NIAC Applauds Court Ruling in Favor of Grandparents

Contact: Shayan Modarres
Phone: (202) 780-9590

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

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

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

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.

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

Click to view PDF

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.”