Sanders Calls for Sanctions Relief to Assist Iran Earthquake Recovery

Thank you, Bernie!

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

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

You can read the letter below:

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November 16, 2017

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

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

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

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

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

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

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

BERNARD SANDERS
United States Senator

ELIZABETH WARREN
United States Senator

AL FRANKEN
United States Senator

THOMAS CARPER
United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN
United States Senator

FAQ on Iranian Earthquake Relief

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

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will update this list as additional information becomes available.

NIAC Deplores Trump’s Push to Violate Iran Nuclear Deal

 

 

 

Washington, DC – Dr. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s speech withholding certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

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

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

 

Congressional Republicans Force Votes on Iran Deal, Pass on Muslim Ban

With a full legislative calendar in September, including funding for the government for the 2018 fiscal year, hurricane relief efforts and legislation to protect DREAMers, Congressional Republicans continue to find ways to force political votes on the Iran nuclear deal. This time, legislators once again passed amendments through the House that would kill the Boeing and Airbus deals with Iran, thus threatening U.S. compliance with the nuclear accord and the sorely needed sale of new aircraft to the country. Worse still, Republicans on the House Rules Committee ruled these partisan amendments in order while barring votes on whether to strike down the Muslim ban that had been offered by Democratic legislators.

While the anti-aircraft amendments passed during debate over the House appropriations package, the provisions face an uncertain future. Similar provisions were passed by the House last year, but were not picked up by the Senate – which will have its own appropriations package and has been known to bypass partisan provisions included in House-passed legislation.

Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), in addition to Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), put forward two separate amendments to the appropriations package (H.R. 3354) to block the sale of aircraft permitted by the JCPOA. The first amendment would prevent the Department of the Treasury from licensing the sale of aircraft to Iran, violating the JCPOA requirement that the U.S. must permit such sales.

When defending this amendment on the House floor, Rep. Roskam insisted “This does no violence to those who are supporters of the JCPOA. They like it, this has no impact on it whatsoever, and furthermore it doesn’t put American companies at any other disadvantage that other companies have.” Of course, Iranians whose lives have been jeopardized as a result of sanctions prohibiting their country from replacing their aging aircraft would disagree with Rep. Roskam’s notion that blocking the sale of new aircraft to Iran “does no violence” to JCPOA supporters. In recent decades more than 2,000 Iranians have died in air crashes, which most Iranians blame on U.S. sanctions.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) spoke in opposition to the amendment, arguing that despite ongoing disagreements with Iran “we should be strengthening ties with them through diplomacy and job creation,” urging his colleagues to vote against this amendment and protect the aircraft sales.

The second amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Treasury from using its funds to authorize U.S. financial institutions to engage in licensed aircraft sales to Iran. This would prevent companies such as Boeing from financing the sale of aircrafts to Iran, which would again violate U.S. commitments to the JCPOA. Rep. Mike Quigley from Illinois stood in opposition to this bill, stating that should the amendment pass, it would “put the U.S. in breach of JCPOA.”

Should either provision pass the Senate and be signed into law by Trump, the U.S. would risk killing the JCPOA and threatening Iran’s continued adherence to its nuclear commitments.

Prior to debate on the House floor, the Rules Committee did have the chance to allow debate on two amendments that would bar funding from being used to implement the Muslim Ban. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX), Judy Chu (CA) and Keith Ellison (MN) offered one of the amendments to bar funding from implementing the ban. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), along with Reps. Sander Levin (D-MI), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) offered the second amendment to block the ban. However, these amendments were not ruled in order to enable a debate.

Only one vote on the ban has gotten past Republican obstruction, when Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) offered an amendment in the Appropriations Committee in July that would have blocked the administration from barring grandparents and other close familial relations. Only one Republican voted against that effort, although the courts have since affirmed that the administration is prevented from barring those close familial relations with a bona fide relationship in the United States.

The Republican Congress has had plenty of chances to distinguish itself from Trump and his efforts to unravel the Iran nuclear accord and ban Iranians and other nationals from Muslim-majority countries. With votes to bar aircraft sales and destabilize the nuclear accord, in addition to once again blocking votes on Trump’s discriminatory ban, Congressional Republicans are proving they are in lock step with the worst elements of the White House agenda.

Trump Still on Course to Kill Iran Nuclear Deal Despite Sanctions Waivers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: rcostello@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding reports that the President will renew sanctions waivers pursuant to U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):

“Trump’s renewal of sanctions waivers as mandated by the Iran nuclear deal fulfills only the most basic obligation of the U.S. under the accord. Unfortunately, Trump has already explicitly violated the terms of the JCPOA by warning foreign leaders not to invest in Iran at the most recent G20 Summit, and he has done nothing to allay concerns that he and his team are laying the groundwork to kill the JCPOA. Trump’s administration continues to sow doubt that it will certify the deal to Congress on October 15, despite Iran’s continued compliance, which would enable Congress to snap back sanctions under expedited procedure that would materially violate U.S. commitments under the accord.

“Despite Trump’s inclination to withhold certification, his national security team has pushed him to renew waivers and certify at each deadline since January. This is because the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal from the deal would be disastrous, isolating the United States while risking a second nuclear crisis and a disastrous war.

“Now there are indications that, instead of withholding certification or outright violating the deal, the Trump administration may attempt to ratchet up tensions with Iran and demand that the parties to the nuclear deal “strengthen” the accord. In reality this plan is a disingenuous attempt to provoke Iran, rather than the U.S., to abandon the agreement. Already, America’s partners abroad in Europe have indicated that they see through this transparent ploy, but there is a danger that it could gain traction domestically.

“As sixteen national grassroots organizations urged Congress in a letter yesterday, legislators must resist Trump’s efforts to unravel the nuclear accord and set us on the path to war. Further, the European Union must insist that the Trump administration abide by the terms of the JCPOA and remain committed to its goals.

“Were this situation reversed, and Iran was openly advertising its intent to break out of the nuclear accord, there is no doubt that the U.S. and its international partners would be presenting a unified diplomatic front and urgently preparing a host of options in response. The other parties to the agreement must act with the same sense of urgency to the U.S. advertising its nefarious intentions.

“Trump and his team must drop their efforts to jeopardize one of the few sources of stability in the Middle East. Not only must Trump and his advisors halt their disingenuous rhetorical attacks on the accord, they must also clarify their intent to fully uphold U.S. obligations and continue sanctions relief so long as Iran remains committed to the accord. Anything less will devastate American credibility and global stability.”

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Petition: Take Action to Re-Certify and Save the Iran Deal!

NIAC Statement on IAEA Report Confirming Iran’s Compliance with the JCPOA

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 206-369-2069
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

  
  
Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after reports indicated that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) issued a quarterly report once again affirming Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal:

“The IAEA has once again affirmed what everyone outside of the White House appears to know: that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. There is a reason why Trump can’t point to any specific evidence to justify his assertions that Iran is noncompliant with the nuclear accord. The IAEA, U.S. intelligence community and our allies in the P5+1 have all affirmed Iran’s compliance. Yet, Trump has violated the JCPOA and continues to hold the fate of the accord in doubt by threatening to withhold a Congressionally-mandated certification of Iran’s compliance in mid-October, which would trigger expedited consideration of snapback sanctions.

“While Iran continues to abide by its nuclear commitments, the evidence is mounting that the U.S. is trying to unilaterally withdrawal from the JCPOA. There appears to be little other way to explain Amb. Nikki Haley’s efforts to stir up controversy in the media over IAEA inspections of non-nuclear military sites in Iran, while at the same time reportedly abstaining from presenting any evidence to justify such inspections at her meeting with the IAEA in Vienna. As IAEA officials affirmed, the agency isn’t going to conduct such activities just to send a political signal, so the administration should halt its efforts to politicize their work.

“The JCPOA is working. Barring any unforeseen events, Iran will be adhering to it on October 15. The Trump administration must halt its transparently political efforts to subvert an accord that is blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and forestalling a disastrous war.”

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full letter can be found here.

Trump’s Plan To Kill The Iran Deal? Outsourcing

With Donald Trump threatening to invade Venezuela and start a nuclear war with North Korea, his stated intention to refuse certifying Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)  –  the nuclear deal between America, Iran, Europe, Russia, and China  –  has fallen from the headlines. However, the gravity of how he appears to be moving toward that end could spark a policy crisis. To hear his allies outside of government tell it, Trump’s plan to kill the Iran deal is the same one he uses to produce Trump suits and neckties: Outsourcing. Two key points highlight this scheme.

First, Trump’s failure to certify Iran’s compliance would give the Republican-led Congress ultimate decision-making powers over whether to stick to the nuclear deal. The reason for this is evident in the underlying statute  – the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA).  Under INARA, the President is required to provide a “compliance certification” to Congress every 90 days, which verifies Iranian adherence with its JCPOA commitments. 

Trump has reluctantly agreed to certify Iran’s compliance twice now, but has promised to refrain from doing so in future. His failure to re-certify, however, would trigger a legislative process under which Republican leaders in Congress can re-impose any or all U.S. statutory sanctions lifted pursuant to the JCPOA. Moreover, such a move would almost certainly be insulated from any opposition, as the legislation would be entitled to expedited consideration – and thus likely preempt any organized pushback from legislators, the policymaking community, and the general public. 

Effectively, this means that even if Trump wanted to de-certify Iran’s compliance but nonetheless refrain from re-imposing the sanctions lifted under the agreement – the so-called “middle ground” approach – he would not have control over that decision. In other words, Trump would be totally reliant on Congressional restraint to implement his “middle ground” approach – not the best of bets when it comes to a Congress that has a long-standing track record of passing Iran sanctions legislation with vote totals ranging from 100-0 to 98-2. 

No responsible White House would outsource its power over a decision as momentous as whether to kill a nuclear deal supported by the most powerful nations in the world – unless it viewed the so-called “middle ground” approach as a Trojan Horse for withdrawing from the JCPOA entirely and re-imposing on Iran all of the sanctions lifted under the agreement. This highlights the second key point: Public revelations regarding internal White House deliberations provide further evidence of Trump’s intent to sow doubt regarding America’s future compliance with its JCPOA obligations – and thus undermine the benefit to Iran of sanctions lifting. 

Deal opponents have long undertaken efforts to limit Iran’s economic benefit from the JCPOA, viewing such endeavors as a precondition to any eventual U.S. withdrawal from it. Those efforts appear to have now gone from the fringe to center-stage, as Trump himself was reported to have urged G-20 nations to end commercial ties with Tehran. This is part and parcel of his team’s “middle ground” approach to the nuclear deal – intended to foment uncertainty regarding America’s commitment to the JCPOA, thereby increasing hesitation amongst Iran’s presumed trading partners and pushing Iran to respond in kind.

Less discussed, however, is how these efforts run counter to America’s express obligations under the JCPOA. For instance, Paragraph 26 of the JCPOA commits the U.S. to “make best efforts in good faith…to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting.” Paragraph 27 commits America “to support the successful implementation of this JCPOA including in their public statements.” And Paragraph 29 commits Washington to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent with their commitments not to undermine the successful implementation of th[e] JCPOA.”

It stretches the limits of plausibility to read these sections of the deal and argue anything other than Trump is placing the U.S. in violation of the JCPOA in order to poke and prod Iran to take responsive action. Those who believe Washington should remain faithful to its international commitments should not only be warning off the Trump administration from withdrawing from the JCPOA, but also be urging the White House to act consistent with U.S. obligations under that agreement. Failure to do so could lead to a dramatic escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran, particularly if Tehran feels that it must respond with counter-measures to Washington’s failure to live up to the deal.

It’s no coincidence that those advocating the so-called “middle ground” approach is the same cast of characters that has been pushing for war with Iran. They know they cannot trick or strong-arm the rest of the world into erroneously deeming Iran non-compliant with its JCPOA commitments. Instead, by outsourcing the decision, they seek to kill the deal and obfuscate the blame. Washington is filled with smart people who have no excuse to fall for this ruse. Those same people now have an opportunity to prevent the same kind of willful ignorance that led to the Iraq war. 

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

NIAC: ‘Trump’s Violations of the Iran Deal Begets Unfortunate But Predictable Iranian Response’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: tparsi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, issued the following statement regarding comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggesting Iran could back out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the U.S. continues to escalate sanctions:

“It should now be clear that Donald Trump’s moves to violate and hold certification of the Iran nuclear deal in doubt are actively destabilizing the accord. Unfortunately, in response to Trump’s increasingly hostile rhetoric, as well as Congress’ moves to escalate sanctions, Iran is now warning that it has its own options to back out of the deal if the U.S. continues to undermine it. We reiterate our call for all parties to the JCPOA to fully implement their obligations under the agreement.

“We have repeatedly warned that President Trump’s beating of the war drum with Iran, even if confined to rhetoric, in addition to new Congressional sanctions and zero diplomatic outreach, could only produce negative consequences. Iran’s parliament has now voted to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and the IRGC in direct response to new sanctions on the country.

“Unfortunately, elements in both the U.S. and Iran have pushed needlessly provocative steps designed to provoke a crisis and undermine the nuclear deal. In this instance, we have the President of the United States issuing counterfactual statements suggesting Iran is not complying with the nuclear accord and indicating the U.S. will blow up the deal. Meanwhile, JCPOA opponents in the U.S. rammed through new sanctions legislation despite warnings of how they would backfire. These sanctions have predictably empowered rather than marginalized the IRGC and hardliners in the country.

“Rouhani’s statement and the Iranian parliament’s vote do not come as a surprise. Iranian moderates put their political lives on the line by negotiating the nuclear accord, and Iranian hardliners now have a partner in the White House who is helping them sabotage moderate proponents of engagement. We warned that new Congressional sanctions would lead to Iran doubling down on its missile program and the Revolutionary Guard, empowering hardline elements while destabilizing the JCPOA. That’s exactly what has happened.

“This is precisely the response that hardliners in the U.S. hoped to receive from Iran in reaction to these recent provocations. Now the White House, hawkish lawmakers, and neoconservative ‘regime-change’ groups will seek to exploit this self-made crisis to push for retaliatory actions to unravel the accord and put the U.S. and Iran back on the path to war.

“While this escalatory cycle is only a war of words right now, it can easily devolve into a tit for tat cycle of escalation that spins out of control to the profound detriment of U.S. interests. It is incumbent on the U.S. and Iran to step out of this vicious escalatory cycle and recommit to the nuclear accord. The U.S. government and the Iranian government must recommit to fully implementing the JCPOA, and the broader public must hold them accountable so that this historic accord does not collapse and lead to increased proliferation and a disastrous war.”

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Trump Only Has Two Options on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Prior to the vote to authorize war against Iraq in 2002, Members of Congress who wanted George W. Bush to increase pressure on Iraq over allegations of a nonexistent WMD program were presented with a seemingly convincing third option. Rather than vote against authorizing Bush to go to war or explicitly backing his war push, they were told that voting for the authorization would give the White House the leverage to extract diplomatic concessions from Saddam Hussein. Yet, there was no serious diplomatic plan, and Bush pocketed the war authorization to achieve his ultimate goal of regime change. In voting for a war authorization to buttress a nonexistent diplomatic path, many Members of Congress were tricked into backing the war.

This is exactly what opponents of the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are trying to pull off by presenting a false “third option” for Trump apart from ripping up the deal or sustaining it. Ideological opponents of the JCPOA, such as Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), David Perdue (R-GA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) as well as the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Mark Dubowitz are urging Trump to withhold certification that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA and that U.S. compliance is in the national interest at the next 90-day Congressional review in mid-October. After withholding certification, they argue that Trump could continue to waive nuclear-related sanctions in line with U.S. commitments under the deal.

Yet, there is no plan for Trump to sustain the JCPOA by withholding certification. The end result – whether through Congressional, Executive or Iranian actions will almost certainly be the death of the deal. Whether he intends to or not, by withholding certification Trump would be opening Pandora’s box on Iran’s nuclear program and risking war.

There are several reasons that the JCPOA opponents’ “third option” on Iran would be unsustainable. First, under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that mandates the 90-day review, the Republican-controlled Congress would then be permitted to pass legislation re-imposing sanctions waived under the accord under expedited procedure. When put in motion, it would be extremely difficult for JCPOA supporters to block the bill from passing. Given that not a single Republican in Congress voted to sustain the nuclear accord, and the vast majority of Senate Republicans signed a letter from Sen. Cotton to Iran’s Supreme Leader warning that the next President could undo any nuclear deal with the stroke of a pen, it is hard to see either Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan acting with restraint when given a chance to kill a deal that they vigorously opposed. The fact that they have a President seemingly on their side will only embolden them.

Even if Congressional re-imposition of sanctions falters there is another reason withholding certification is likely to kill the deal. By withholding certification, Trump would have to either allege that Iran is in noncompliance or indicate that continuing sanctions relief in line with U.S. commitments is no longer in the national interest. Such a position would create tremendous pressure on Trump and his administration to make good on their words and kill the JCPOA.

Would Trump, seemingly driven by little other than pride and his determination to unravel his predecessor’s accomplishments, withstand the pressure from Steve Bannon, Mike Pompeo and other ideological opponents of the JCPOA in the administration? Would Trump ignore John Bolton and other “experts” who make the case for killing the deal he hates on Fox and Friends and other cable news programs? After making the case that the deal is not working, there is little reason to expect Trump to ignore those who have the President’s ear and are seeking a full termination of the JCPOA.

Furthermore, one cannot discount the possibility of Iran undertaking aggressive steps that tempt Trump to be the one to rip up the deal. Thus far, despite the U.S. arguably taking steps that violate the JCPOA – including Trump discouraging G-20 leaders from doing business with Iran – Iran has kept its powder dry, likely in anticipation of a more severe future crisis. If the agreement is put on its death-bed by Trump withholding certification – a step that would severely undercut foreign businesses interested in permissible business under the JCPOA – this restraint would likely end. Iran could take its complaints through the JCPOA Joint Commission in an effort to break the other parties of the agreement away from the U.S., or escalate via its military and proxies in ways that raise the pressure on Trump to be the one that kills the accord.

After the JCPOA is killed, Iran would be free to ramp up its nuclear activities, the U.S. would be isolated and without leverage, and Trump and his hawkish advisors would soon be faced with another pivotal decision – allow Iran to advance toward the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons, or undertake costly military action in the hopes of delaying but not ultimately preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear deterrent.

To avoid such a disaster, Trump could simply move to certify Iran’s compliance and that sustaining the deal is in the U.S. interest in mid-October. But if Trump falls for the false option of withholding certification in the hopes of pressuring Iran, he will be courting the same disasters as if he ripped up the accord himself.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Bernie’s Vote on Sanctions Was About Protecting the Iran Deal from Trump

This week, when the Senate voted 98-2 to pass new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, the only Senators to vote against the measure were Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY). While the Russia sanctions were the focus of nearly every big media outlet’s headlines, it is the Iran sanctions that are likely to be the most consequential due to their impact on the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Trump Administration has been sending strong signals that they intend to unravel the JCPOA and even pursue Iraq-style regime change against Iran. Yet this did not stop Democrats from joining with Republicans to give Trump new tools to unravel the Iran deal. Some Democrats, including former Clinton campaign staffers, even deceptively attacked Senator Sanders and accused him of refusing to punish Russia over election meddling because of his no vote.

Adam Parkhomenko, former Clinton aide and founder of the Ready for Hillary PAC, tweeted: “Feel the Bern? Bernie Sanders voted against Russian sanctions today. 98 Senators voted for Russian sanctions today. Sanders voted the same way anyone with the last name Trump would vote if they were in the Senate. No excuses – stop making them for him.”

Peter Daou, another Clinton adviser, also took to Twitter, writing, “So Bernie Sanders was 1 of 2 (out of 100) senators to vote against Russia sanctions. And 1 of 4 to vote against the Magnitsky Act.” Daou’s reference to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, another bill leveling sanctions against Russia, suggests he believes Sanders’ vote indicates he is tied to Putin.

These narratives that Senator Sanders is working to benefit Russia, perhaps because of resentment for his loss to Clinton, are nothing short of absurd. In fact, Sanders was the only progressive lawmaker to approach this bill responsibly.

In response to the criticism, Sanders tweeted: “I am strongly supportive of sanctions on Russia and North Korea. However, I worry very much about President Trump’s approach to Iran. Following Trump’s comments that he won’t recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry new sanctions could endanger it.”

H.R. 3364 lumps Russia and Iran sanctions together, giving both parties incentive to ensure its passage. With Democrats eager to punish Russia for its election interference in order to put Trump in a bind, and Republicans unhappy with Obama’s Iran deal wanting to crack down on Iran, politicians on both sides had incentive to overlook potential problems with the bill.  

However, lawmakers must be cautious of supporting politically expedient legislation at the cost of destroying one of today’s most important international agreements. Although there is ambiguity regarding whether or not the Iran sanctions violate the JCPOA, it is evident that they undermine the spirit of the deal and remove the incentive for Iran to comply. Without actual sanction relief, Iran has no reason to abide by the agreement and continue to pull back its nuclear program. It is very concerning that the same Democrats who previously fought for and voted in support of the JCPOA are willing to accept the risks of this legislation with little thought as to how Trump could exploit it to fulfill his campaign promise of tearing up the nuclear deal. This is especially pressing in today’s political climate, in which President Trump has said he will likely not recertify Iran’s compliance with the deal in October, despite all the evidence.

It is imperative that lawmakers join Sanders in protecting the nuclear deal. Without the JCPOA, the escalating tensions could undo all the diplomatic progress made in the Obama era and result in another needless war in the Middle East.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.