NIAC Statement on Reports that Iran Will Halt Compliance with Aspects of Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 6, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to reports that Iran will halt its compliance with aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“We call on all parties to fully uphold their commitments under the nuclear accord and condemn any and all violations of this agreement that is so important to preventing war and the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran’s potential move risks playing into a dangerous tit for tat that leads to military confrontation. Despite the deterioration of the accord, the window for diplomacy can be reopened if all parties forgo escalation, uphold their commitments under the JCPOA, and seek equitable compromise.  

“These forthcoming steps do not occur in a vacuum. Donald Trump, spurred on by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, has been trying for months to shatter the nuclear deal. Now, he will own the consequences of Iran resuming aspects of its nuclear program that should be barred by the successful agreement that he inherited.

“Members of the Trump administration appear to be repeating the George W. Bush administration’s playbook for war with Iraqtying Iran to al-Qaeda, baselessly stating that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and politicizing intelligence assessments on Iran. Bolton has gone into overdrive in recent weeks to spur Iranian retaliation to justify his reckless aggressionincluding using the routine deployment of an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf to threaten “unrelenting force” against Iran.

“It is imperative that sober policymakers and commentators keep Iran’s actions in perspective, examine hyperbolic rhetoric with a critical eye, and remain cognizant of the consequences of further escalation.

“Meanwhile, the Iranian people are the primary victims of the Trump administration’s diplomatic sabotage. The reimposition of sanctions and unprecedented steps on oil exports are directly harming the Iranian people, who are now squeezed in a vice of oppressive sanctions and state repression under a growing threat of war.

“The choice to the U.S. is clear: return Iran to compliance with the nuclear deal by resuming sanctions-lifting obligations, or follow Trump and Bolton’s disastrous path to war. We hope all policymakers and 2020 candidates make clear that returning to the JCPOA is the only responsible choice.”

State Department Responds to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Washington, D.C. – Last December, NIAC worked with Rep. Jared Huffman and a group of 13 lawmakers who sent a letter to the the State Department regarding the dire humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian people. On February 15, the State Department sent its response to the lawmakers. Rep. Huffman’s letter requested responses on the following questions:

  1. Is it a deliberate strategy of the Trump administration to starve the Iranian people or deprive them of basic medicines? If not, what substantive steps has the administration taken to ensure the Iranian people have continued access to life-saving medicines?
  2. Which foreign nations have expressed concern about the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran, and what have they asked the administration to do to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to Iran?
  3. According to a report in The Guardian, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have pushed both the State and Treasury Departments to produce a “white list” that would “give clear guidelines about what channels European banks and companies should follow to conduct legitimate transactions with Iran without fear of future penalties.” Has the State or Treasury Departments acted upon this proposal to establish a white channel to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods? If not, why not?
  4. What additional measures have been contemplated to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranian people? If these were rejected, why were they rejected?
  5. Are broader license authorizations or exemptions necessary to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods to Iran? If not, what is the evidence for this assessment?

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to directly address these questions or acknowledge accountability for the humanitarian impacts of sanctions on ordinary Iranians. The response sidestepped any responsibility to uphold U.S. legal obligations to ensure essential goods, like food and medicine, are not blocked by sanctions. Yet, this is not the position of key U.S. allies in Europe, as the Huffman letter articulated.

As French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud stated in November 2018: “The fact is the banks are so terrified of sanctions that they don’t want to do anything with Iran. It means that in a few months, there is a strong risk that there will be shortage of medicine in Iran if we don’t do something positive.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Effects of Unilateral Coercive Measures has also warned that the administration’s reimposed sanctions “are destroying the economy and currency of Iran, driving millions of people into poverty, and making imported goods unaffordable.” Such concerns have led the European Union and Switzerland to create separate independent financial channels to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.

The administration’s failure to take these issues to heart is deeply concerning, as it appears to rule out steps that could alleviate the impact of sanctions on the same Iranian citizenry that the administration professes to support.

NIAC greatly appreciates Rep. Huffman and the lawmakers with whom he worked to spotlight this critical issue and for his efforts to hold the administration accountable to its humanitarian obligations. We will continue to work with its allies to shine a light on the impact of broad sanctions on the Iranian people and push the administration on its failure to properly facilitate humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions.

The full text of the State Department’s response is below and Rep. Huffman’s original letter can be read here.

State Department Response to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # # # #

Sanctions Snapback: Trump Reverses Iranian Sanctions Relief

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

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

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

Blowback from Snapback

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

Increase the Risks of an Iranian Nuclear Weapon

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

Raise the Risk of War

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

Isolate the United States

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

Raise Oil Prices

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

Increase U.S. reliance on Saudi Arabia

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

Undercut Moderate Forces in Iran

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

Trigger a Humanitarian Crisis in Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update (12:00 PM ET): 

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

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

###

Sanctions Bar Educational Platform from Servicing Iranians

A nonprofit online education platform, edX, cited a delay in obtaining a U.S. government license as the basis for a recent suspension of services that inadvertently affected Iranian Americans. After sending an open letter to the company, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has been working with edX to resolve complications arising from the suspension.

According to a response from edX, its specific license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for Iran expired prior to being granted a renewal. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran prohibit U.S. companies, such as edX, from exporting services to Iran, including educational services to Iranian nationals located in Iran, which impacted the availability of some edX courses. In order to comply with U.S. sanctions absent a specific license for work involving Iran, across a learner base of over 17 million users, edX identified individuals who could be resident in Iran based on self-identified country residence and IP address and barred them from coursework.

This appears to have included at least some individuals who are not currently resident in Iran (but whose last activity on edX indicated an Iran IP address), including at least one U.S. citizen based outside Iran. However, NIAC has found no evidence of discriminatory intent by edX, and NIAC staff has been assured by edX that it is willing to work to resolve any remaining complications for individuals who should be legally permitted to access edX’s online coursework. If you or a friend believe that they have been erroneously barred from edX coursework, please do not hesitate to contact either NIAC staff (info@niacouncil.org) or edX Support (info@edx.org).

NIAC notes that the availability of coursework to Iranian nationals, regardless of their country of residence, ultimately serves U.S. interests by building bridges to and empowering the Iranian people. Unfortunately, by failing to issue broad enough general licenses to permit edX and similar educational platforms to make its coursework available to Iranians, OFAC has once again ensured that sanctions harm the Iranian people but not the regime. We encourage OFAC to issue necessary licenses for platforms like edX and to carve out broad exemptions to enable Iranian nationals the ability to access educational and communications tools.

EdX Response to NIAC

Trump’s Sanctions Will Hurt the Wrong People in Iran

In August 2013, a group of 466 Iranian dissidents, including dozens of political prisoners, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama chastising him for his Iran policy. The unprecedented sanctions Obama had mustered against Iran, they argued, were not only debilitating the Iranian economy but suffocating Iranian civil society and prospects for peaceful democratic change within the country.

“The Iranian people see themselves as victims to tensions between the U.S. and Iranian governments,” the letter proclaimed. “[They] have reached the conclusion that the sanctioning countries don’t care about their human rights and, to compel the Islamic Republic to accept their demands, they target the Iranian people.”

This week, Donald Trump reinstated the first set of those sanctions, which were removed as part of the July 2015 nuclear accord. According to the Congressional Research Service, these sanctions were the “most sweeping sanctions on Iran of virtually any country in the world,” cutting Iran out of most international trade and banking, and slashing its oil exports—the lifeblood of the Iranian economy.

The Obama sanctions plunged the Iranian economy into recession and doubled the rate of Iranian families in poverty. In January 2013, the Guardian wrote that “hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by … sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.”

The human costs of the sanctions were not only overlooked by many in Washington, but outright defended in some quarters. Congressman Brad Sherman declared at the time: “Critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”

Trump may have a similar mindset in re-imposing the sanctions, despite complete Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal that triggered their removal. Despite his expressed desire for talks with Iran, the rhetoric and actions coming from the president and his administration do not reflect an endgame focused on diplomatic compromise.

Rather, they betray an objective to weaken and destabilize Iran. To this end, Trump has embraced the aggressively anti-Iran positions of Israeli, Saudi, and Emirati leaders, who for years have pushed U.S. presidents to bomb Iran. For them, a failed state in Iran is a sufficient objective.

Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has been marked by all-out economic warfare, including a stated aim of forcing Iran out of the oil market. Trump and his hawkish officials National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also actively tried to sow the flames of unrest in Iran. At a time when economic hardship and political grievances have brought thousands of Iranians to the streets, Pompeo and Bolton have flattered fringe and extremist Iranian opposition groups. According to U.S. officials speaking with Reuters, the Trump administration has “launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran.” The administration has also reportedly teamed up with Israel to form a “joint working group” focused on “internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran.”

The reality is that Trump’s pressure campaign weakens those within Iran who seek more conciliatory foreign relations and a more open political and social domestic landscape. It also empowers Tehran’s most reactionary forces.

The repressive powers in the Islamic Republic are far more threatened by Iran’s integration into the global economy than by a tit-for-tat dispute with the United States. They worry that the lifting of sanctions will undermine the monopolies established by the well connected few who are aligned with the Revolutionary Guards and other government entities. Indeed, after the nuclear deal, the Supreme Leader issued edicts against a broader opening to the United States and hardliners repeatedly warned of “foreign infiltration” in order to obstruct President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to the West.

The real threats to repressive rule in Iran are a growing middle class, an organized civil society movement, and leaders who have the political capital to push for change against entrenched elements in the system. These trends make a democratic Iran inevitable. But outsiders, often led by the United States, have taken actions to arrest these developments. They have propped up Iran’s repressive rulers with threats of war and invasion, and bailed them out by slapping sanctions and travel bans to isolate Iranians and keep them weak.

Trump’s punishing use of sanctions will wither away Iranian civil society by impoverishing Iran’s middle class. The sanctions will serve to increase control of the Iranian economy by unaccountable and repressive forces. If U.S. policymakers wish to increase room for political dissent and civil society in Iran, they should remove obstacles to improving the standard of living and wellbeing of the Iranian people. Surrounded by advisors who have for years argued for orchestrating a civil war in Iran, Donald Trump unfortunately appears headed in a perilous direction.

Piece originally published in Lobe Log.

Risks Rise As US Reimposes Sanctions on Iran

Several undesirable consequences are becoming more likely.

This week, a set of Iran sanctions previously lifted under the Iran nuclear deal will snap back into effect as part of President Trump’s complete violation of the accord. Thus far, Iran has avoided rash action, instead seeking to secure concessions from Europe, Russia, and China that could reduce the sanctions’ impact. The cautious response may have lulled the Trump administration into thinking its approach is working, but several potential consequences loom on the horizon.

Renewed proliferation: Before the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, Iran’s heavy-water reactor at Arak was close to going online; it could have produced weapons-grade plutonium for several nuclear weapons per year. Moreover, the deeply buried Fordow facility was already being used to enrich uranium. However, under the nuclear accord Iran destroyed the core of the Arak reactor and agreed to redesign it with international partners so that it would not produce significant amounts of weapons-grade plutonium. Similarly, international partners in collaboration with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, or AEOI, are working to turn Fordow into a research-and-development facility, ensuring that Iran experiments with zinc or other benign materials instead of uranium at the site.

Read More at Defense One

Experts Weigh in on Iran ‘Snapback’ Sanctions Going Into Effect Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tonight, sanctions that were lifted under the Iran nuclear deal will begin to go into effect. This includes extraterritorial sanctions on the purchase of U.S. dollar banknotes by Iran; Iran’s trade in gold or precious metals; Significant transactions in the Iranian rial; Iran’s civil aviation sector; and Iran’s automotive sector. The decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions has already had a big impact as major European companies that entered the Iranian market – like Peugeot and Total – have already begun pulling out in anticipation of the “snapback.”

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on the reimposition of Iran sanctions:

“Today, the United States again violated a successful nuclear nonproliferation agreement endorsed by the UN Security Council that it helped negotiate, doing grievous harm to American leadership abroad and our ability to resolve challenges diplomatically rather than militarily. This weakens the Transatlantic alliance and pushes Iran further into the hands of Russia and China, undermining the security of the United States and its allies.

“These sanctions will threaten Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, while also undercutting hopes for Iranian moderation, harming the Iranian middle class and empowering Iranian hardliners and extremists. This is not an erratic tweet, but a collective punishment of 80 million people who are being plunged into economic misery and denied basic necessities such as life-saving medicine and safe civilian aircraft.

“Making matters worse, the Trump administration does not have a viable diplomatic plan to secure additional concessions from Iran. Instead, the administration appears to be joining with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman in pushing to destabilize Iran and create another failed state in the region.

“Make no mistake, with Trump listening to warmongers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, this puts the United States on the path to yet another costly and dangerous Middle East conflict.”

On November 4, the remaining sanctions that were lifted under the accord will be reinstated into full effect, including those targeting Iran’s energy sector; Purchases of petroleum and related products; Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions; and Persons removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, including most Iranian financial institutions.

# # # #

Memo: Consequences of Sanctions Snapback on Iran

Not satisfied with withdrawing from the Iran nuclear accord, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), the Trump administration intends to start sanctioning foreign parties that seek to comply with the terms of the international agreement. As outlined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), the Trump administration will begin re-imposing those sanctions lifted pursuant to the JCPOA on August 7, 2018 and continuing up until November 4, 2018, at which time all formerly lifted sanctions will be re-imposed on Iran.

Because such U.S. sanctions primarily target foreign parties transacting or otherwise dealing with Iran, the Trump administration will be actively undermining efforts by the international community to act consistent with the JCPOA and ensure its survivability. This includes, most dramatically, undermining efforts by foreign countries and entities to take those measures identified in the JCPOA to reduce or eliminate the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran. This move is a dangerous gambit that pits the U.S. in opposition to the rest of the world—including the U.S.’s closest partners and allies—and risks re-invigorating nuclear proliferation efforts in Iran.

Considering the dramatic consequences for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the Trump administration should not be given free reign to plunge the United States into a confrontation with its closest allies and partners — such as those in Europe — and risk a new war in the Middle East. Congress should assert its own constitutional prerogatives and ensure that the Trump administration acts consistent with long-standing U.S. policy objectives, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation. This could include, for instance, legislative measures to restrain the Trump administration from abrogating the JCPOA or sanctioning foreign parties seeking to comply with the terms of the nuclear accord. At the very least, Congress should hold hearings to adjudicate the potential negative consequences of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and undo the global consensus in favor of the diplomatic agreement aimed at restraining Iran’s nuclear program.

Re-Imposition of U.S. Sanctions Lifted Under the JCPOA

Beginning August 7, 2018, the Trump administration will take steps to re-impose those U.S. sanctions lifted pursuant to the JCPOA. In its initial phase, this will include the immediate re-imposition of sanctions on:

  • The purchase or acquisition of U.S. dollar banknotes by the Government of Iran;
  • Iran’s trade in gold or precious metals;
  • The direct or indirect sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of graphite, raw, or semi-finished metals such as aluminum and steel, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes;
  • Significant transactions related to the purchase or sale of Iranian rials or the maintenance of significant funds or accounts outside the territory of Iran denominated in the rial;
  • The purchase, subscription to, or facilitation of the issuance of Iranian sovereign debt; and
  • Iran’s automotive sector.

By November 4, 2018, the United States will re-impose all remaining sanctions targeting Iran that had been lifted pursuant to U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. This will include the re-imposition of sanctions on:

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

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

Undermining International Compliance with a Successful Nonproliferation Agreement

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions will pose immense difficulties for other major world powers’ compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.  Failure by the remaining JCPOA participants to fulfill the terms of the nuclear accord will prompt Iran to abandon some or all of the JCPOA’s limitations on its nuclear program, thus risking renewed proliferation efforts in Iran and threatening a new war in the Middle East.   

Pursuant to the JCPOA, major world powers — including Europe, Russia, and China — agreed to take steps to ensure effectiveness relating to the lifting of national and international sanctions. These commitments were geared towards ensuring that Iran received practical economic benefit from its agreement to maintain long-term restrictions on its own nuclear program. The JCPOA obligated all parties to take adequate measures “to ensure . . . effectiveness with respect to the lifting of sanctions under th[e] JCPOA” and committed JCPOA participants to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.” The JCPOA was envisioned as an effective quid pro quo, whereby Iran agreed to long-term limitations on its nuclear program in return for practical economic benefits — including the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions — from major world powers.  

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, however, will risk the compliance of remaining JCPOA participants, as Europe and other JCPOA parties will have grave difficulties ensuring “effectiveness” with respect to the lifting of sanctions under the JCPOA. For instance, while the European Union and its respective states intend to continue the lifting of national and Union-wide sanctions targeting Iran–consistent with the JCPOA–European companies and persons will nonetheless remain subject to U.S. secondary sanctions targeting their own transactions or dealings with Iran.

The most notable consequences in this respect will be oil and banking transactions. To the extent that Iran is unable to export its oil and repatriate its oil revenues, the JCPOA will become a moot agreement, as Iran is highly unlikely to continue its adherence to limitations on its nuclear program while deriving no practical economic benefit from the nuclear accord. Re-imposed U.S. sanctions expressly target foreign banks — including foreign central banks — and foreign parties engaged in transactions related to the import of Iranian-origin oil. The Trump administration has sent conflicting signals as to whether it will grant exemptions to foreign countries importing Iranian-origin oil — including China, Europe, India, Japan, and South Korea. Similarly, to the extent that Iran’s financial institutions are isolated from the global financial system and unable to reconnect to foreign banks to process trade-related and other transactions, the Iran nuclear deal will not survive. Re-imposed U.S. sanctions will re-designate most Iranian financial institutions for sanctions and render foreign bank dealings with such Iranian financial institutions as sanctionable, thus expressly targeting foreign countries’ compliance with the nuclear accord.

Sanctioning Beneficial Work at Arak and Fordow

Pursuant to the JCPOA, Iran agreed to convert its enrichment facility at Fordow into a research center absent of proliferation risk. To do so, however, Iran required international collaboration, including in the form of scientific joint partnerships in agreed areas of research. In addition, the JCPOA required Iran — as part of an international partnership — to redesign and rebuild a modernized heavy-water reactor in Arak that would drastically reduce its potential output of plutonium.

However, these measures aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran are under serious threat, as re-imposed U.S. sanctions render sanctionable conduct by foreign parties with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. For instance, the Trump administration has stated that it will re-impose those sanctions that applied to persons removed from OFAC’s SDN List pursuant to the JCPOA. This appears to include the re-designation of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (“AEOI”) — the body responsible for Iran’s nuclear program — pursuant to Executive Order 13382. By designating the AEOI pursuant to E.O. 13382, entities that provide or attempt to provide financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, the AEOI would be exposed to U.S. sanctions and risk designation under E.O. 13382 themselves. Foreign parties participating in an international partnership with the AEOI — consistent with the JCPOA — to convert the Arak nuclear reactor into a reactor absent of proliferation risk would thus be engaged in sanctionable conduct, as such parties would be prima facie engaged in the provision of material support to the AEOI  — thus meeting the criteria for designation under E.O. 13382.  

In addition, the U.S.’s re-designation of the AEOI pursuant to E.O. 13382 will render foreign financial institutions that facilitate significant transactions for or on behalf of the AEOI — including transactions consistent with the terms of the JCPOA — exposed to U.S. sanctions under § 104(c)(2)(E) of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act (“CISADA”) and § 1247 of the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act (“IFCA”). Such financial institutions would risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system and would thus be unlikely to facilitate transactions involving the AEOI, even if such transactions are consistent with the JCPOA and reduce the risk of proliferation in Iran.  

In the Trump administration’s zeal to kill the Iran nuclear deal, the administration will perhaps fatally undermine efforts to ensure the conversion of Iran’s nuclear facilities into facilities absent of proliferation risk, thus gravely undermining U.S. and regional security.

The Need for Congressional Intervention

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran risks splitting the United States irrevocably from its historical allies and partners, including those in Europe; threatens to undermine the future use of economic sanctions to secure national security and foreign policy objectives; and encourages the reinvigoration of nuclear proliferation risks in Iran. Such consequences implicate critical U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and warrant increased oversight over the administration’s actions.

Congress should be involved in any decision implicating U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. In this case, Congress should assert its own prerogatives in the realm of foreign policy and resume U.S. compliance with the JCPOA, including, but not limited to, the continued lifting of U.S. sanctions as obligated under the nuclear accord. Absent such a dramatic measure, however, Congress should seek to restrain the President from re-imposing those U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA and should at least limit the damage re-imposed U.S. sanctions could cause to the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe. If the U.S.’s historical allies and partners in Europe believe that their own national security interests demand their continued compliance with the JCPOA, then the Trump administration should be restricted from imposing sanctions on European companies engaged in commercial trade with Iran that is permissible under European law.

Shockingly, Congress — which held numerous hearings on the U.S.’s assent to the JCPOA — has proven unwilling to conduct significant oversight regarding the potential consequences inherent in the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and its re-imposition of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran. In failing to assess the risks and dangers associated with the Trump administration’s actions, Congress has rendered itself incapacitated on an issue of critical import to U.S. national security. Following midterm elections, Congress should reassert its prerogatives in the field of national security and ensure that the Trump administration is not able to undermine long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives — including the objective of nuclear non-proliferation — through its rash decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord and re-impose those U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.


¹ Other U.S. sanctions may be applicable to transactions involving the AEOI and incident to the fulfillment of the terms of the JCPOA, including, for instance, menu-based sanctions on foreign parties that sell, supply, or transfer to Iran graphite, raw, or semi-finished metals such as aluminum and steel, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes, if the material is sold, supplied, or transferred for use in connection with Iran’s nuclear program. Section 1245(a)(1)(C) of IFCA does not distinguish between those transactions aimed at converting Iran’s nuclear facilities into facilities absent of nuclear proliferation risk and is thus likely to counteract international efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran.  

Pompeo and Trump Plan to Exploit and Silence Iranian Americans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, the Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that he will address Iranian Americans in Simi Valley later this month:

“The quest for human rights and democracy in Iran can only be owned by the Iranian people. It cannot be owned by the U.S., Israel, or Saudi Arabia. It cannot be decided by Iran’s government or even Iranian exiles.

“What President Trump and Secretary Pompeo want is to exploit Iranian Americans and co-opt the Iranian people to provide legitimacy for the Trump Administration’s Iraq War redux for Iran. Just as the Bush Administration cultivated a few Iraqi exiles and talked about human rights to provide legitimacy for a disastrous invasion of Iraq, the Trump Administration appears intent on using Iranian exiles to advance dangerous policies that will leave the Iranian people as its primary victims.

“If Sec. Pompeo really wants the Iranian-American community to embrace the Trump agenda, he must start with a sincere apology and rescind Trump’s ban that is dividing Iranian Americans from their friends and loved ones in Iran. He should apologize for the Administration’s move to banish the most prominent Iranian-American national security official from policymaking decisions due to her heritage. Moreover, he should apologize for the decision to strip the Iranian people of their hope for relief from sanctions and greater connections with the outside world, instead ensuring they will be crushed between U.S. sanctions and resurgent hardline forces in Iran’s government that have benefited from Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord.

“It should be abundantly clear that Secretary Pompeo, who called for bombing Iran instead of negotiations, is no friend of the Iranian people. Similarly, Trump – whose national security advisor and lawyer have elevated the voices of an undemocratic, human rights abusing cult, the MEK, to become the next leadership of Iran – does not have the Iranian people’s best interests at heart. The Trump Administration’s close coordination with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad Bin Salman, who are motivated by their own political gain and regional power dynamics rather than any love for democracy or the Iranian people, should dispel any notion this campaign is about helping ordinary Iranians.

“As Americans, we have a vital role to play in ensuring our democratically elected government does not start wars on false pretenses or destroy lives in our names. As Iranian Americans, our voices are particularly vital when it comes to the U.S. government’s efforts regarding our ancestral homeland. We will not be exploited or silenced at this critical moment in history.”

###

Dollar-Clearing Battle: First Step to Killing Iran Nuclear Deal

Lawmakers and advocacy groups undertook many steps to weaken the Iran nuclear deal during the Obama era to set up President Trump’s unilateral termination. Last week, Republicans on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a 50-page report delving into the Obama administration’s efforts in early 2016 to ensure that Iran was able to repatriate its own frozen assets held at Bank Muscat in Oman.

Lead author Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and others, including President Trump, have spun this arrangement as a nefarious side deal aimed at permitting Iran access to the U.S. financial system. However, the report offers key insight into how deal opponents succeeded in hobbling Iran’s relief by securitizing the debate over sanctions relief for Iran, ensuring that any relief for Iran was falsely viewed as a negative for regional and global security and a political liability. 

That the U.S. was obligated to take affirmative steps to ensure effective sanctions relief under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been greatly under-appreciated and often ignored in Washington. Yet, the text of the agreement is clear that the U.S. and other parties would “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.” This goes beyond U.S. commitments to prevent the re-imposition of sanctions or “interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting,” which were also commitments under the JCPOA. Instead, it entails affirmative steps that had not been decided to ensure that Iran reconnects with the global economy.

The Oman Connection

At the outset of the JCPOA, Iran was granted access to billions of dollars of its own assets that had been frozen in accounts around the globe. Yet, the repatriation of those assets became a major complication, as detailed by the subcommittee report. In January 2016, Iran sought to convert its assets at Bank Muscat in Oman into euros for future purchases. However, there was a hang-up, as Bank Muscat notified the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that it would need a U.S. bank to first convert the funds into dollars before they could be converted into euros. Given that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, dollar-clearing transactions that briefly transit through the U.S. financial system are common. However, dollar clearing through the U.S. financial system for transactions involving Iran had been barred since November 2008 and was not formally lifted by the JCPOA. Absent a license from the Treasury Department to permit the dollar clearing, the conversion of the assets would be far more complicated.

Starting in January 2016, the Iranians asserted that the JCPOA was clear that Iran would have the right to convert its assets “without any qualifications and conditions.” Treasury officials then looked into what sections of the JCPOA would obligate the U.S. to authorize the dollar conversion. They found many—to the apparent surprise of at least one Treasury official.

There was a great deal riding on the JCPOA’s successful implementation. Iran had rolled back its nuclear program and subjected it to intrusive inspections, forestalling the twin threats of both a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran over its nuclear program. As Secretary Lew detailed in a speech in March 2016, “to pressure bad actors to change their policy, we must be prepared to provide relief from sanctions when we succeed. If we fail to follow through, we undermine our own credibility and damage our ability to use sanctions to drive policy change.” Thus, not only was the nuclear deal at stake, but also the U.S. ability to trade in the extensive sanctions that remained on the books for further concessions from Iran.

The Obama administration wanted to ensure that it was complying with both the letter and spirit of the JCPOA. It therefore decided to issue a license to Bank Muscat to enable dollar clearing, provided a U.S. bank was willing to engage in the transaction. Despite assurances from the administration, two banks rejected the proposal in February and March 2016 due to reputational risks and fears of being tangled up in ongoing litigation against Iran.

Rising Opposition

Amid these efforts to enable Iran to repatriate the funds as envisioned under the JCPOA, deal opponents began to put pressure on the administration’s plans. In March, leading Congressional Republicans Ed Royce and Jeb Hensarling pressed Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew on whether Iran would have access to the U.S. financial system, to which he responded “[p]art of the agreement was to give Iran access to money that it has a right to. We will work on making that happen.” Then the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)—the epicenter of nongovernmental efforts to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal—jumped into the fray. It issued a warning in the Wall Street Journal that Obama was “dollarizing the Ayatollahs” and hinted that Congress would block the administration’s plans. Much more pushback from FDD and congressional Republicans followed.

Sanctions relief for Iran had been effectively securitized. A brief transit from third-party banks to the U.S. and back again involving Iranian assets had been exaggerated as “the ultimate prize” for Iran, generating significant congressional opposition. Such indirect access posed neither a threat nor a cost to the U.S., though it represented a key choke point where deal opponents could limit Iran’s relief under the accord.

With rising domestic opposition and without a U.S. bank willing to engage in the exchange, the Obama administration appears to have backed down from both efforts involving the Bank Muscat assets and additional plans to put forward a general license to permit dollar clearing. The administration continued to insist publicly that Iran would not have access to the U.S. financial system, while discussions aimed at resolving the issue with both the Federal Reserve Bank and German Central Bank in April 2016 “faded with no resolution.” That same month, Secretary Kerry boasted that predictions of an Iranian windfall were inaccurate since Iran had only received roughly $3 billion of its frozen assets abroad to date. This, of course, angered the Iranians who were still trying to get their assets repatriated. According to the subcommittee report, by January 2017—a full year later—the assets were still sitting in Bank Muscat. The report indicates that Bank Muscat may have “eventually found a way to make small fund transfers without the use of the U.S. financial system,” a far more painstaking approach that apparently took some time to arrange.

Disincentive for Business

The subcommittee report details how important the dollar-clearing issue was for many banks and businesses considering transactions involving Iran. In the hundreds of “roadshows” the Obama administration engaged in to clarify U.S. sanctions policy between August 2015 and July 2016, “one of the most asked questions at these meetings concerned details about access to the U.S. dollar,” according to the report. Licensing banks to clear dollars through the U.S. financial system would have provided substantial reassurance to foreign firms considering reentry into the Iranian market as permitted by the JCPOA. Given the tremendous complication of engaging in any substantial trade with Iran while avoiding the U.S. financial system, combined with a murky political situation in both Tehran and Washington, many businesses chose to stay out of the Iranian market entirely. A May 2016 survey of companies interested in doing business in Iran showed that more than half were wary of reengaging in the Iranian market out of fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.

The end result was many deals inked, including the sale of U.S. manufactured Boeing aircraft to Iran, but few realized. With less ongoing business in Iran, Trump’s decision to snap back sanctions and kill the deal despite Iran’s compliance with its nonproliferation obligations was made all the easier. Congressional Republicans, and JCPOA opponents like FDD that sought to stifle Iran’s benefits under the accord, deserve a tremendous share of the blame for the agreement’s ultimate collapse.

Likely the greatest tragedy to this episode is that the Iranian people have been denied the sanctions relief that they made possible by pushing, against the odds, for greater moderation from their government. Sanctions empower authoritarian regimes, as they did previously in Iran by expanding the political and commercial power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Now, rather than incentivize moderation by effective implementation of sanctions relief under the JCPOA, the U.S. has empowered the hardliners in Iran who warned that the U.S. could never be trusted to lift sanctions.

This piece originally appears in Lobe Log.