence along its border. Iran provided intelligence to the U.S. and leveraged its cultural ties with Afghanistan’s Dari-speaking population to help win their support for the presidency of Hamid Karzai. Iran also influenced the Bonn Agreement which produced an interim government exclusive of the Taliban that resulted from talks between key anti-Taliban stakeholders. It was the diplomatic intervention of Iran that convinced the Northern Alliance to accede to sharing enough ministries with other factions to facilitate cooperation. According to Alex Vatanka, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was popular “across the political spectrum in Iran” and “only a tiny minority of voices in Tehran bothered to raise the question of a lasting US military presence in Afghanistan, although this issue subsequently became a key concern for Iran.” President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in his 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech torpedoed this effort by emboldening hardliners which led in part to the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s threat perception shifted to view the Taliban as a counterweight to the U.S.

During this same period, Washington became reliant on Pakistan as both a supply route and partner in the Afghanistan conflict. In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred the status of major non-NATO ally on Pakistan and offered a $1.5 billion dollar military assistance package. According to a report by the Watson Institute at Brown University, approximately 8,832 Pakistani security personnel and 23,372 non-combatant civilians have been killed in the War on Terror. For perspective, the U.S. Department of Defense has reported 2,276 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and the Watson Institute report calculated 6,951 total U.S. deaths in the War on Terror including Iraq and other locations.

Diplomatic coercion began to define U.S.-Pakistan relations as high casualties turned Pakistan’s public against the war. Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011. Washington’s primary criticism of Pakistan is its periodic support of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network even while it confronts other militant groups. The overall attitude of Pakistan’s military toward the Taliban is one of disdain; however, some within Pakistan’s security establishment predict a Taliban resurgence after a U.S. departure and view Islamist extremism as less of an ideological threat than Pashtun nationalism. They also worry about a strong Indian presence in Kabul. The U.S. adopted a strategy of triadic coercion in response to Islamabad’s inconsistent cooperation in which it uses diplomatic threats and withholds aid to compel Pakistan to abandon support for certain militant groups. However, this strategy failed to radically alter Islamabad’s calculation inside Afghanistan even though the Pakistan Army dealt a successful blow to the Pakistani Taliban.

Lack of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington also proved a financial boon for the Taliban. At times, Tehran supported the group to harass U.S. troops and as a retaliation for Washington’s alleged support of Baloch separatist movements. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) chief in the border city of Zahedan as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker of opium which helps fund the Taliban and accounts for 67 percent of narcotics consumption in Iran. A 249-page counternarcotics report published in 2018 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) only mentions Iran five times despite the country’s key role as a transit route for Afghan opium. It concluded that despite $8.62 billion spent, no counternarcotics program “resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production” and production rose from 3,400 metric tons to 9,000 metric tons. Many factors contributed to this loss but Washington’s failure to integrate Iran into its counternarcotics effort and incentivize cooperation certainly contributed.

Neither exclusion of Iran nor a coercive stance toward Pakistan has improved the situation in Afghanistan. Instead, the Taliban managed to maintain some relations with Pakistan and develop new ones with Iran and Russia. The most recent example is the announcement by Iranian state media that Tehran is hosting direct talks with the Taliban. In their book, Triple Axis: Iran’s Relations with Russia and China, Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai note that “although both Tehran and Moscow view the Taliban as a threat, they see the groups as the ‘lesser of two evils’ when weighed against [Islamic State Khorasan Province] ISKP, whose ideology, brutality, and recruitment efforts pose a greater threat to the two nations. Hence, Iran and Russia have provided support to Taliban groups since ISKP began to make gains in Afghanistan following the rise of ISIS in Iraq.” It comes down to a lack of confidence that the Taliban can be defeated militarily coupled with apprehension over the alternatives. Ultimately, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan have little ability to control the Taliban but their cooperation with an inclusive political settlement does have the potential to strengthen the Afghan state.

The Trump administration appears eager to reach a political settlement and leave Afghanistan. “I said that if the menace of terrorism is tackled, the United States is not looking for a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly told the Taliban delegation during recent talks. This approach is not a creation of the Trump administration. Speaking recently in Islamabad, former director for South Asian affairs at the Obama administration’s National Security Council, Joshua White, reiterated that the original justification for entering Afghanistan was to prevent a safe haven for transnational terrorists that more closely resemble Al-Qaeda and ISIS than the Taliban. According to former Adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Barnett Rubin, “when [Secretary of Defense] Rumsfeld vetoed the agreement that Karzai made with the Taliban leadership on December 6, 2001, it’s not because he had a different strategy for achieving peace in Afghanistan, it’s because achieving peace in Afghanistan was not the reason the U.S. went into Afghanistan. It was to punish the terrorists and those who harbored them.”

If Trump’s intention is to leave Afghanistan, then Kabul will be pushed to diversify and strengthen its regional relationships regardless of Washington’s other initiatives. For example, the importance to Afghanistan’s stability of India’s $21 billion project to develop Iran’s Chabahar port  forced the Trump administration to grant a sanctions waiver despite its departure from the Iran nuclear deal. According to a Rand report, bilateral trade between Iran and Afghanistan amounted to almost $5 billion in 2013 and Iran was India’s third largest oil supplier in 2017. In Pakistan, the army has made great strides in securing its border and reducing terrorism within its own territory. However, full cooperation from Tehran and Islamabad will require a durable political settlement that presents some immediate benefits to all regional actors.

The Bush administration simultaneously alienated Iran as a potential anti-Taliban ally and rejected offers from Pakistan to facilitate a political solution with Taliban elements that may have been willing to function within the parameters of the new Afghan state. The Obama administration unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the mistakes of its predecessor with a troop surge. Recreating the missed opportunities of 2001-02 nearly two decades later will require the Trump administration to decouple Afghan negotiations from its other regional objectives, prioritize the long-term interests of the Afghan people, and resist the temptation to view influence in Afghanistan as a zero-sum game when stability requires the cooperation of multiple actors, including Iran, Pakistan, India, and Russia.

This post originally appeared on The Diplomat. 

Rep. Jared Huffman and House Democrats Press the Trump Administration on Ensuring Sanctions & Humanitarian Aid

WASHINGTON D.C. — Earlier today, a letter organized by Rep. Jared Huffman and signed by 14 members of Congress demanded that the Trump Administration ensure that sanctions do not result in the blocking of humanitarian goods – like food and medical items – from reaching the Iranian people.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement, praising the letter and warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in Iran caused by overcompliance with US sanctions:

“There are strong indications that Donald Trump’s plan for Iran is to impose collective punishment on the Iranian people in violation of not just the Iran nuclear deal but of U.S. and international law. That’s why it is so important that Rep. Jared Huffman’s letter, backed by 14 Members of Congress, pressed the administration to ensure sanctions do not block humanitarian goods – like basic food stocks and medicines – from reaching the Iranian people.

“Since sanctions snapped back, we’ve already seen numerous reports on medicine shortages and skyrocketing costs of basic goods in Iran. The Iranian-American community knows this impact well, as many have heard from loved ones who are directly victimized. While the U.S. has exempted humanitarian trade on paper, in practice very few banks are willing to process humanitarian transactions out of the overriding fear of U.S. sanctions violations. Just today, reports indicated that three major global traders had halted food supply deals with Iran because sanctions have choked off all viable financial channels for the supposedly exempted goods.

“America’s European allies are pressing the Trump administration directly for guidance on how to process humanitarian transactions to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iran. Rather than deflect, the administration must engage seriously with the concerns raised by both Europe and Members of Congress and take proactive measures to facilitate humanitarian trade.

“The National Iranian American Council and its members are thankful for the leadership of Rep. Huffman and all of the Members who signed his timely letter, and looks forward to taking further action on this important issue in the new Congress.”

# # # # #

NIAC Signs Onto Pro-Diplomacy Letter Concerning U.S. policy toward Iran

The National Iranian American Council joined 40 pro-diplomacy organizations in a statement of principles to Congress concerning U.S. policy toward Iran. Critically, the letter (seen below) urges lawmakers to support returning the U.S. to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal and oppose a war of choice with Iran.

Cosigners include J Street, MoveOn, Indivisible, Foreign Policy for America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Win Without War and many other influential organizations

Statement of Pro-Diplomacy Groups Regarding U.S. Policy Toward Iran

Pro-diplomacy groups representing millions of American voters urge lawmakers to publicly articulate and support the following principles with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and created a much-needed diplomatic relationship between Iran, the United States, and U.S. allies:

  • Support for the JCPOA and returning the United States to compliance with the agreement;
  • Opposition to sanctions that:
    • disrupt any party’s implementation of the JCPOA;
    • prevent the United States from coming back into compliance with the JCPOA in the future;
    • disproportionately impact Iranian civilians rather than regime officials engaged in illicit or destabilizing activities;
    • block necessary humanitarian and medical supplies from reaching the country;
  • Support for good faith diplomacy toward additional agreements as the preferred basis for addressing further concerns about Iranian activity; and
  • Opposition to starting a war of choice with Iran.

Signed

About Face: Veterans Against the War
American Family Voices
Americans for Peace Now
Arms Control Association
Atlantic Council
Beyond the Bomb
Brave New Films
Center for International Policy
Common Defense
Council for a Livable World
CREDO Action
Daily Kos
Demand Progress
Federation of American Scientists
Foreign Policy for America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Zero
Indivisible
J Street
Jewish Voice for Peace
Just Foreign Policy
MoveOn
National Iranian American Council
Open Society Policy Center
Pax Christi International
Peace Action
Peace Corps Iran Association
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Ploughshares Fund
RootsAction.org
Sojourners
T’ruah
Truman National Security Project
U.S. Labor Against the War
Union of Concerned Scientists
Veterans For Peace
VoteVets
Win Without War
Women’s Action for New Directions
World BEYOND War

New Report Says U.S. Return to Iran Nuclear Deal is Possible, Urges Incoming Congress and 2020 Presidential Challengers to Make JCPOA Restoration Foreign Policy Priority

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, November 19th, 2018
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | yasmina@unbendablemedia.com | (407) 922-8149

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the National Iranian American Council has launched a first-of-its-kind report detailing the urgency and legislative feasibility for the United States to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The report makes the case that seeking to return the United States into the JCPOA should be a significant foreign policy priority for the incoming Congress, and central to the foreign policy platform of those seeking to challenge Trump in 2020.

READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE REPORT HERE.

On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA and to re-impose all nuclear-related sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord following 90- and 180-day wind-down periods. The Trump administration also promised to utilize existing U.S. sanctions authorities to aggressively target Iran and companies engaged in sanctionable conduct therewith.

The report also outlines the damage to U.S. national interests triggered by the Trump administration’s violation of the deal, including strained relations with European Union allies and the ever-increasing threat of the U.S.-Iran conflict escalating into military action. The report concludes with recommendations to Congress and 2020 Presidential contenders to salvage the JCPOA and rehabilitate the United States on the global stage.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, explained:

“Donald Trump’s assault on the Iran nuclear deal sabotages America’s credibility and influence on the world stage, and threatens to provoke a new nuclear crisis in the Middle East. The President is armed with an ideologically hawkish cabinet on track to fully collapse the accord, increasing the risks of both war with Iran and an Iranian nuclear weapon. The incoming Congress and any 2020 Presidential challengers must vow to mitigate the damage from Trump’s Iran deal exit by signaling support for a return to the JCPOA. The benefits of re-entering the Iran Deal cannot be overstated: It would solidify Iranian nuclear concessions that last through 2030 and beyond, signal to Saudi Arabia that the blank check for their brazen behavior is at an end, and guarantee diplomacy with Iran that will take the United States away from the brink of yet another endless war in the Middle East.”

Expert Reactions to ‘Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

*Titles are for identification purposes only*

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

“It is crucial for America’s standing in the world that we work to re-enter the JCPOA in the near future. This report provides concrete steps that Congress can take now to ensure that we return to the promises we made to the international community. Without doing so, America will continue to act as a force of instability in the Middle East.”

Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa:

“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived rejection of the JCPOA and policy of ‘maximum pressure’ can no doubt inflict pain on the Iranian people. It can also court disaster in risking Iran’s resumption of its nuclear activities, further destabilization of the Middle East, and possibly even another costly US war in the region. Remaining quiet in the face of these predictable harms is not an option. This report offers timely and reasonable recommendations for keeping the JCPOA alive as a pathway for the re-emergence of a saner approach to Iran.”

Bijan Khajehpour, economist and a managing partner at Eurasian Nexus Partners

“The US rejoining the JCPOA and helping to sustain a multilateral agreement will not only reduce the likelihood of an unnecessary nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also prevent a radicalisation of Iranian politics. A moderate Iran is important for regional stability, the containment of jihadist movements and the future energy security for US allies globally.”

Hooman Majd, Iranian-American writer:

“It almost goes without saying that the best option for de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, and preventing nuclear proliferation, is for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA nuclear accord. It is unimaginable that Iran would agree to a new deal—or indeed any other deal on other issues of contention—without the U.S. first abiding by the commitments that it made when it signed on, along with five other powers, to the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College

“The JCPOA has successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program and remains the surest tool for preventing an Iranian bomb. The new Congress should do what it can to limit the serious damage done by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. If the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues to escalate, the odds increase that Iran will exit the agreement and move closer to a nuclear weapon, which could in turn spark a costly war.”

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University

“Candidates and legislators of all political persuasions would do well to read and heed this report. The Trump administration’s abandonment of arms control and diplomacy in favor of conflict and confrontation has brought the United States only isolation and infamy as well as heightened risk of war. It is not too late to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to a course that demonstrably serves U.S. interests better than the current policy does.”

Ned Price, Director of Policy and Communication at National Security Action

“There is much that we still don’t know about the Trump administration’s plans and intentions regarding Iran, but here’s what we do know: the withdrawal from the Iran deal was a political maneuver designed solely to satisfy the President’s base. It was manifestly not in our national security interest, as it has the potential to free Iran from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, while also simultaneously setting us on a possible path toward another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. What we also know, however, is that the new Democratic House now has the oversight tools to spotlight and constrain the administration’s recklessness, just as we begin to clear the path for the next administration’s reentry into the deal. There may be tactical disagreements regarding how to most effectively confront Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, but there must be a strategic recognition that only the JCPOA provides a baseline that allows us to achieve our most important objective: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at The Atlantic Council:

“I concur that the next US administration should return to the JCPOA– assuming Iran has remained compliant — and also lift the travel ban. The US should also request new talks with Iran both on repairing the damage from the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and on other issues of mutual concern.”

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col, USA (Ret), former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell

“NIAC’s report, “Restoring U.S. Credibility – Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement”, is not only a powerful indictment of the Trump Administration’s security policy, it is a clear and clarion call for redress. The report makes quite clear that without a resumption of our agreed responsibilities under the JCPOA, alliances will fracture, de-dollarization movements will proceed apace, enemies will gain ground, and Iran will not be substantially prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. War could even result. The wonder is that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in the first place; even more of a marvel–but entirely wise and proper–would be a successful return. Every concerned party should be working toward that end.”

For more information, or for interview with a NIAC spokesperson, please contact Yasmina Dardari at (407) 922-8149 or by email at yasmina@unbendablemedia.com

# # #

The National Iranian American Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people.

Restoring U.S. Credibility: Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

For a text version of this report, please click here.

NIAC JCPOA Report

Hear from experts who support re-entering the JCPOA:

Lawrence Wilkerson, Col, USA (Ret), former chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell:
“NIAC’s report, “Restoring U.S. Credibility – Returning to the Iran Nuclear Agreement”, is not only a powerful indictment of the Trump Administration’s security policy, it is a clear and clarion call for redress. The report makes quite clear that without a resumption of our agreed responsibilities under the JCPOA, alliances will fracture, de-dollarization movements will proceed apace, enemies will gain ground, and Iran will not be substantially prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon. War could even result. The wonder is that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in the first place; even more of a marvel–but entirely wise and proper–would be a successful return. Every concerned party should be working toward that end.”

Hooman Majd, Iranian-American writer:
“It almost goes without saying that the best option for de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, and preventing nuclear proliferation, is for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA nuclear accord. It is unimaginable that Iran would agree to a new deal—or indeed any other deal on other issues of contention—without the U.S. first abiding by the commitments that it made when it signed on, along with five other powers, to the nuclear deal with Iran.”

Ned Price, Director of Policy and Communication at National Security Action:
“There is much that we still don’t know about the Trump administration’s plans and intentions regarding Iran, but here’s what we do know: the withdrawal from the Iran deal was a political maneuver designed solely to satisfy the President’s base. It was manifestly not in our national security interest, as it has the potential to free Iran from the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, while also simultaneously setting us on a possible path toward another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. What we also know, however, is that the new Democratic House now has the oversight tools to spotlight and constrain the administration’s recklessness, just as we begin to clear the path for the next administration’s reentry into the deal. There may be tactical disagreements regarding how to most effectively confront Iran’s destabilizing regional activities, but there must be a strategic recognition that only the JCPOA provides a baseline that allows us to achieve our most important objective: a nuclear weapons-free Iran.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at The Atlantic Council:
“I concur that the next US administration should return to the JCPOA– assuming Iran has remained compliant — and also lift the travel ban. The US should also request new talks with Iran both on repairing the damage from the unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and on other issues of mutual concern.

Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:
“It is crucial for America’s standing in the world that we work to re-enter the JCPOA in the near future. This report provides concrete steps that Congress can take now to ensure that we return to the promises we made to the international community. Without doing so, America will continue to act as a force of instability in the Middle East.”

Farideh Farhi, Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa:
“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived rejection of the JCPOA and policy of ‘maximum pressure’ can no doubt inflict pain on the Iranian people. It can also court disaster in risking Iran’s resumption of its nuclear activities, further destabilization of the Middle East, and possibly even another costly US war in the region. Remaining quiet in the face of these predictable harms is not an option. This report offers timely and reasonable recommendations for keeping the JCPOA alive as a pathway for the re-emergence of a saner approach to Iran.”

Bijan Khajehpour, economist and a managing partner at Eurasian Nexus Partners:
“The US rejoining the JCPOA and helping to sustain a multilateral agreement will not only reduce the likelihood of an unnecessary nuclear arms race in the Middle East, but also prevent a radicalisation of Iranian politics. A moderate Iran is important for regional stability, the containment of jihadist movements and the future energy security for US allies globally.”

Nicholas Miller, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College
“The JCPOA has successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program and remains the surest tool for preventing an Iranian bomb. The new Congress should do what it can to limit the serious damage done by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal. If the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues to escalate, the odds increase that Iran will exit the agreement and move closer to a nuclear weapon, which could in turn spark a costly war.”

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University:
“Candidates and legislators of all political persuasions would do well to read and heed this report. The Trump administration’s abandonment of arms control and diplomacy in favor of conflict and confrontation has brought the United States only isolation and infamy as well as heightened risk of war. It is not too late to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to a course that demonstrably serves U.S. interests better than the current policy does.”

Ellie Geranmayeh, Deputy Head MENA program at The European Council on Foreign Relations
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the JCPOA, after months of negotiations with European allies earlier this year on pathways to sustain the agreement, was significantly damaging for transatlantic ties. This wound has been deepened by the manner in which the White House has sidelined European security interests and tried to impede their efforts to preserve the JCPOA, as enshrined by a UN Security Council. This report highlights the urgent need for the US executive and legislative branch to reassure European allies that in matters of foreign policy, the United States is a credible and consistent partner. Moreover, the US should reassure European capitals and companies that US sanctions policy will not seek to illegitimately target allies in pursuit of a maximalist policy that is unlikely to trigger fundamental changes in Iranian behaviour.”

Sanctions Snapback: Trump Reverses Iranian Sanctions Relief

President Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran previously waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, will be finalized at midnight on Monday, November 5. While a portion of the sanctions previously waived under the JCPOA came back into force on August 7, the November 5 tranche of Iran sanctions includes many of the most impactful sanctions to be levied on Iran, including those targeting:

  • Iran’s port operators and shipping and shipbuilding sectors;
  • Petroleum-related transactions with the National Iranian Oil Company, Naftiran Intertrade Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company, including the purchase of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran;
  • Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of specialized financial messaging services to the Central Bank of Iran and certain Iranian financial institutions;
  • The provision of underwriting services, insurance, or reinsurance; and
  • Iran’s energy sector.

In addition, the Trump administration will re-impose sanctions that applied to persons removed from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”) and other U.S. sanctions lists pursuant to U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. This includes, for instance, the re-imposition of sanctions on most of Iran’s financial institutions, including the Central Bank of Iran.

Blowback from Snapback

The snapback of sanctions on Iran has precipitated a crisis in slow motion, threatening a range of U.S. national interests and tying America closer to the destabilizing campaigns of Saudi Arabia. The blowback from sanctions reimposition will:

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

  • Trump’s snapback of nuclear-related sanctions has eviscerated Iran’s benefit for complying with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of Iran halting its compliance with the accord and moving closer to a nuclear weapon.
  • The re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) threatens to disrupt international work to reduce proliferation risks at the Arak heavy water reactor and deeply buried Fordow facility.

Raise the Risk of War

  • Trump’s advisors John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have pushed for war with Iran as an alternative to negotiations, as have Iran’s regional rivals who have increased sway with the Trump administration.
  • A spark for a military confrontation could come from several directions in the absence of diplomacy with Iran – whether over Iran’s nuclear program, regional tensions or a naval confrontation in the Persian Gulf.

Isolate the United States

  • The U.S. is in material breach of the UN Security Council-endorsed JCPOA, which all other parties to the accord – including our allies in Britain, France and the European Union (EU) – are seeking to keep alive.
  • JCPOA participants and Iran are seeking to establish independent payment channels, with ramifications that could undercut U.S. dominance of the global financial system and the power of U.S. secondary sanctions far into the future.

Raise Oil Prices

  • President Trump has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to pump more oil to offset Iranian oil that has been taken off the market, reducing spare capacity that could be key to respond to any emergency.
  • Iranian oil cannot be offset forever, and a crisis risks soaring oil prices and substantial harm for American consumers.

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

  • At a time when Saudi Arabia appears to be an increasingly unsavory partner for the U.S. after the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has pigeonholed itself into an approach to the Middle East that relies on Saudi Arabia.
  • Overlooking Saudi Arabia’s crimes to pressure Iran bears eerie resemblance to America’s early backing of Saddam Hussein throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A more balanced approach to the region is needed.

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

  • Trump’s Iran sanctions are likely to crush the Iranian middle class and private sector, unleashing economic desperation in the country and limiting prospects for internal moderation.
  • Iran’s hardliners have been vindicated by Trump’s decision to violate the JCPOA and snap back sanctions, and will benefit from sanctions that crush forces for moderation while leaving them relatively unscathed.

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

  • Sanctions on Iran under the Obama administration triggered shortages of key life-saving medicines and contributed to the impoverishment of ordinary Iranians by depressing the economy and increasing the cost of basic goods. Similar effects are already being felt from Trump’s snapback.
  • The Trump administration has already targeted private Iranian financial institutions that facilitated humanitarian transactions, raising the risk of further humanitarian crises in the months ahead and more damage to American credibility.
NIAC Policy Brief

From the Hill: NIAC Asks if the U.S. and Iran are on a Collision Course

NIAC Policy Brief

The Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran risk “impoverishing the Iranian middle class, crushing the Iranian civil society and eliminating prospects for peaceful democratic change,” warned Sina Toossi. “It is really creating a destructive situation internally.”

Toossi was speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill examining the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran. Moderated by Laicie Heeley, the editor-in-chief of Inkstick, the panel included Ned Price, a former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs who currently works at National Security Action; Sina Toossi, a research associate at NIAC; and Barbara Slavin, the Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Price highlighted that the Trump administration’s push was highly focused on pressuring Iran, but that it was likely to fall short of the efforts of the Obama administration which had secured the buy-in of the international community. Regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands of Iran, it was unclear to Price “how the administration could come close to any one of these objectives, let alone all twelve.” According to the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin, Trump’s exit out of the JCPOA humiliated our allies in Europe, who helped negotiate the nuclear accord, engaged with the State Department’s Brian Hook to seek to improve it and were furious when Trump decided to snap back sanctions anyway.

Price argued that the administration’s frequent statements on Iran were designed not only to try to increase pressure on Iran but also to “engender additional domestic political support for the administration’s hardline approach to Iran” that is similar to the approach toward Iraq undertaken by the George W. Bush administration. Price also warned that there is an increasingly likelihood of a confrontation in Syria, where the administration has stationed troops and begun to shift goals from ISIL to forcing Iran out of the country. “The administration has gone to great lengths to say that regime change whether by proxies or by force is not the goal,” stated Price. “[B]ut I think that is belied by the fact that this administration has begun… to implement this maximalist position.”

Toossi gave further insights into the effects of Trump’s Iran policy on the political spectrum inside Iran. He called Trump’s narrative of Iran’s regime being on its last legs, “wishful thinking” given that there is not currently a broad revolutionary movement within the country. He emphasized how these policies not only harm forces pushing for greater openness and moderation, but also stiffen hardline opposition to the administration’s demands and deepen their opposition towards negotiating with the West all together.

Slavin further warned that the Trump administration’s Iran policy has highlighted the danger of “putting all our eggs in one basket in a region,” following the “brutal murder” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of thugs in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

“It’s pretty devastating that it had to take the murder of a U.S. resident and Washington Post contributor to put a spotlight on the hypocrisy of the Trump administration’s policy towards the Middle East,” stated Price. He noted that Mike Pompeo’s article on the administration’s Iran policy in Foreign Affairs this week included a section entitled “Acting with Moral Clarity.” Yet, Price noted “this is the same Mike Pompeo that we saw yesterday smiling with Mohammed bin Salman” in Riyadh following Khashoggi’s murder. The hypocrisy combined with America’s isolation following the snapback of sanctions will “shine a very harsh light” on Trump’s approach to the Middle East, warned Price.

US-Led Regime Change is not the Path

The Trump administration has couched its aggressive Iran policy in the language of supporting the Iranian people and their aspirations for democratic change. This was exemplified during the UN General Assembly, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaiming in a speech before the hawkish “United Against Nuclear Iran” his “support for the Iranian people” and declaring that “our pledges of support do not end with our words.”

However, similar to Bush officials in the runup to the Iraq War, the Trump White House and its allies have provided no explanation for how their “maximum pressure” campaign—marked by an expressed aim to cut Iran from all international trade—will lead to positive political change in Iran. To the contrary, the logical conclusion of Trump’s Iran policy is destructive to the conditions necessary for the creation of a vibrant democracy that embraces classical liberal tenets such as individual rights, the rule of law, respect for minorities, and freedom of expression.

For much of Iran’s modern history, the Iranian people have been divided on issues such as traditionalism versus modernity and the nature of their relationship with the West. These divisions only highlight the need for organic political change to allow society to find common ground. However, outside political interventionism has been a constant setback, whether during the Constitutional Revolution period, the 1953 US/UK coup, or now with Trump’s exhortations and actions.

President Trump has gloated that his Iran policies have spurred “rampant inflation,” “riots in all [Iranian] cities,” and Iranian leaders to worry about “their own survival as a country.” While Trump sees advantage to be gained in the wake of a nationwide uprising, the reality is the Iranian people will be the biggest losers in his pressure onslaught. As United Nations Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy declared on August 22nd, “International sanctions must have a lawful purpose, must be proportional, and must not harm the human rights of ordinary citizens, and none of these criteria is met in this case [with Trump’s sanctions].” As the academic literature also upholds, sanctions and isolation have long track records of withering away the potential for democratic transition.

Importantly, despite sporadic protests since last January, there exists no cohesive revolutionary movement, that, as Iranian sociologist Asef Bayat notes, has developed “a powerful organization, a strategic vision, a progressive program, and a leadership capable of inspiring people to believe that another future is indeed possible.” The Trump administration’s characterizations of Iran today bear little resemblance to the country’s complex social and political reality. In May 2017, on the same day President Trump delivered a blistering anti-Iran address before an audience of autocrats and kings-for-life in Riyadh, Iran held a presidential election that saw incumbent Hassan Rouhani defeat his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi by roughly 24 million votes to 16 million, with a turnout of 73 percent. While Iranian elections have serious limitations—including the vetting of candidates by theGuardian Council—they are marked by sharp debate and campaigning, represent different worldviews, and consequentially affect state policy.

Democratic change is not something to be gifted or forced from abroad, as has proven to be the case with regime-change interventions that failed to produce strong, self-sustaining democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya. Unlike Trump’s regional allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—who have helped shape the administration’s Iran policy—Iran’s transition to a democracy will be easier, if the U.S. allows it to continue on a path of internal grassroots-led change. Iran has the key ingredients for such a transition: a strong, educated middle class, energetic civil society groups, and leaders ready to expend political capital on challenging conservative forces.

Tehran’s reactionary factions, which subsist on low participation in Iranian elections, have long relied on a strategy of sabotaging the agenda of Iranian reformists and moderates for political and social liberalization and disenchanting their middle-class supporters. This was exemplified in recent months by their role in instigating protests, banning the popular messaging app Telegram indefiance of Rouhani, and arresting human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh—a recipient of the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize—in the midst of Rouhani’s efforts to salvage the nuclear deal in on-going talks with Europe.  

When it comes to peaceful democratic change, Iranians inside the country are their own best advocates. While Iran has gone through immutable social and political change over the past decades, Trump’s policies are reversing democratic trends by fomenting discord and shrinking the political space of domestic actors that have staked everything in their fight for change. In the case of the Saudi absolute monarchy or the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, powerful religious or secular transnational movements have long informed their threat perceptions—whether it be pan-Arabism, Islamism, or liberal democracy. Indeed, alongside his calls for the “battle” to be taken “inside Iran,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has branded as part of a “triangle of evil” Iran, Turkey, and Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The three of which all happen to have a degree of accountability to their constituents, in contrast to Saudi leaders.

An August 10th letter by prominent Iranian activists and political prisoners calling for far-reaching governmental reform stressed the need for citizens to speak up and to not let outside forces coopt Iranian grievances, stating: “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets.” While Trump and other administration officials regularly express care and concern for the Iranian people, their policies in practice are suffocating these voices for change inside Iran and diminishing Iran’s potential to transition to more open democratic rule.

At the same time Trump’s right-wing populism and demagoguery are making American democracy increasingly illiberal, his Iran policy is slated to crush the Iranian middle class, cripple Iranian civil society, and unleash economic desperation in the country. By abandoning President Obama’s engagement track, which alleviated the proliferation risk of Iran’s nuclear program and initiated Iran’s reintegration into the global economy, Trump is closing all diplomatic doors and pursuing a conflict that will devastate one group above all: the Iranian people.

This post was originally published by Harvard Belfer Center’s Iran Matters Special Initiative

ICJ Orders US to Provide Licenses for Food, Medicine, and Civil Aviation in Iran

Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must provide licenses for transactions related to medicine, food, civil aviation, and other humanitarian grounds:

“Today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reflects the consensus of the international community that access to medicine, food, and civil aviation must not be weaponized against an entire people for the political aims of one administration.

“The decision orders the Trump administration to take all necessary steps to ensure that its sanctions do not inhibit trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including trade in agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and spare parts for civil aviation.  The ICJ’s provisional order acknowledges the ‘irreparable harm’ that the Trump administration’s re-imposition of sanctions—in contravention of its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—could cause to Iran’s people, as the Trump administration prepares to upend Iran’s economy by prohibiting most foreign trade with Iran.   

“By virtue of the Court’s order, the Trump administration is now obligated as a matter of international law to take such actions as necessary to ensure trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including through the issuance of all necessary licenses to guarantee the transfer of funds related to such trade. NIAC urges the Trump administration to adhere to the U.S.’s international law obligations and issue additional license authorizations to ensure that such humanitarian trade is left unaffected by the U.S.’s re-imposition of sanctions.  This should include—at a minimum—the institution of a direct banking channel between the U.S. and Iran so that exporters of humanitarian items are able to make and receive payments related to trade in humanitarian goods with Iran. Currently, all payments related to such trade in humanitarian goods must travel through third-country intermediary financial institutions before being received by a U.S. financial institution.”

“Prior to the Joint Plan of Action—the interim deal negotiated between the U.S., other major world powers, and Iran—U.S. sanctions inhibited humanitarian trade with Iran, as exporters were unable to receive payment related to their trade in humanitarian goods.  This led to significant shortfalls of medicine and medical devices in Iran, as was routinely reported in the U.S. and foreign press. By re-instituting these same sanctions, the Trump administration risks a return to this era with all its attendant harm to the Iranian people. The Court’s decision should leave the Trump administration with no choice but to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft.

“Members of the Trump administration have repeatedly attacked the institution of international courts that were in part established by the U.S. to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the early 20th century. While the administration’s antipathy toward international courts is well known, it would be nothing short of reprehensible for the administration to fail to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft. The international community should press the U.S. to uphold the court’s ruling.”

“Iran should also recognize that the foremost advocate of ensuring that sanctions do not block humanitarian goods for the Iranian people, Siamak Namazi, is now languishing in jail in Iran along with his father Baquer in a profound miscarriage of justice. As Iran presses the U.S. to comply with its international obligations, NIAC reiterates its call on Iranian authorities to release the Namazis, Xiyue Wang, other dual nationals and all prisoners of conscience unjustly held in Iran.”

Update (12:00 PM ET): 

“Rather than take the well-founded international concerns with America’s Iran sanctions seriously, Secretary Pompeo has decided to impetuously withdraw from a treaty aimed at solidifying friendly relations between the American and Iranian peoples. That treaty has proven immensely valuable to the United States historically, including in the judgment against Iran over the 1979 Hostage Crisis.

“As has been demonstrated by past and current experience, when the U.S. chokes off banking channels to Iran it also renders goods that should be exempt from U.S. sanctions – including life-saving medicine – impossible to deliver to the Iranian people. The U.S. could have ameliorated this serious concern of the Iranian people, including by establishing a clear banking channel between the U.S. and Iran for exempted goods. Instead, the Trump administration chose to render its rhetoric on the Iranian people even more hollow by further eroding the remaining infrastructure of U.S. relations with Iran.”

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Iran Gears Up for the UN General Assembly

Week of September 17, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif will Travel to New York on Sunday
  • Debate over Implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Standards
  • Student Activist Sentenced to Six Years in Prison
  • Iran Welcomes Russia-Syria Idlib agreement
  • Supreme Leader Aide Extolls Iran-Russia Ties, Details Putin Meeting
  • Former President Ahmadinejad Attacks Senior Intelligence Official

After weeks of uncertainty and debate about whether President Hassan Rouhani would attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), it was confirmed this week that he will travel to New York on Sunday for the annual gathering alongside Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  Domestically, debate has continued over Iran passing anti-money laundering and terrorist financing standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to avoid being blacklisted by the international financial regulator, ahead of an October deadline. A young female activist was also sentenced to six years in prison, as Iran welcomed the Russia-Turkey Idlib agreement and former President Ahmadinejad issued a scathing rebuke against the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit.

 

Rouhani and Zarif Head to New York

President Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announced that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, September 23rd. According to the statement, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN, in addition to his UNGA speech. Rouhani will also hold bilateral talks with various world leaders and conduct interviews with American and international press. He will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (September 26th).

Foreign Minister Zarif also separately stated that he would also travel to New York on Sunday. Zarif stated that the “P4+1” joint commission meeting—between Iran and the five remaining parties to the nuclear deal—will be held in the “early days” of his stay in New York. Zarif said of the UNGA’s importance: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to, at the highest level of the president, convey Iran’s perspectives … Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”

On the controversy regarding his meetings with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Zarif stated that such meetings between him and former officials are common. He said on September 18th: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, all kinds of people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there [in the US] mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”

In reaction to reports that the US was backing away from holding a UN Security Council meeting—the status of which is still unclear—Zarif stated that America was isolated. He opined: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”

 

Debate Over FATF Reaches a Fever Pitch

At a September 19th press conference, Zarif stressed the need for Iran to approve the FATF’s standards. In late June, FATF identified multiple “action items” Iran had to address to abide by its standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. FATF called on Iran to be in “full compliance with the FATF Standards by October 2018,” otherwise it would “decide upon appropriate and necessary actions at that time.”

To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared four bills and sent them to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.

Zarif called on the parliament to approve the administration’s bills ahead of the October deadline. Zarif proclaimed: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.” He added: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”

The Guardian Council, which must approve laws, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have resisted passage of some of the bills. Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”

However, Zarif stated that the Supreme National Security Council is the “decider” on passing the bills and has approved them. He declared: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament. Supporters of the bill also say that the view of the Parliament and Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.

Iran’s negotiators in ongoing talks with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal believe passing the FATF standards are critical to their efforts. Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated regarding a report issued to the parliament by Iran’s negotiating team: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

 

Foreign Policy Talk on Basra, Idlib, and Russia Ties

In his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra and said it was carried out by elements aiming to harm Iranian-Iraqi relations. Ghassemi stated: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationship between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments.” He added: “Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”

Ghassemi claimed that the attack was spearheaded by hostile regional countries. He proclaimed: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”

Ghassemi also ruled out even specifying conditions for U.S.-Iran negotiations and declared that Iran would not change its regional policies. He stated: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks.” He added regarding Iran’s overall foreign policy strategy: “We believe that our defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran. We don’t think to negotiate with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

Ghasemi also voiced support for the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria. He stated: “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria.”

Zarif also stated that Iran was always supportive of efforts to prevent a battle over Idlib. He proclaimed: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t breakout and that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and his recent meeting with Russian President Putin at a conference in Tehran. Velayati said of the importance of Iran’s relations with Russia and China: “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”

Velayati stated that his meeting with Putin was the longest ever of any Islamic Republic official with a Russian president. He stated: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”

Velayati also discussed his role in Iran’s foreign policy decision-making process and praised Rouhani in advancing a “Look to the East” foreign policy. He opined: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspectives.” He further stated regarding Rouhani’s foreign policy: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit. Salehi stated in his speech that the US never fully complied with its commitments under the nuclear deal, even under President Obama: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”

 

Student Activist Arrested, Aggressive Online Campaign Rebuked, Resurgent Ahmadinejad

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.  Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

Dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the online tactics of the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic. Zeidabadi stated the barandazan—whose online activity spiked after the winter 2017/2018 protests—engaged in online tactics so aggressive that they have inadvertently enhanced the popularity of reformists inside Iran. Zeidabadi stated: “Their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”

Zeidabadi’s censured the barandazan for attacking all their critics with a broad brush. He opined: “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.” He added: “What is provable is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe the day that they attain any power!”

Zeidabadi said the tactics of the barandazan were self-defeating for their cause. He wrote: “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces. Abdi stated that the Rouhani administration was best fit to negotiate the JCPOA, not deal with Iran’s current economic and political crisis. He stated: “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he sharply criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb. Ahmadinejad said that during his presidency he was opposed to Taeb and that Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”  

BBC Persian notes of Taeb: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”

Several days earlier, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally: “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to co-opt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”

Fararu also noted the restrictions on former reformist president Mohammad Khatami in comparison with Ahmadinejad. The piece stated: “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy” today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP. Nili defined the “unofficial economy” as consisting of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations). Nili stated that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implemented, resulting in lost tax revenues.



Below Please Find More Detailed Quotations and Translations:

Rouhani’s deputy minister for communications announces that the Iranian president will travel to New York to participate in the UNGA on Sunday, Sept 23rd.

  • In addition to his address before the UNGA, Rouhani will speak at a ceremony commemorating Nelson Mandela at the UN.
  • Rouhani will do interviews with international press, hold a press conference at the end of his trip, meet different leaders.
  • Rouhani will return to Iran on Wednesday evening (Sept 26th).

On September 18th, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced he would travel to New York for the UN General Assembly on Sunday, September 23rd. Zarif also addressed the controversy in the United States of his meeting with former Secretary of State John Kerry.

  • Zarif: “The New York trip will be a great opportunity for the country’s diplomacy to at the highest level of the president convey Iran’s perspectives. The General Assembly meeting will also be important for this reason. Mr. Rouhani will speak there and will also hold bilateral and multilateral meetings.”
  • Zarif on his meetings with Kerry: “My meetings with Mr. Kerry were private and not announced. When I travel to New York, from top to bottom [Iranian expression, i.e. many people] people come to meet. From Mr. Kissinger to Kerry and U.S. representatives, and this is normal and shows the level of impact of the Islamic Republic.  The fight there mostly has to do with following political aims regarding elections.”
  • Zarif stated that the “P4+1” JCPOA joint commission meeting will be held in the “early days” of his stay.
  • Zarif also said about the Russia-Turkey Idlib buffer zone agreement: “All our efforts from the beginning were that a battle wouldn’t break out & that the terrorists would be removed without loss of human life.”

On September 19th, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held a press conference on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran, where he touched on a wide-range of topics, including the upcoming UNGA and the debate over implementing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards on combating money laundering and terrorist financing ahead of a looming deadline.

  • Zarif: “Next week we will again have a ‘P4+1’ meeting in New York and we will hopefully review the set of actions that have been accomplishing to this point and will report the result of the meeting to the supervisory board in Tehran and based on that our senior officials can make a decision.”
  • Zarif on the Trump administration backing down from holding a UN Security Council meeting on Iran: “If the meeting were held, not only would it be against all international norms, it will turn into a meeting that puts America on trial. Because the only UNSC resolution regarding Iran is UNSC Res. 2231, and not only has America itself violated this resolution, but it is forcing other nations to violate it.”
  • Zarif on parliament approving the government’s bills to implement the FATF’s standards: “The three bills that are left will be beneficial for our national interests, transparency, and combatting the fictitious Iranophobia which has been spread in the world.”
  • Zarif: “These bills have been methodically reviewed at all levels, including by the Supreme National Security Council, and the interest it holds for Iran is significant. It will take a major excuse away from Iran’s enemies to confront us through banking actions and relations.”
  • Zarif: “It would be a mistake for us to think that by implementing these laws all out problems would be resolved. The ill-intentions of the hegemonists towards Iran will continue. However, one of their important excuses will be taken away from them. At the same time, from the view of the Supreme National Security Council, which is the decider on this, our national interests will be strengthened.”

On September 10th, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stated that Ayatollah Khamenei had delegated approving the FATF standards to the Rouhani administration and parliament.

  • To satisfy the FATF requests, the Rouhani administration prepared 4 bills and sent it to the parliament for ratification. The four bills: 1) A bill for implementing the Palermo Convention, which deals with organized crime; 2) A bill for Iran’s ascension to the terrorist financing (TF) convention; 3) A bill reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law; 4) A bill reforming Iran’s law on confronting terrorism financing.
  • The Guardian Council, which must approve bills, and the Expediency Council, which decides on disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament, have both resisted passage of some of the bills.
  • Most recently, the Expediency Council found that the bill on reforming Iran’s anti-money laundering law ran counter “to the overall policy of a resistance economy.”
  • However, supporters of the bill say that the view of the Expediency Council is merely “advisory,” and that the institution that must decide on this issue is the Supreme National Security Council, due to its “vital” nature.
  • Abolfazl Mousavi, a reformist member of parliament, recently stated that Iran’s negotiators in the on-going talks with Europe to salvage the JCPOA have stressed that passed the FATF standards is vital to their efforts. Mousavi said: “In a report to parliament they say that if you want us to be successful in our negotiations, parliament must at least pass the four bills.”

On September 17th, in his weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi in part discussed the recent attack on Iran’s consulate in Basra, Iraq and the Trump administration’s offers for negotiations.

  • Ghassemi: “The Basra issue and the attack on the consulate was carried out by specific elements who at a specific time given the current situation in Iraq, sought to impact the relationships between the two peoples and take advantage of Iraq’s domestic developments. Thankfully, just as predicted, the solidarity of the relationship and the understanding the peoples have of each other prevented them from reaching their aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “From the beginning, based on intelligence, we believed that the forces that attacked the consulate in Basra were directed and had distinct aims and were guided by some specific regional countries, and carried out this attack with specific aims, and thankfully did not achieve these aims.”
  • Ghassemi: “Given America’s aggressive and sudden action in withdrawing from the JCPOA and the policies this country pursues with respect to Iran, we don’t think about negotiating with the United States, much less talk about the conditions for talks. Such an issue [negotiations] is not on our work agenda. So definitely there is no discussions for its conditions [of any negotiations]. As I said, we don’t think about this issue of negotiating with America.”
  • Ghassemi: “We believe that out defense policy is correct. These policies are to the benefit of the region and Iran we don’t think to negotiations with anyone or put on the negotiating table everything that is related to our defensive capability.”

On September 19th, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassem spoke about the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey to create a buffer zone in Idlib, Syria.

  • “The summit between the leaders of Russia and Turkey and the announcement of an agreement on how to resolve the Idlib issue in Syria is an important step and is integral to eliminating the remaining terrorists in Syria and can  provide the necessary assistance to find a political solution in Syria, while considering all humanitarian efforts to establish peace in Syria and help destroy terrorist groups in this country.”
  • “I hope that the result of the Sochi meeting will, in the framework of the positive and successful path of the Astana process and in continuation of the recent summit in Tehran and the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic efforts, quickly end the suffering of the Syrian people and accelerate the elimination of violent groups by exercising humanitarian caution.”

On September 18th, HRANA, a website that publishes human rights news regarding Iran, reported that Saha Mortezaei, a student arrested in the late December/early January protests of last winter, has been sentenced to six years in prison.

  • Mortezaei is a humanities student at Tehran University and the secretary of the university’s Trade Unions Council. She was sentenced by branch 26 of Tehran’s revolutionary court.

On September 15th, dissident writer Ahmad Zeidabadi, who spent six years in prison after playing an active role in the 2009 post-election Green Movement protests, wrote a widely-circulated piece rebuking the barandazan (“overthrowers”)—referring to those who call for the complete toppling of the Islamic Republic and whose online presence increased after the winter 2017/2018 protests—and arguing their aggressive online tactics of have benefitted the cause of reformists inside Iran.

  • Zeidabadi: “After the Dey month (December/January) street protests, the more furious segment of society, frustrated and pessimistic with reformists, turned their eyes and ears to a force outside the country who introduced themselves as the ‘overthrowers.'”
  • “The ‘overthrowers’ started a loud campaign on social media and portrayed themselves as an alternative to the ruling system. That same furious segment of society awaited their coming.”
  • “However, their coming was limited to the creation of an online army, an army that is only familiar with abusive and insulting language and is totally out of step with the civility and culture that has developed in recent years at different levels of Iranian society.”
  • “With their insulting language, they don’t have mercy on anyone, neither the guilty nor the innocent. They mock and slander with hateful language the entire history and identity of Iranian society and all the figures who have been noble.”
  • “In reality, the situation has gotten so heinous and shameful, that some speculate that maybe domestic security forces have a hand in this abusive online army.”
  • “What is provable, is that all aspects of Iranian society, especially those who with education and culture, are terrified of this group, and believe that these people, who are still continents and oceans away from any power, and their only tool is writing and talking—are burning everyone with verbal violence. Woe on the day that they attain any power!”
  • “As such, the ‘overthrowers’ in the abusive online army, before they have even managed to emerge [as a political force], are declining and heading towards ruin, and this itself has created a golden opportunity for non-corrupted reformists to restore their credibility within society.”

On September 16th, Abbas Abdi, a prominent reformist writer, gave an interview to the conservative Alef, stating that the challenges facing Iran go beyond Rouhani’s shortcomings and calling for greater unity between Iran’s political forces.

  • “My overall impression is that this administration [Rouhani] was not structured for the intense and unique situation of today, but to reach the JCPOA and revitalize the economy … this new situation is not just for the administration, but in my opinion goes beyond the administration and the entire government was not prepared for this situation. Maybe for this reason the people are not ready for this situation either.”
  • “I expect that Rouhani lays out coherent policies and that other institutionalized forces understand that the situation is sensitive and dangerous, so that the administration can advances its aims. Overcoming this crisis is the most important demand anyone can have and there needs to be unity beyond the government.”
  • “I believe the root problem of the current crisis is that the system still does not officially recognize it critics and opponents and is not ready to allow them to participate in managing the country. This is not limited to reformist either, but goes beyond them.”

On September 17th, former President Ahmadinejad released a video in which he criticized the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit, Hossein Taeb.

  • Ahmadinejad stated that during his president he was opposed to Taeb. He stated: Taeb has “no balance, everyone knew this, all the country’s officials know what he’s done. I said if he comes he’ll ruin all relationship, his job is inventing [criminal] files.”
  • BBC Persian notes: “In recent years many arrests that lawyers and judicial attorney say have been illegal have been carried out by the agency under Taeb’s management [the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit].”
  • Ahmadinejad further stated that Hossein Taeb was “fired from the intelligence ministry because he was a mischief-maker. Later they illegally gave him full authority in another place. and then they moved him somewhere else and gave him total authority with no legal accountability.”
  • In recent months, Ahmadinejad has also harshly attack the heads of Iran’s judiciary and parliament, Sadeq Larijani and Ali Larijani, respectively, as well as President Rouhani, who he said should resign.
  • In his new video, Ahmadinejad said his criticisms were not “insults against the [political] system or propaganda against the system, but we want to improve things. Are heart aches for the country, we says this is bad for the revolution, the system, Iran, the people, you are hurting yourselves.”
  • In the summer of 2017, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Ahmadinejad to be a member of the powerful Expediency Council.

On September 14th, Ahmadinejad appeared before a large crowd in Karaj, a city near Tehran, where slogans were chanted in support of him and against Rouhani. In his remarks, Ahmadinejad attacked the Rouhani administration. Fararu said of the rally:

  • “Karaj is one of the cities in which the recent protests, compared to other places, had a stronger intensity and for Ahmadinejad to choose this city for a speech is not unrelated to this. Many believe that Ahmadinejad is trying to coopt public grievances and make himself the leader of these protests.”
  • “Ahmadinejad, whether he wants to or not, whether it’s being coordinated or not, is playing on the side of the hardline opponents of the Rouhani administration, and it seems some of the anti-administration stances, which in recent weeks have been restrained due to the Supreme Leader’s suggestions and warnings, have been entrusted to Ahmadinejad.”
  • “This question without answer is also getting more serious among the public, about the reason for the differences in treatment for the two previous presidents. One, despite his open case which for years has been in the courts and his positions against [the political system’s] structures, appears before crowds with no limitations and then appears smiling at an [expediency council meeting] in Qom and the other is still banned from appearing in the media?”

On September 16th, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs and former foreign minister, discussed Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy at a conference in Tehran.

  • Velayati: “The strategic framework of Iran’s foreign policy is decided by the Supreme Leader under the constitution and, if I am worthy, I convey his perspective.”
  • Velayati on his July 12th trip to Moscow and meeting with Putin: “In my meeting with Putin, we discussed important bilateral issues, and debated and exchanged views on regional and international issues. I must say that this was the longest meeting an Islamic Republic official has had with Putin, which lasted about two and a half hours.”
  • Velayati on Iran’s “look to the East” foreign policy and Rouhani’s approach: “On the issue of the [Rouhani] administration’s position on ‘looking to the East’ I must honestly say that Mr. Rouhani’s position of strongly standing up to America, has been very good and in relation to improving ties with the East, our President has strongly followed the Supreme Leader’s positions.”
  • “In the United Nations it was Russia that first vetoed that anti-Iranian resolution regarding Yemen and then was followed by China … if Russia didn’t veto this resolution we would have gone under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and sanctions and any kind of action against us would have been legitimized by the UN Security Council.”
  • “In the international arena, Russia has a higher place regarding defense matters, and on economic issues, China has a greater capability … as such each has its own capability, but we don’t follow any one’s path and look at our national interest.”
  • “As the Supreme Leader says, rather than the trenches being in Kermanshah, Esfahan, Kerman, or Tabriz, we have to face it [the trench] outside our borders.”

On September 17th, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, travelled to Vienna to participate in the annual International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was also at the summit.

  • Salehi in his speech at the IAEA summit: “Unfortunately, despite the IAEA consistently finding the Islamic Republic of Iran to be in compliance with the provisions of this agreement, the United States in May decided to leave this agreement, when previously, whether under this [US] administration or the previous one, it never fully complied with its obligations.”
  • “The international reactions to this illegal action [America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA] has raised serious doubts about the rationality and reliability of that country’s [the US] policies.”
  • IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano in his introductory remarks announced that Iran has been fully compliant with its commitments under the JCPOA and its signed agreements with the IAEA.

On September 17th, Masoud Nili, an economic advisor to President Rouhani, stated that Iran’s “unofficial economy,” which consist of illegal activities (like drugs and alcohol), non-market activities, small economic activities, and shadow economic activities (aimed at circumventing taxes or regulations) today amounts to upwards of 35 percent of Iran’s GDP.

  • According to Nili, this demonstrates that Iran’s national income is more than what GDP figures show and that government intervention has been poorly implement, resulting lost tax revenues.