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.”


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

The full letter can be found here.

Republicans Vote Down Amendment to Protect Families from Muslim Ban

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress took its first vote on the Muslim ban yesterday, as an amendment to protect family members from the Muslim ban was voted down by Republican legislators 23-29. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), was offered during a markup of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill and would have would barred the Trump administration from banning close familial relations under the Muslim ban. In addition, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced, but later withdrew after an objection from a Republican lawmaker, an amendment that would go even further by defunding implementation of the entire Muslim ban.

The Pocan amendment would have restricted funding in the DHS Appropriations bill from being used to implement the Executive Order against an individual who is a parent, spouse, fiancé, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin of a United States citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States. Nearly all Republicans on the committee voted against the amendment, except for Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). Rep. Dent was an early supporter of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Trump administration is currently implementing a version of the ban that was narrowed by a temporary Supreme Court ruling that the ban could move forward but could not be applied to persons with “bona fide” relations with an American person or entity. The Trump administration interpreted that ruling to exclude grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and other close familial relations from being exempt from the ban. Today, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that grandparents and other family members of U.S. persons could indeed not be subject to the ban.

Pocan noted the importance of the amendment because the ban’s “arbitrary determination leaves countless people facing the humiliation of navigating a series of arbitrary rules that devalue family relationships.”

“We have the opportunity to broaden that [familial] relationship to match what the courts in Hawaii have decide,” Pocan added in support of his amendment.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) noted that “One of the greatest treasures that we have in life and one that unites all of humanity is our desire to be with our close family,” going on to state, “I strongly support Mr. Pocan’s amendment to ensure that grandparents, in-laws and other close relatives can visit their U.S. relatives.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), ranking member of the Homeland Security subcommittee, also voiced support for the Pocan amendment, stating that the amendment was necessary because “the admin took a narrow view of who counted as close relatives.”

Homeland Security subcommittee chairman John Carter (R-TX) was the only Republican who spoke on either amendment, rising in opposition to both the Lee amendment and Pocan amendment. According to Carter, the Muslim ban restrictions “are a valid exercise of the President’s authority.”

The Barbara Lee Amendment would have gone even further than the Pocan Amendment and would have restricted funding in the DHS Appropriations bill from being used to implement any element of the Muslim ban Executive Order.

According to Lee, her amendment “would prevent funds from being used to implement this very heartless Executive Order because [the ban] is just dangerous and un-american.”

The votes come in spite of the fact that not a single person has been killed in the US by a terrorist attack committed by people from the countries subjected to Trump’s ban.

The amendment vote is a major milestone as it was the first vote on the ban since it was enacted in January. Republican legislators have blocked a vote to rescind the ban on the House and Senate floor, and no hearing has been held on the ban despite its extensive impact on the Iranian-American community and other communities.

NIAC Statement on the Unjust Sentencing of US Citizen Xiyue Wang

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202 386 6407
Email: tparsi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to the sentencing of Princeton doctoral student Xiyue Wang to ten years in prison:

“We condemn the unjust detention and sentencing of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton student conducting research on the Qajar Dynasty in Iran. From the evidence made public by Iran’s Judiciary against Mr. Wang, it appears that his only crime was to read books at a public library. To conflate a historian’s use of a public archive with espionage is absurd. By definition, there are no classified state secrets at public archives. To claim otherwise only shows how bizarre the Iranian judiciary’s definition of security has become.

“Academic exchanges have always persisted in some form despite the tense relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The arrest and detention of Mr. Wang is a direct assault on academic exchange, human rights, and the future of peaceful diplomacy. We call for the release of Mr. Wang as well as that of other dual nationals held by the Iranian judiciary on trumped up charges, such as Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi.

“These unjustified detentions tarnish the image of Iran in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately, there are elements in Iran that seek to unjustly arrest Westerners in order to undermine Iran’s economic reintegration into the world because they fear that an end to Iran’s isolation will diminish their grip on the country. In this context, suggestions by the Trump administration that it is seeking regime change in Iran only make matters worse, as it used by repressive elements in Iran to justify and intensify their repression.”

NIAC Applauds Court Ruling in Favor of Grandparents

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: (202) 780-9590
Email: smodarres@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Shayan Modarres, Legal Counsel for the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding the U.S. District Court’s decision to include grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, and siblings-in-law as close familial relationships:

“We applaud U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson for standing up for the rule of law and decency by finding that the exclusion of grandparents and other close family members from the Trump administration’s definition of close familial relationship ‘represents the antithesis of common sense.’

“We have always maintained that the Muslim ban as a whole – consisting of the executive order and the backdoor administrative ban that is already being carried out – is the antithesis of common sense as it does not reflect or address real security concerns, fails to keep Americans safer, and infringes on the rights of many American citizens to see family and friends. Sadly, today’s decision does not provide relief to many refugees, including the refugees currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Even a partial Muslim ban is still a Muslim ban. Until the Muslim ban is fully defeated we cannot rest.”

NIAC Congratulates the P5+1 and Iran on the Two Year Anniversary of the Nuclear Deal

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-2303
Email: tparsi@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 regarding the two year anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):

“We congratulate the United States, Iran, and the P5+1 on their choice to remain committed to peace over war and continue to preserve the landmark nuclear deal reached two years ago. It is a testament that vigilant diplomacy will always outshine militarism.  The JCPOA is perhaps the most important arms control agreement in recent history. It not only prevented war and the spread of nuclear weapons, but it also opened the door for a new all-inclusive security dialogue in the Middle East, which carried the promise of stabilizing the region.

“Unfortunately, however, the JCPOA remains under attack from elements within both countries that prefer conflict over dialogue and mutual suspicion over greater understanding. Continued sanctions, calls from the White House for nations to refrain from investing in Iran, and an increase in military encounters between the US and Iran all threaten the deal. The JCPOA represented an opportunity for the US and Iran to change course, broaden engagement and end the policy of sanctions and antagonism. Unfortunately that opportunity has largely been squandered.

“But it is not only the achievement of the deal that risks to be lost if the attacks on the JCPOA continue. If the deal collapses, the US and Iran will likely once again find themselves on a path towards war. There will be no winners in such a scenario. The world would truly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if it allows the nuclear deal to die.”


Iranian grandparents are now banned from the U.S.

NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi and his grandmother

I was nine years old when I finally met my grandparents. After years of only seeing them in old photos and hearing about them in my dad’s stories about growing up in Tehran, they finally were able to make the trip to America and meet their grandchildren for the first time.

Donald Trump just announced that my grandparents are now banned from this country.

Beginning today, a new version of Trump’s Muslim ban will go back into effect. The Supreme Court ordered that Trump’s travel ban could go forward – but could not apply to people who have a “bonafide relationship” with an American. In response, Trump has released a directive that Iranians and other “banned” nationals would have to prove their “bona fide relationship” in order to apply for a visa.

Trump’s directive establishes the categories of relationships that are allowed in, and those who are not: Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, fiancees and other extended family members are not serious enough relationships to enter the U.S., according to Trump’s new ban.

The bottom line: if your extended family member is Iranian, they are now banned from entering the U.S.

We are going to fight this with everything we’ve got. But we need your financial support in order to have the staff and resources necessary to seriously challenge this assault against our community and our country’s values.

DONATE to defeat Trump’s ban!

We are confronting this ban from every angle:

  1. NIAC volunteers and staff associates are continuously meeting with allies in Congress and their home districts to try to force a vote on legislation that will rescind and defund the Muslim Ban. We can no longer rely solely on the courts to fight this ban for us. We must rally our lawmakers to take a stand on this un-American ban.
  2. We organized our members in New Mexico to meet with Rep. Pearce and voice their concerns and USA Today ran a story about it. After hearing from our community Rep. Pearce – a Republican – publicly criticized Trump’s ban.
  3. We have a plan in Congress to force those who refuse to take our concerns seriously to finally take a public stand on the ban and be judged by their voters. NO MORE HIDING.
  4. NIAC has already requested documents and statistics from the Trump administration to build the foundation for a second wave of litigation against the ban.

NIAC staff and volunteers  are deployed across the country to defeat the Muslim Ban. But we need your financial support to continue representing the interests of our community. With your support we will remain ready to advocate for you.

Will you donate $50, $100, $1000 or an amount that’s right for you so that we can redouble our efforts to defeat Trump’s ban and make our Iranian grandparents welcome again?

Joint Statement of Iranian-American Organizations on Detentions of Iranians

ContactJamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

As organizations that represent the Iranian-American community, we are deeply concerned by recent arrests of Iranians visiting and studying in the United States.

At least two Iranians are currently being held in custody by U.S. immigration authorities: Alia Ghandi and Mohammad Salar Fard-Hajian. We implore authorities to ensure these individuals have ready access to legal counsel and insist they be promptly released from custody. 

Ghandi, who traveled to Oregon on a valid tourist visa to visit her sister (a U.S. citizen), was refused entry by customs officers and instead arrested and sent to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Washington. Ghandi has subsequently claimed asylum but remains in custody despite an obligation by US authorities to allow her the opportunity to present her case and remain in the US until she is heard. 

Mohammad Salar Fard-Hajian, an Iranian student living in Dearborn, Michigan, was arrested at home and is being held in Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, Michigan. Fard-Hajian’s roommate believes he was arrested due to administrative errors regarding his college enrollment status. 

It is impossible for us to simply write-off all of these events as mere coincidence or misunderstanding in the current climate. The recent spate of official policies and actions – beginning with President Trump’s first executive order to bar entry for Iranians and nationals of six other countries – are deeply troubling. Coupled with recent incidents of hate directed at Iranians and persons of Middle Eastern descent, including recent reports of graffiti targeting Iranians in Portland and San Francisco, a disturbing trend is emerging. 

As members of the Iranian-American community, we are active contributors to society who – like all other Americans – are entitled to live in peace and without fear of discrimination. As members of the Iranian diaspora, we are proud of our heritage and have deep connections to our ancestral homeland. We are committed to proactively engaging to protect the interests of our community and the values of this country. We encourage community leaders, lawmakers, as well as the President to take these concerns seriously so that everyone’s rights are protected.

Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB)
Iranian American Bar Association (IABA)
National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Pars Equality Center
Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)

NIAC Calls for Grace Period on Inhumane Trump Ban

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement calling for a grace period on President Trump’s ban on nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen so that they can be reunited with their families:

With more and more reports of visa holders and lawful permanent residents being detained at U.S. airports, the horrific nature of Trump’s Muslim ban is fully apparent for the entire world to see. Families are being ripped apart without warning and with no assurance of when they will be reunited. Students traveling abroad at the time of the ban are horrified that they might not be able to return to continue their studies. Children are being detained along with their parents when they were just seeking to return home. This is a dark day in the history of this country.

If the Trump administration has any shred of humanity and decency, it will institute a grace period without delay in order to enable all lawful permanent residents, dual nationals and visa holders from Iran and the other targeted countries to return to the United States to reunite with their families and return to their daily lives. Anything less is a complete disgrace.

NIAC will continue to fight to overturn this unjust and inhumane ban on Iranians and other nationals.


If You Thought 2016 Was Bad in the Middle East – Brace Yourself for 2017

It is difficult to be optimistic about the Middle East in 2017.0q3a1550-copy

With the bloodshed in Aleppo, Mosul, Yemen and elsewhere in the region, the anger, hatred and sectarian divides have only grown deeper.

Indeed, while some point to Tehran celebrating its victory in Aleppo, success on the battlefield is coupled with even deeper divisions between Iran and some of its Arab or Sunni neighbours, paving a path towards greater conflict rather than reconciliation.

Ultimately, as all parties involved should know, true security only stems from the ability to live in peace with one’s neighbours, not one’s ability to outgun them.

Thus, the celebrations of today ring very hollow, as the region as a whole is likely heading towards greater instability in the year to come.

It is fashionable in Washington today to blame the bloodshed in the region on the Obama administration’s perceived inactivity and unwillingness to commit the United States to a more militant posture in the Middle East.

Such assessments tend to overlook the deeper structural causes that have helped create the current crisis – structural factors that predate Obama and which the US has little ability to impact.

Reality is that since the early 1990s, the order in the region was an unnatural one.

The Dual Containment policy put into place by the Clinton administration guaranteed order in the region by supporting the US’s main allies in the region – Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – while isolating and containing Iran and Iraq.

While this order did provide the region with a degree of stability, it was not able to sustain itself – it was directly dependent upon US military and economic power.

The main benefactors of this order – again, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – neither possessed the power nor the political will to uphold this order. They were free riding on American power and saw no reason as to why they shouldn’t.

Invasion of Iraq

A regional order based on the exclusion of two of the most powerful states of that region does not have a good chance of enduring in the long run under any circumstances.

But it wasn’t the opponents of this order – primarily Iran – who destroyed it, but rather the US itself.

By invading Iraq in 2003 and failing the task of stabilising the country in the post-war period, the US didn’t just destroy that country, but instability in Iraq spread throughout the region and destroyed both the regional order and, perhaps more crucially, it weakened the US to the degree that it no longer had the power, credibility and political will to stabilise the Middle East and establish a new order there.

The vacuum that was created by this ordeal set off by the US itself then also helped midwife other, underlying societal challenges in the Arab world that earlier had been prevented from fully surfacing in the pre-2003 era.

While the US was strong, its autocratic allies felt confident in clamping down on internal dissent. They could count on the US’s silence – whatever protests or gentle pushes for reform Washington mustered, they never challenged the political status quo of its allies.

By 2011, however, the story was different. The US was now significantly weakened.

The cost of sustaining order in the region had skyrocketed, courtesy of the Iraq War, while the dividends of hegemony were plummeting.

Now sustaining the order not only entailed maintaining stability between states, but rebuilding collapsed and collapsing states.

Though it tried to keep Mubarak in power, the Tahrir Square protesters revealed this new reality: America’s ability to shape the outcome of events in the Middle East was not what it used to be.

Ripe for revolution – but not democracy

The power to tilt the scale in favour of Mubarak simply did not exist any longer. By weakening the US through the unwise invasion of Iraq, Washington no longer had the capacity to protect its authoritarian Arab allies in the region.

Once American support for these dictatorships was gone, the long existing societal factors that all pointed in the direction of change (but had been largely stymied by Washington’s backing of the autocrats) came to the forefront and rendered these states ripe for revolution – though not for democracy.

Just as much as power begs to be balanced, disorder begs to be re-ordered.

With Pax Americana dead and buried, regional powers were thrown into a vicious zero-sum game to safeguard their interests, and establish a new order beneficial to their own security imperatives.

These transition periods from one order to another are historically particularly violent and unstable.

While a stronger US military posture arguably could have helped protect some of Washington’s interests in the region or perhaps delayed the security deterioration temporarily, the idea that a more militant US policy could have fixed the region’s problems is a mirage.

As the former director for the Middle East in Obama’s National Security Council, Phil Gordon, points out:

“In Iraq, the US intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the US intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the US neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster.”

Absent a wholesale attempt to create a new order – a task Washington lacks the power to undertake on its own – isolated cases of military intervention won’t bring durable stability to the region or alter the trajectory of its political developments. 

Nor is the current instability a result of the historic nuclear deal with Iran from 2015.

Shifting allies

While the Saudi-Iranian rivalry has intensified over the years, its roots are found in the post-2003 disorder and their jockeying to influence the future balance in the region.

Even the convergence of Saudi and Israeli interest in countering Iran predates the nuclear deal.

Already in 2006, Saudi Arabia was a de facto partner of Israel in its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The difference today is that Saudi Arabia is much more open about its collusion with Israel. The nuclear deal didn’t cause their de facto alliance, it only brought it out of the shadows.

Going forward, there are few signs that stability will return to the region in 2017. Even if the battle of Aleppo signals a turning point in the war in Syria, it is unlikely to signal the end of the war.

Russia and Iran may be celebrating their victory, but true stability will only come to the region when all of the regional powers commit themselves to a diplomatic process of brokering a new order.

Currently, however, there is far more commitment to military rather than diplomatic strategies. Absent a reversal of this, 2017 will be even grimmer than 2016.

This piece originally appeared in the Middle East Eye.

Trump Hasn’t Mastered the Art of Killing the Iran Deal

President-Elect Trump

America has never known so little about a president-elect. After Trump ran a campaign almost completely void of substance, speculation about his positions regarding key national security issues is doomed to be based on nothing more than slogans and tweets. We do know, however, that he has a mandate to unravel much, if not all, of Barack Obama’s legacy — including the historic Iran deal.

Make no mistake, the Iran deal is under severe threat. Trump has referred to it as “the worst deal ever negotiated,” and promised at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference this year that his first priority would be to “dismantle” the agreement.

The Iran deal was already on fragile ground, and frankly, even a Hillary Clinton victory would have increased its vulnerability. But with Trump, its fate is arguably more complicated than it would have been with a victory by Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz — two Republican senators who, unlike Trump, promised to tear the deal apart on their first day on the job. Trump has “only” vowed to renegotiate the deal — a completely unrealistic option — while simultaneously complaining that the deal did nothing to lift America’s primary sanctions on Iran (the ones that prevent Trump’s own companies from doing business with Iran).

Even if Trump intends to unravel the deal, his options to do so directly are very limited. It is, after all, not a bilateral deal with Iran that he is in a position to void on his own, but one that also includes Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, codified in a U.N. Security Council resolution. 

Trump’s far more likely path to unravel the deal would be to add political risk to any Western companies contemplating entry into the Iranian market. Businesses have already been hesitant to enter the Iranian market, partly on the fear that the United States did not have the discipline to refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran, and thus force companies that just entered the Iranian market to exit it once again, at a hefty cost. By instilling doubt about the durability of the deal, businesses will tend to avoid entering Iran in order to evade the cost and embarrassment of having their deals sabotaged by new potential sanctions.

In such a scenario, Iran would not be able to reap any economic benefits from a nuclear deal that was technically still in effect. Disappointment in the agreement is already quite extensive in Iran, as many Iranians expected economic conditions to improve quicker after it went into effect. This is a significant threat to the deal, because if the dissatisfaction festers, President Hassan Rouhani’s prospects for reelection in 2017 will dwindle.

There is, in other words, the prospect of a vicious cycle that works against proponents of the Iran deal. If Rouhani loses, one of the agreement’s strongest supporters will no longer be there to ensure Tehran’s continued commitment. Even if the absence of de facto sanctions relief doesn’t impact Rouhani’s reelection bid, the likelihood of Tehran seeking an exit from the deal will nevertheless increase, as the restrictions on its nuclear program will be indefensible politically,

If Trump returns to a general policy of isolating in the region diplomatically and economically, he might find it easier said than done. It will require the intricate work of building an international coalition against Iran, which a Clinton administration — that was likely to adopt a similar policy — may have been adept at, but which Trump may be unable to pull off. For instance, the Obama administration only succeeded in assembling a strong coalition against Iran after first having convinced the international community that Iran was at fault in failing. But today, it isn’t Iran that is speaking of dismantling or renegotiating the deal. It is Trump and the GOP.

This is partly why some hard-liners and moderates I have spoken to in Iran favored a Trump victory. From their perspective, the choice was between two equally hostile American presidential candidates: One who has a track record of building strong coalitions against Iran versus one who has little to no international experience at all.

There is also a chance, of course, that the Trump administration will not be nearly so dire for U.S.-Iranian relations.

Following that logic, Trump did acknowledge that Tehran is knee-deep in the fight against the extremist organization. “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS,” Trump said during one of the debates. “Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS.” Notably, he did not mention Saudi Arabia or the United States’ other traditional allies in the Middle East. If his priority in the region is defeating the Islamic State, he will not only need collaboration with Russia and Iran, he will also need to sustain the Iran deal in order to avoid a deterioration of ties with Tehran that inevitably would affect the struggle against the group.

Still, we know too little about Trump to be able to determine the priority he would give to Iran, the Islamic State, or the nuclear deal. We know more about the track record and inclinations of some of his allies and potential cabinet members, such as Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, whose support for the Iraq War was as steadfast as Trump’s campaign-long claim that he had been opposed to the conflict. If Trump delegates foreign policy to some of these allies who do not share Trump’s presumed inclination for restraint, then a return to the George W. Bush’s approach to Iran may be more likely.

The United States and Iran’s relationship has always been complicated. Under President Trump, it will become even more so.

This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy.