LA Fundraiser a Success!

THANK YOU to all who helped make NIAC’s October 22nd Los Angeles fundraiser a huge success! With your support, NIAC is stronger and better equipped to advocate on behalf of our community, to combat visa waiver discrimination laws and strengthen diplomacy! Thanks to our generous Los Angeles supporters, we exceeded our fundraising goal and raised $150K— and enjoyed a wonderful evening of inspiring words and delicious food!


The event would not be possible without the committed leadership and hard work of our amazing Host Committee! Major thanks to Reza Amin, Michael Amin, Ahmad Shams, Leyla Mostafavi, Soheila Hosseini, Hassan Kheradmandan, Mike Sabeti, Ashkan Fattahi and Dariush Shirmohammadi. Also, a big thank you to our talented photographer, Alysse Stewart, and our dear volunteers, Ashkaan Daneshi and Mehra Gharibian.


We greatly appreciate NIAC’s Los Angeles supporters for investing so generously in strengthening the Iranian American community – especially during this critical historical moment in US-Iran relations – and we hope to be back soon!

View more photos here

NIAC Strongly Condemns Sentencing of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Urges Their Release

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325

Washington, D.C. – NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement after Siamak and Baquer Namazi were reportedly sentenced to ten-year terms in prison:

“The sentencing of Siamak and Baquer Namazi to ten-year prison terms is a gross injustice that should deeply embarrass the Iranian government. We urge Iran to immediately release the Namazis – as well as all dual nationals unjustly detained in Iran on spurious charges – so that they can reunite with their families.

“Both Siamak and Baquer Namazi have been denied basic due process and all indications are that the Iranian government has been using them as political pawns in violation of its own laws and basic human decency. Siamak dedicated significant portions of life to helping the people of Iran. For instance, he conducted a study on how sanctions were fueling medical supply shortages in Iran. Baquer is a dedicated humanitarian who spent his career working for UNICEF, and now suffers from medical conditions that could worsen during imprisonment. His imprisonment appears solely intended as an effort to break Siamak’s refusal to confess to bogus charges.

“Similarly, the release of the video of Siamak’s arrest seem to be aimed at inflicting humiliation, but in reality only reveals the inhumanity of Siamak and Baquer’s captors.

“The sentencing of the Namazis follows a similar sentencing handed down last month to American resident Nazar Zikka. Simultaneously, hardline Iranian news sources also announced three other individuals – Farhad Abd Saleh, Kamran Qaderi and Alireza Omidvar – were also sentenced each to 10 years of jail under the same charge of allegedly “spying and cooperating with the US government against Iran”. The detention of several of these individuals was previously undisclosed. However, based on the Iranian government’s repeated violations of basic due process and use of dual nationals as bargaining chips, these convictions can only be viewed with severe skepticism.

“Like the charges levied against other dual nationals imprisoned by Iran’s internal security apparatus, the charges appear politically calculated. If the Iranian government wishes to see the country integrate in the global economy following the nuclear accord, it will have to take serious action to address the arrests of dual nationals and others innocent of wrong-doing conducted by hardline elements in Iran.

“For the United States, the sentencing is a clear signal that more political capital and attention needs to be dedicated to securing the release of the Namazis and other Americans imprisoned in Iran. The United States should leave no stone unturned in utilizing diplomatic channels to press the Iranians to secure their release.”


Omid Kokabee Granted Release

991769-1461200117-wideWashington, DC – NIAC welcomes the release of Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee, who was granted parole by an Iranian court after serving five year in prison for charges of communication with a hostile government. NIAC remains deeply concerned about human rights violations in Iran, including the recent rise in detentions of Iranian Americans and other Iranian dual citizens. Recent reports that detained Iranian-Canadian professor Homa Hoodfar’s health continues to diminish as she languishes in solitary confinement are particularly alarming. NIAC reiterates its call on Iran’s government to release all prisoners of conscience who remain unjustly prisoned and to uphold its human right obligations.

Omid Kokabee was pursuing his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin when he returned in Iran to visit family in 2011 and was seized by authorities while attempting to fly back to the United States. He was initially charged with “gathering and colluding against national security” but was acquitted on those charges. He was subsequently charged and convicted for communicating with a hostile government and sentenced to ten years without any evidence presented against him. In a letter from prison, Kokabee expressed his belief that he was imprisoned because he had declined several invitations to work on Iranian military and intelligence projects.

Kokabee’s imprisonment and the mistreatment he suffered are appalling and contradictory to Iran’s international human rights obligations. Kokabee was reportedly denied access to adequate health services throughout the course of his imprisonment despite severe health problems, including kidney stones. The lack of adequate care likely contributed to his eventual diagnosis of kidney cancer. In April, he was granted temporary medical leave after undergoing kidney surgery. His lawyer, Saeed Khalili has stated that Iran’s judiciary has now provided Kokabee with “conditional freedom” for the remainder of his ten year sentence; having already served more than one third of his sentence, Kokabee was eligible for parole as dictated by Iranian law.

Policy Memo: Understanding U.S. Sanctions-Related Obligations Under the JCPOA

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It is an elemental condition of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) –- the nuclear accord between the United States, other major world powers, and Iran – that the U.S. ensure that Iran receives the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear agreement. Most U.S. observers, however, have adopted a false belief that the U.S.’s JCPOA obligations begin and end with the formal lifting of sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA. Such a view misunderstands the scope of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and risks inhibiting the Obama administration from taking the steps required to faithfully implement the U.S.’s sanctions-related obligations. It undermines ongoing efforts to remedy problems related to the lifting of sanctions and threatens the ultimate sustainability of the nuclear accord.

This memo serves as a much-needed corrective at a time in which U.S. implementation of its JCPOA obligations has come under question. It is our view that a more appropriate reading of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA evidences a U.S. commitment to not just formally lift all nuclear-related sanctions, but also to prevent any interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting and to ensure that Iran has access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy. This is a much broader view of the U.S.’s JCPOA commitments than commonly understood in Washington, but it is one that is nonetheless faithful to the text of the JCPOA and central to the sustenance of the nuclear accord. Understanding the proper scope of U.S. sanctions-related obligations is thus key to cementing the decades-long restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.          

US Sanctions-Related Obligations

Most observers regard the U.S.’s primary commitment under the JCPOA to involve the formal lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA. While the lifting of such sanctions is indeed a fundamental commitment of the United States, it is far from the only U.S. sanctions-related obligation. The Main Text of the JCPOA and its preambular paragraphs, often ignored by proponents and opponents of the JCPOA alike, outline the full scope of U.S. sanctions-related obligations. These obligations can be broken down into three constituent (and equally valuable) parts:

1)    Lift all nuclear-related sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA;

  • Prevent any interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting and with the normalization of trade and economic relations consistent with JCPOA; and
  • Take affirmative steps to ensure Iran’s access to trade, finance, energy, and technology.

Each of these obligations merit reflection, particularly as observers have failed to appreciate the latter two elements of the U.S.’s sanctions-related commitments in ways detrimental to the administration’s efforts to resolve lingering concerns. An understanding of the full range of U.S. sanctions-related JCPOA obligations provides appropriate context for recent (and prospective) actions by the administration to ensure full implementation of the JCPOA.

Lifting the Sanctions

It is a fundamental commitment on the part of the United States to lift all of the sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA, including sanctions inhibiting Iran’s access to finance, energy, trade, and technology. Section 4 of Annex II spells out in specific detail the sanctions that are to be lifted under the nuclear accord – whether via use of the President’s waiver authorities; the termination of Executive orders; or the rescission of U.S. sanctions designations.[1]  , and to license both the import into the U.S. of Iranian-origin carpets and certain foodstuffs and transactions by U.S.-owned or –controlled foreign entities (i.e., foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies) involving Iran otherwise prohibited by 31 C.F.R. § 560.215.[2] Together, the lifting of such sanctions constitute the most elemental condition for which Iran agreed to decades-long restrictions on its nuclear program.  

The Obama administration has faithfully implemented these commitments in full. On Implementation Day, the day on which Iran fulfilled its initial nuclear-related obligations, President Obama waived the imposition and application of certain sanctions, revoked certain Executive orders, and rescinded the designations of hundreds of Iranian and non-Iranian entities and individuals, as required.[3] Moreover, the U.S. issued licenses for the import of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs and for U.S.-owned and –controlled foreign entities to re-engage in transactions involving Iran.[4] Currently, the U.S. Treasury Department is working with aircraft manufacturers to determine the license conditions for the sale and export of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran.

Preventing Interference with Iran’s Full Benefit 

Under the JCPOA, the United States is obligated to take certain affirmative steps and to refrain from taking other measures in order to ensure that Iran receives the full benefit of the lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions. Few observers, though, have taken adequate note of these commitments, which are central to the JCPOA and explain the Obama administration’s outreach to the global banking and business communities.

First, the United States is committed to refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions targeting Iran or re-imposing the sanctions lifted pursuant to Annex II of the JCPOA.[6] There has been some debate over the scope of this latter provision, particularly whether it would prohibit the U.S. from re-imposing the lifted sanctions on non-nuclear grounds. While the Obama administration has been less than clear as to how it interprets the relevant JCPOA commitment, the fairest reading of paragraph 26 of the JCPOA would indeed bar the United States from re-imposing the lifted sanctions on a pretext separate from Iran’s nuclear program. In other words, for example, the United States could not re-designate certain Iranian financial institutions under Executive Order 13382 – including its major state-owned banks –  , as that would constitute the effective re-imposition of the sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA. Evidencing this point, paragraph 26 of the JCPOA notes that Iran would view the re-imposition of sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord as an abridgment of U.S. obligations and would thus cease its own nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA as a result.

It is no secret that Congressional opponents of the nuclear accord are seeking to push the Obama administration to publicly adopt a narrow interpretation of this provision, so as to permit Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions on pretextual non-nuclear grounds. While the administration has not adopted a broader reading of this provision, it is clear that such a narrow reading would lead to the effective collapse of the JCPOA, as Iran’s benefit under the JCPOA would be nullified insofar as the same sanctions lifted would be re-imposed under a new pretext. This would fatally undermine Iran’s incentive to continue complying with the terms of the JCPOA.

Besides refraining from re-imposing the sanctions lifted under the JCPOA, the United States is also obligated to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent” with the nuclear accord.[7] It is due to this provision that high-level U.S. officials have stated that the United States will no longer stand in the way of legitimate business activities with Iran – a subtle but significant change in U.S. policy towards Iran. This provision obligates the U.S. to do more than to refrain from legislation aimed at undermining U.S. commitments, but also to ensure that no federal government policies are designed to undercut the benefit to Iran of its nuclear bargain. Pursuant to this provision, for instance, Iran has complained that passage of a new visa law subjecting business travelers to Iran to a heightened standard of review is intended to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations between Iran and the European Union – a complaint that made it into the United Nations Secretary General’s recent report on UNSCR 2231.  

In tandem with this, the United States also committed “to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.”[8] Effectively, the U.S. is obligated to ensure that no measures of its own are standing in the way of Iran reaping the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting under the JCPOA. For purposes of illustration, because the JCPOA lifted sanctions on correspondent banking relationships between non-U.S., non-Iranian financial institutions and certain Iranian financial institutions, the United States is committed to ensuring that neither U.S. law nor policy is standing in the way of non-U.S. banks resuming correspondent banking relations with their Iranian counterparts. If U.S. laws or policies are interfering with Iran realizing the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions, then the U.S. is required to take steps to ensure that those laws or policies no longer are running such interference. To do so could require additional changes to U.S. laws or policies governing the issue.

Taking Affirmative Steps to Ensure Iran’s Benefit 

Besides preventing interference with Iran receiving the full benefit from the JCPOA’s sanctions-lifting, the United States is also committed to take certain affirmative steps to ensure that Iran does receive practical value from the lifting of sanctions.

Most immediately, the United States is obligated to   Importantly, there is no time-limit under which this obligation ends, meaning that the U.S. is committed through the duration of the nuclear deal to ensure that parties interested in undertaking legitimate business activities involving Iran have a clear understanding as to the scope and application of the sanctions-lifting under the JCPOA. It is this commitment that explains in part the Obama administration’s robust efforts to engage with the international business community – including via a global roadshow – in order to respond to persistent questions and concerns regarding the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear accord.

Beyond the issuance of guidance, however, the U.S. is obligated to lift certain additional nuclear-related sanctions should such sanctions be “preventing the full implementation of the sanctions-lifting [under the JCPOA].”[12] This is an issue that arose during the recent controversy over whether the U.S. would license U-turn transactions – a transaction in which Iran would have limited but effective access to U.S. dollar-clearing facilities – due to the fact that global banking institutions have signaled their reluctance to re-engage their Iranian counterparts so long as Iran’s access to the U.S. dollar is effectively prohibited. While the common wisdom is that re-authorizing the U-turn license would be an unwarranted concession to Iran – above and beyond the express terms of the JCPOA – few understand that the U.S. does have an express obligation to consult with Iran in order to resolve outstanding banking issues and that such consultation could lead to the lifting of the prohibition on U-turn transactions. Far from being alien to the nuclear accord, the licensing of U-turn transactions would have been consistent with U.S. obligations to lift additional sanctions that stand in the way of the effective implementation of the JCPOA.

Even further, the U.S. is also committed to “agree on steps [with Iran] to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.”[13] It is not enough for the U.S. to formally lift sanctions, to issue relevant regulatory guidelines to ensure effective implementation, or even to prevent interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions: the United States also has an affirmative obligation to agree on steps with Iran that are designed to ensure Iran’s access to trade, technology, finance, and energy. This means that should Iran not be able to access the global financial system due to the reluctance of major global banks to re-engage their Iranian counterparts, the U.S. is obligated to take certain agreed-upon steps to ensure such access for Iran. This is a far-reaching obligation deliberately tailored to ensure that Iran receives practical value from the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.      


Despite the formal lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, implementation of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA has not proceeded altogether smoothly. In order to safeguard the decades-long restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. must faithfully observe its JCPOA sanctions-related obligations in full. To do so, though, there must be a common understanding as to the full scope of those U.S. sanctions-related commitments. Failing this, the Obama administration (and its successors) will be inhibited from taking the action required to address ongoing problems related to the lifting of sanctions. This could endanger the long-term viability of the nuclear accord in a manner that puts at risk core U.S. national security interests.

[1] The scheme of Annex II of the JCPOA underscores the argument that U.S. obligations go beyond the mere formal lifting of sanctions. While § 4 of Annex II spells out the precise sanctions to be lifted pursuant to the JCPOA, § 7 of Annex II outlines the “effects of the lifting of U.S. economic and financial sanctions.” If the U.S.’s JCPOA obligations were indeed limited to the mere formal lifting of sanctions, then § 7 of Annex II would be a superfluity. Interpretive rules dictate that we not treat such provisions as superfluities.    

[2] JCPOA, Annex II, § 5.1.

[3] Implementation Day occurred on January 16, 2016.

[4] See, respectively, 31 C.F.R. §§ 560.534 and 560.535, as well as General License H.

[5] JCPOA, Annex V, § 21.

[6] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 26.

[7] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 29.

[8] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 26.

[9] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 27.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 24.

[13] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 33.

NIAC Condemns Spate of Executions in Iran

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) released the following statement after the Iranian government carried out a spate of approximately twenty executions:

“NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s recent spate of executions and reiterates its call for Iran to uphold its international human rights obligations. The execution of a teenager who was arrested as a juvenile, Hassan Afshar, was in gross violation of international law. His execution violates protections against capital punishment for minors. The execution of as many as twenty people that went forward despite grave concerns over the use of torture, solitary confinement and forced confessions raises further major concerns that Iran violated its international human rights commitments as well as domestic laws. NIAC condemns these executions and urges Iran to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, in his latest report.”


Let’s Talk Iran (and stuff): Fatima Ayub Would Like to Have a Word with You

The world is going to hell in hand basket, and Fatima Ayub wants to talk to you about it. She’s a political scientist currently based in Jordan, with 15 years’ background in conflict, security and human rights issues in the Middle East and South Asia. She currently works with the global consulting firm Adam Smith International seeking solutions to Jordan’s economic challenges and is an associate policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. She is also a professional contrarian and peddles insight and absurdity on Twitter as @thecynicist. Fatima and I talked about similarities between the problems facing Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries; the failure of politics in the Middle East and in the West; the challenge of parsing through human rights and sectarianism; what the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war tells us about our own failures; and our shared love of Radiohead.

Iran Deal Opponents in Congress Continue Efforts Against Boeing Sale

Washington, DC – Lawmakers opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement doubled down on efforts to block the sale of Boeing commercial jets to Iran on Wednesday as the House Financial Services Committee advanced three pieces of legislation attacking the deal. Under the Iran nuclear agreement, the U.S. committed to lifting restrictions that prevent the sale of civilian aircraft to Iran, clearing the way for a deal that will net upwards of $20 billion for the U.S. company and replenish an Iranian civilian air fleet that has become dangerously antiquated under sanctions.
“By denying the tangible benefits promised as part of the deal to the Iranian people, we undermine the reformers who came to the negotiating and strengthen the hand of the hardliners,” argued the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in opposing the largely Republican effort to block the sale. 
Two of the bills advanced by the Committee aim to prevent the sale of any commercial passenger aircraft to Iran, while the third aims to block the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. from financing the export of any goods to Iran. Boeing’s Senior Vice President of Government Operations, Tim Keating has stated that Boeing does not plan to seek financing from the Ex-Im Bank, nor will it sell aircraft to Iran without licensing from the Treasury Department. Moreover, federal law prohibits the Bank from financing exports and re-exports to countries that are designated by the U.S. as State Sponsors of Terrorism, which includes Iran. Members of the Financial Services Committee still sought to codify existing restrictions such that, if Iran were eventually removed from the terrorism list, Ex-Im financing of deals with Iran would still be prohibited.
Falling roughly along partisan lines, this latest attempt to block the Boeing deal comes after last week’s passage of two amendments sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) to block the Boeing deal, which were included as part of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for FY 17 (H.R. 5485).
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) sponsored this week’s bill (H.R. 5711) to prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from authorizing transactions of aircraft to Iran, which was identical to one of the amendments already passed last week. The Committee approved the measure 33-21. It also approved H.R. 5729, nearly identical to the other amendment passed last week, which would bar the Treasury from issuing licenses for the sale of aircraft to Iran in a 33-21 vote. Committee members acknowledged the redundancy of the measures, yet still urged that advancing them was worthwhile in what increasingly looks like a strategy to create obstacles to invest in Iran and generate bad press for companies seeking to enter the country.
Many Democrats protested that the bills were in violation of U.S. obligations under the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) brandished the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) June report which has certified Iran’s compliance with the agreement. He asserted that Iran has been in “full compliance,” which should oblige the U.S. to do so as well. Many of the Republican lawmakers argued the opposite, claiming inaccurately, that Iran was in violation of the deal.

Congress Marks Iran Deal Anniversary with Sharp Disagreements

Washington, DC – Congress marked the one year anniversary of the nuclear deal with Iran with continued partisan attacks against the agreement, including House passage of three bills that would undermine or invalidate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

One of the agreement’s top supporters in the House, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), spoke at a NIAC briefing on the Hill just as the votes were called. “This is what the Republicans have decided to do in the last minutes before we break for seven weeks when we are leaving so much important work on the table,” she said. But she said the campaign to “reverse the JCPOA” would not succeed. “This is simply not going to happen, it’s not going to go anywhere at all.”

All three of the bills were opposed by most Democrats, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who warned her colleagues the bills are “nothing more than political ploys,” and urged her colleagues to “sustain the President’s veto and resist all initiatives that seek to undermine the JCPOA.” The White House warned that it would veto the measures if necessary, saying that they would “undermine the ability of the United States to meet our JCPOA commitments by reimposing certain secondary economic and financial sanctions lifted” under the JCPOA. Rep. David Price (D-NC) objected strongly, warning that the bills seek to undo the deal and would “deny Iran even the limited access to foreign investment and other meaningful incentives that encourage compliance with the JCPOA.” Price equated Republicans’ treatment of the accord to the partisan attacks on the Affordable Care Act, for which House Republicans have held over fifty votes to repeal.

Ultimately, the measures passed the House largely on party lines, with just a handful of Democrats who were nearly all opposed to the JCPOA crossing over to vote in support of the measures.

The legislation is not expected to be considered by the Senate but could be offered as amendments to must-pass legislation when Congress returns in September. The bills would undermine or outright violate the agreement in a number of ways. H.R. 5119, which received a vote Wednesday, would block future purchases of heavy water from Iran. In April, the U.S. purchased excess stocks of heavy water from Iran, which is required to keep the proliferation-sensitive material below a certain threshold as part of the agreement. H.R. 4992 would block Iran’s access to the dollar outside of the U.S. financial system – while Iran is still barred from the U.S. financial system, it’s access to dollars held by banks outside of the U.S. is not restricted, which this bill would reverse. Lastly, H.R. 5631 would sanction any sector of Iran’s economy that directly or indirectly has applications for Iran’s ballistic missile program – which would likely even result in sanctions on Iran’s academic sector. Both of the latter bills would directly violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.

While few expect the proposals to become law, the effort is more than a symbolic gesture against the Iran deal. Opponents of the agreement are reportedly playing a “long game” to unravel the deal by forcing so many votes that supporters of the agreement begin to fatigue and the Democratic firewall against violating the deal begins to soften. The hope among Republicans, according to one report, is that by the time Obama leaves office the center of the debate will have shifted and, without the Obama Administration to rally Democrats to vote against the measures, a new Congress will pass deal-killing sanctions under a new Administration.

The efforts have another aim – in lieu of passing sanctions, the votes may be warning shots aimed at giving pause to any companies or banks that may be considering entering Iran. By creating political uncertainty as to whether the agreement and sanctions relief will survive Congress beyond Obama’s tenure, much of the sanctions relief for Iran that was promised under the agreement has been stymied in the interim.

In the clearest demonstration of the strategy, opponents of the agreement in the House have rallied around efforts to impede the sale of Boeing passenger jets to Iran – sales which are permitted under the JCPOA. Last week, the House added amendments to a spending bill that would bar the Boeing sale. In somewhat redundant action this week, the House Financial Services Committee advanced two nearly identical versions of the Boeing deal amendments as standalone legislation–strongly indicating that the effort is aimed more at creating negative attention to dissuade other companies from entering Iran, rather than crafting legislation. While the amendments last week passed by a voice vote, providing little indication of whether they enjoyed bipartisan support, the bills that passed the committee were voted down by every Democrat – save outspoken Iran hawk Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).

In the meantime, the Senate held hearings on the JCPOA in the Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) highlighted a new Iran sanctions bill he was introducing along with Robert Menendez (D-NJ). However, Sen. Cardin – who is on the record in support of extending the Iran Sanctions Act – declined to support the legislation and argued that Congress needs to be more strategic about how it approaches new Iran sanctions legislation. Cardin is viewed as a key barometer for whether any Senate initiatives will gain sufficient Democratic support to become law. While Cardin voted against the JCPOA, he has stated that now that it is in force it would be extremely damaging for the U.S. to violate its commitments.

NIAC Statement on First Anniversary of the Finalization of the Iran Nuclear Accord

Press Release




NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement on the one year anniversary of the finalization of the Iran nuclear accord:

“Today marks a full year since the U.S. and Iran, along with world powers, concluded marathon negotiations in the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The accord has succeeded where bluster and un-ending sanctions failed by rolling back and ensuring unprecedented inspections over Iran’s nuclear program. Critically, this has averted two disasters: that of an Iranian nuclear weapon as well as a costly war that would further destabilize the region and devastate the hopes of the Iranian people for a brighter future. It has also opened the door to cooperation outside the nuclear sphere if the U.S. and Iran can seize the opportunity.
“The diplomatic path has not been easy. Even now, it is under threat as opponents of the JCPOA in Congress force votes on bills that would violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions that have been relieved. These efforts have fed into ongoing sanctions relief complications that have drained support for the accord among the Iranian people. While Iran has gained some relief, particularly in oil sales and access to recently un-restricted revenues, the lack of major banks willing to engage in Iranian transactions has greatly hampered the pace of relief. As the Iranian people have not seen the benefit of the bargain, increasing distrust could lead to major complications in implementation of the accord down the road, and must be addressed.
“Over the course of the second year of implementation, the JCPOA will undergo major tests as both the U.S. and Iran hold elections for the Presidencies of their respective countries. Both Presidents Obama and Rouhani have proved willing and able to set aside the enmities of the past in order to reach for a brighter future. It will be vital for Obama’s successor to maintain this approach in order to ensure the accord is on solid ground and to build on its success. For Rouhani to maintain the Iranian Presidency, it will be vital to show that sanctions relief complications can be overcome and to show greater willingness to fulfill electoral promises by pursuing moderation internally.
“While there will be strong incentives for all parties to stay within the agreement, regardless of changes in U.S. and Iranian leadership, the next five and a half months offer a critical opportunity for the Obama and Rouhani presidencies to strengthen the foundation of the accord. There are a whole host of opportunities that can strengthen U.S.-Iran diplomatic channels and insulate the deal from political opposition – including via efforts to fix sanctions relief complications; pursue sustainable diplomatic solutions in Syria and Yemen; enabling enhanced U.S.-Iran academic exchanges; establishing a permanent diplomatic channel; and by securing the freedom of imprisoned dual nationals like Siamak and Baquer Namazi. 
“It took more than three and a half decades for diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to become routine, and all of the diplomatic dividends of renewed ties will not come overnight or even in one year. However, it is vital that the U.S. and Iran not succumb to the forces that want to limit collaboration to the nuclear sphere, which would only succeed in making the JCPOA easier to unravel. Now is the time to lean forward and make sure that the historic steps taken since 2013 are irreversible.”



It’s pointless to be the last country sanctioning Iran

America will have more influence, not less, if we lift the embargo.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon lifted the United States’ trade embargo of China — a decisive turn in U.S.-China relations that was part of a broader rapprochement. In doing so, the Nixon administration bet that American interests were best served with a globally integrated China, rather than one that remained isolated and insulated from American influence.

That bet paid off. And it’s one that President Obama should make now when it comes to lifting the U.S. embargo on Iran.

The ultimate objective of the embargo — blanket trade sanctions implemented through a series of executive orders — has been to change Iran’s foreign policy. But several decades of these unilateral American restrictions haven’t achieved that goal. Rather than softening Iran’s policies, a nuclear standoff escalated until the Obama administration eventually shifted toward diplomacy, backed by multilateral sanctions.

The result was last year’s nuclear agreement, the lifting of multilateral sanctions and Iran beginning to rejoin the global economy. The U.S. embargo, though, remains in place, limiting our ability to further shift Iranian policy. We would be better served by lifting the embargo, increasing commerce between Iranian and American firms, and drawing Iran into the American-led global economy, making Tehran more responsive to the United States economically.

To do this, Obama should begin to lift sanctions related to finance, energy and technology while maintainingtargeted sanctions related to Iranian human rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism. Critics will undoubtedly call this an unacceptable concession, particularly after trade-offs already made with Iran in the nuclear deal. But while Iran would certainly benefit economically from increased trade, lifting the embargo ultimately serves America’s long-term interests.

Americans won’t succeed at influencing the decisions of Iran’s leadership, or the opinions of the Iranian people, without increasing ties with Iran. The Obama administration has already taken steps to permit the export of personal communications technologies, which has begun to facilitate the integration of Iranians into the global tech community — imagine the impact on U.S.-Iran relations if leaders in Tehran were forced to factor in the impact of financial and energy sector ties in their policy deliberations.

And consider the purely commercial incentive for lifting the embargo. According to our 2014 study, unilateral sanctions have cost the U.S. economy as much as $175.3 billion in lost export opportunities over 18 years. Those costs are set to accelerate, particularly as Iran opens itself up to foreign business and reforms its markets. Over the long term, barring U.S. commerce with Iran would lead to an unnecessary loss in American prestige, power and profit.

This is, in part, because with or without U.S.-Iran trade, Iran is unlikely to remain economically isolated. Since the nuclear deal’s implementation, delegations from Europe and Asia have headed to Tehran seeking renewed business. Germany sent its first trade delegation to Iran soon after the signing of the nuclear accord. In May, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye led a 230-member delegation to Iran, where the two countries committed to tripling annual trade to $18 billion.

The pace of trade is still slower than it can and should be, in some measure because the “wariness of western banks to work with Iranian institutions” — a symptom of the embargo — has kept the brakes on Iran’s reintegration. Which in turn means that Iranians have, so far, not fully realized the benefits of its nuclear bargain with Western powers, and that the West hasn’t maximized its leverage with Iran. As Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explains, the nuclear deal “will be sustainable if everybody feels they are making gains.” It will work better, in other words, if the Iranian regime stays invested in it.

The good news is that the current administration has signaled a subtle shift in U.S. policy, publicly statingthat it will no longer stand in the way of legitimate business activities involving Iran and businesses around the world — a significant break with the recent past.

But if Obama is, indeed, breaking with the past and no longer committed to fencing Iran off from the world, he should consider completely lifting the embargo to boost America’s ability to meaningfully influence the Iranian regime. And, unlike America’s Cuba embargo, he has the power to lift the Iran embargo without Congress’s approval.

As the president has said, Iran has the opportunity and capability to become “a very successful regional power.” It should follow, then, that Iran is too important a country to cede to the influence of geopolitical rivals like Russia and China. But that’s exactly what we’re doing by fencing ourselves off from Tehran. Permitting competitors’ unrivaled influence over one of the region’s major powers, the United States risks losing its ability to shape favorable outcomes in the Middle East, whether in the Syria conflict, the sectarian stalemate in Iraq or the transit of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf.

As President George W. Bush recognized, in 2004, when it comes to Iran, in the absence of commercial ties, Americans have been “relying upon others, because we’ve sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran.”

It doesn’t need to be this way. Just as commercial ties between the United States and China predated restoration of diplomatic relations, so, too, can lifting of the Iran embargo be a precursor to an eventual change in the tenor of a long-fraught relationship. If Obama lifts the embargo and draws Iran toward the U.S.-led economy, the dividend will be influence for years to come.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Post.

The Iran Deal Worked

– Here’s How to Make It Even More Effective

A year has passed since diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) defied conventional wisdom and struck a deal aimed at both preventing Iran from getting the bomb and preventing it from getting bombed. At the time, the deal’s detractors were apoplectic; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. These days, voices such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, criticize the deal for having changed too little.
But a closer examination shows that it has had a profound impact on the region’s geopolitical dynamics. Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat. Senior U.S. officials put the risk of an Israeli attack on Iran at 50–50, a confrontation that the United States would quickly get dragged into. A war that was even more destabilizing than the Iraq invasion was not just a possibility; it seemed likely.
Today, however, the talk of war is gone. Even the hawkish government of Netanyahu has gone silent on the matter. Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a hawk in his own right, announced a few weeks ago that “at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel. Thus it is fitting that the leadership of the country stop scaring the citizenry and stop giving them the feeling that we are standing before a second Holocaust.”
Moreover, members of the U.S. Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to a discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat. “I can’t count how many times I, and many members of Congress, were urgently and passionately informed that negotiation with the Iranian menace was wishful thinking and the height of folly,” Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) wrote after a recent visit to Israel. “And now? Nothing.”
The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress toward a bomb. And that certainly qualifies as significant change. To continue to argue that Israel and the region are not safer as a result of the deal would be to contend that Iran’s nuclear program was never a threat to begin with. That is a not a position that the Likud government in Israel can argue with a straight face.
Other criticisms of the deal centered on predictions that Iran would not honor the agreement. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the deal. Also not borne out have been prophecies that Iran’s regional policies would radicalize, that the deal would, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips wrote, “project [American] weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners.” To be sure, Washington continues to view many of Iran’s regional activities as unhelpful and destabilizing, but those activities have not increased as a result of the nuclear deal. Hezbollah and Tehran’s posture toward Israel has, for instance, not become more aggressive than it already was. Any changes that have occurred have been rooted in regional developments—the Syrian civil war or the Saudi assault on Yemen—rather than the nuclear deal. Important developments in Syria, such as Russia’s broader entry into the war or Iran’s maneuvers on the ground, are divorced from the nuclear deal and directly tied to developments on the ground in Syria.
If anything, as the European Union’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, told me last December, the deal paved the way for renewed dialogue on Syria, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the carnage there. “What we have now in Syria—talks bringing together all the different actors (and we have it now and not last year)—is because we had the [nuclear] deal,” she told me. And last month, U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry stated that Iran has been “helpful” in Iraq, where both the United States and Iran are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).
It is undisputable that outside of the nuclear deal, the relationship between the United States and Iran has shifted significantly since the breakthrough. That became abundantly clear in January, when ten American sailors drifted into Iranian waters and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—and were then promptly released. An incident that in the pre-deal era likely would have taken months, if not years, to resolve was now settled in 16 hours. Direct diplomacy between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif combined with a mutual desire to resolve the matter quickly made all the difference. The two countries had embarked on a path that could transform their relationship, and both were too committed to that path to allow the incident to fester. “I was afraid that this [the sailors’ arrest] would jeopardize everything, not just the implementation [of the JCPOA],” Zarif admitted to me.
But for relations to improve beyond the nuclear deal, moderate elements on both sides need to be strengthened by the deal. That is one area where the skepticism of the critics may have been justified. Rather than seeing the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gain momentum after the deal, the pushback from Iranian hardliners has been fierce. Those officials couldn’t prevent Iran from signing the agreement, but they could create enough problems to halt any effort to translate the nuclear deal into a broader opening to the United States. A swift crackdown against individuals and entities seeking to build bridges between Iran and the West had its intended effect: Confidence that the nuclear deal would usher in a new era for U.S.-Iranian relations quickly plummeted.
Moreover, challenges to sanctions relief has given hardline opponents of the deal in Iran a boost. Their critique of the agreement—that the United States is not trustworthy—seems to ring true since no major banks have been willing to enter the Iranian market. The banks’ hesitation, in turn, is mainly rooted in the fear that after the U.S. presidential elections, Washington’s political commitment to the deal will wane.
Neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have signaled any desire to continue down the Obama administration’s path with Iran in general. Clinton has vowed to uphold the deal, but neither she nor Trump have made it crystal clear that they will protect the agreement from new congressional sanctions or other measures that would cause the deal’s collapse.
Clinton’s team has signaled that its priority will be to rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia and restore those allies’ confidence that the United States will counter Iran in the region. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around a Trump presidency needs no explaining. As a result, many banks deem the risk of entering the Iranian market too high due to the political challenges on the U.S. side. That has left Iranians without much in the way of sanctions relief, which is in turn costing Rouhani politically.
In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals—halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding a costly and risky war with Tehran—its true value in rebalancing U.S. relationships in the Persian Gulf and creating a broader opening with Iran may be squandered once Obama leaves office. If Obama’s successor returns to the United States’ old ways in the Middle East while hardliners in Tehran stymie outreach to the West, these unique and historic opportunities will be wasted.
This piece originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.

Iran Takes Positive Steps to Resolve Banking Issues, Clears Hurdles for Sanctions Relief

Tyler Cullis, Legal Fellow at the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement following FATF’s decision to suspend its call for Member-States and other jurisdictions to impose countermeasures against Iran:

NIAC welcomes the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) recognition of positive steps taken by Iran to resolve concerns regarding its banking sector.  FATF has suspended its call for Member-States and other jurisdictions to impose counter-measures against Iran and its financial institutions, which should send a clear signal to international banks and businesses that economic opportunities with Iran can move forward. This is a critical step towards ensuring Iran receives the benefits of the lifting of sanctions promised under the nuclear accord and for FATF and its Member-States to begin to regain confidence in the integrity of Iran’s financial institutions. The success of the nuclear accord — both in constraining Iran’s nuclear program and benefiting Iran’s economy — is a positive for the American and Iranian people and the international community.

NIAC encourages Iran to continue to take steps to reform its banking laws according to global standards and for the U.S. to provide what assistance is required in that endeavor. Since the advent of the JCPOA, Iran has worked constructively with FATF to bring itself into compliance with global banking norms. Steps taken have included passage of a law to counter the financing of terrorism; amendment to its anti-money laundering (AML) laws; and its inclusion in the Eurasian Group, a FATF associate member. These steps underline the fact that Iran’s integration into the global financial system can better realize U.S. interests than Iran’s continued exclusion from it. Today’s FATF decision shows that, by working with Iran to forge a nuclear accord, the Obama administration has opened doors to further constructive U.S. and international diplomatic engagement with Iran.      

In suspending its call for counter-measures against Iran but keeping Iran’s designation as a “high-risk” jurisdiction intact, FATF has moved to ensure that Iran receives practical benefit for the actions it has thus far taken, all the while continuing to incentive Iran to take further meaningful steps to meet international banking standards. The Obama administration should now consider what steps it itself can take to recognize Iran’s progress, including the possible re-institution of the U-turn license authorization. National-level legislation should now begin to reflect Iran’s progress on reforming its financial sector.