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

Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: 202-386-6325

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.”


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

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


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 206-369-2069

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.”



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’

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325

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.”


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.

The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran

Something extraordinary has happened in Washington. President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October—the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisors have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.

The unmasking of Trump’s plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran’s fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster—eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October.

Prior to the revelation of Trump’s Iran certification meltdown, most analysts and diplomats believed that Trump’s rhetoric on Iran was just that—empty talk. His bark was worse than his bite, as demonstrated when he certified Iran’s compliance back in April and when he renewed sanctions waivers in May. The distance between his rhetoric and actual policy was tangible. Rhetorically, Trump officials described Iran as the root of all problems in the Middle East and as the greatest state sponsor of terror. Trump even suggested he might quit the deal.

In action, however, President Trump continued to waive sanctions and admitted that Iran was adhering to the deal. As a result, many concluded that Trump would continue to fulfill the obligations of the deal while sticking to his harsh rhetoric in order to appease domestic opponents of the nuclear deal—as well as Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel.

But now, assessments are changing. The tangible danger of Trump’s malice on the Iran deal—as well as the danger of the advice of the “adults in the room”—became further clarified this week as tidbits of the reality TV star’s plans began to leak.

How to Wreck a Deal

Recognizing that refusing to certify Iran would isolate the United States, Trump’s advisors gave him another plan. Use the spot-inspections mechanism of the nuclear deal, they suggested, to demand access to a whole set of military sites in Iran. Once Iran balks—which it will since the mechanism is only supposed to be used if tangible evidence exists that those sites are being used for illicit nuclear activities—Trump can claim that Iran is in violation, blowing up the nuclear deal while shifting the blame to Tehran.

Thus, the advice of the adults in the room—those who we are supposed to restrain Trump—was not to keep the highly successful nuclear deal that has taken both an Iranian bomb and war with Iran off the table. Rather, they recommended killing it in a manner that would conceal Trump’s malice and shift the cost to Iran.

According to The New York Times, the groundwork for this strategy has already been laid. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) calls this strategy “radical enforcement” of the deal. “If they don’t let us in,” Corker told The Washington Post, “boom.” Then he added: “You want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the U.S., because we want our allies with us.”

This is a charade, a rerun of the machinations that resulted in the Iraq war. It doesn’t matter what Iran does or doesn’t do. If it were up to Trump, he’d never have accepted that Iran was in compliance in the first place. He admitted as much to the Wall Street Journal. “If it was up to me, I would have had them [the Iranians] non-compliant 180 days ago.”

Sounding supremely confident of the “radical implementation” strategy, Trump added that “I think they’ll be noncompliant [in October].” In so doing, he further confirmed doubts that the process is about determining whether Iran is in compliance or not. The administration is committed to finding a way to claim Iran has violated the accord, regardless of the facts—just as George W. Bush did with Iraq.

Potential for Backfire

But Trump’s confidence may be misplaced on two levels. First, abusing the inspection mechanisms of the deal may prove harder than Trump has been led to believe. The inspections are the cornerstone of the deal, and Iran’s ability to cheat on the deal is essentially non-existent as long as the integrity and efficiency of the inspections remain in tact. But if Trump begins to abuse the mechanism to fabricate a conflict, he will end up undermining the inspections regime and actually enhance the ability of those in Iran who would like to pursue a covert nuclear program. Precisely because of the commitment of Europe and others to non-proliferation, they are likely to resist Trump’s efforts to tinker with the inspections.

Second, by revealing his hand, Trump has displayed his duplicity for all to see. That includes the American public, whose anti-war sentiments remain strong and are a key reason they supported the nuclear deal in the first place.

The American public knows the Iraq playbook quite well. Trump’s own supporters remain enraged by the disastrous war with Iraq. They know how they got played. It’s difficult to imagine why they would allow themselves to get played again by a president who has left little doubt about his intent to deceive.

This piece originally appeared in LobeLog.

NIAC Statement on the Trump Administration’s Undermining of the JCPOA

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202 386 6407

Washington, DC – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to the Trump administration re-certifying that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, while the Trump administration itself continues to undermine the agreement:

“While the Trump administration certified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA with one hand today, it continues to undermine the nuclear accord with the other by undermining the sanctions relief process. Though Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA has been certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as all of our European allies, the same cannot be said of the Trump administration’s fulfillment of its obligations.

“President Trump has already explicitly violated Article 29 of the JCPOA by urging other nations not engage in what is now legal trade with Iran.  Moreover, the Trump administration has deliberately created an environment of uncertainty by consistently questioning the validity of the JCPOA, hinting that the US might quit the agreement, and by suggesting that it might pursue regime change in Iran. This uncertainty has chilled foreign investments into Iran, which was one of the key motivations for Iran to scale back its nuclear program.

“Under Trump, diplomacy has been traded for threats, placing the US and Iran at risk of war once more. Rather than pursuing dialogue with Tehran to resolve remaining disputes, as every one of our European allies have done, the Trump administration has chosen to escalate tensions and eschew opportunities to come to a mutual understanding.

“Through these reckless actions, Trump is gambling with America’s security. The nuclear deal has taken an Iranian nuclear weapons option of the table. By undermining the deal, Trump risks putting it back on the table. That would be a significant blow to US national security.”


War With Iran is Back on the Table – Thanks to Trump

On the two-year anniversary of the historic Iran nuclear deal, Washington is abuzz with renewed calls for confrontation with Tehran. President Donald Trump should roll back Iranian influence through pressure and sanctions, the argument goes. Some even suggest pressure can lead to regime change, failing to see the contradiction in warning about Iran’s rising influence while predicting Tehran’s downfall if only a few more sanctions are imposed.

This near-mythological potency of sanctions is rooted in Washington’s narrative on why the nuclear deal came to fruition in the first place: sanctions and pressure brought the Iranians to their knees, forcing them to negotiate their way out of their nuclear rabbit hole.

Indeed, sanctions were so effective that had Barack Obama not shifted to diplomacy and eased the pressure on Iran, the clerical regime would likely have fallen by now, critics of the nuclear accord claim.

But this narrative is simply false. It wasn’t sanctions that caused the negotiations to succeed and it wasn’t Iran that was close to collapsing right before the talks took off. As I reveal in Losing An Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, a very different reality existed behind the scenes.

Undoubtedly, sanctions inflicted tremendous pain on Iran. In one calendar year, GDP per capita declined by nearly 8%; inflation increased by over 10%; and Iran’s crude oil export revenues fell by about 40%. The Iranian currency plummeted as sanctions effectively locked Iran out of the international financial system. But much to Obama’s chagrin, Iran was hurt, but it wouldn’t break.

Nor was Iran without options. Tehran responded to the sanctions regime by aggressively expanding its nuclear program – the opposite of what Washington was seeking. If sanctions were meant to change Iran’s nuclear cost benefit analysis, Tehran sought to change America’s calculus by responding to sanctions by adding more centrifuges.

In the end, the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program became a race between Obama’s sanctions and Iran’s centrifuges.

In July 2012, in the midst of this race, a secret channel between the US and Iran was set up in Oman. The US agreed to the channel mainly to assess how close the Iranians were to capitulating their nuclear program. Tehran, in turn, showed up to gauge how close Washington was to succumbing to Iran’s ever increasing centrifuges.

By all accounts, the meeting was a failure. Neither side was ready to give an inch, let alone capitulate. But by January 2013, the situation had changed. The White House began to realize that Iran’s nuclear clock was outpacing the sanctions clock: Iran advanced its nuclear program faster than sanctions could cripple the Iranian economy.

“Sanctions never stopped their program,” Wendy Sherman, one of Obama’s lead negotiators, told me. “Every year that went by, they had more centrifuges, more capacity, and more capability.”

The situation was dire. In January 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had estimated that Iran’s breakout time stood at 12 months. By January 2013, the break out had shrunk to only eight to 12 weeks.

Obama realized that if nothing changed, Iran would get a nuclear weapons option before sanctions could bring Tehran to its knees. This would leave the US with only two options: accepting Iran as a de facto nuclear power or war with Iran. “I think we were coming to the realization that unless something changed, we were headed toward … some sort of military conflict with Iran,” a former Obama official admitted to me.

The only way to evade these two disastrous outcomes was to return to Oman and do what no other US administration had done before it: offer to accept enrichment in Iran in return for unprecedented limitations to Iran’s nuclear program.

This was a momentous step. Accepting enrichment was America’s strongest negotiating card, and while Obama always envisioned Iran keeping enrichment, he intended to concede this point at the end of the negotiations. Instead, due to the shortcomings of sanctions, he had to play the enrichment card at the outset in order to get talks going.

Every Obama official I interviewed – as well as their P5+1 colleagues – agreed on this point. Had the US not accepted enrichment, there would never have been a deal, despite the sanctions pressure. “That was the overriding message [the Iranians] were sending,” Jake Sullivan explained to me. “We are not going to talk seriously about any kind of nuclear deal that is a zero-enrichment nuclear deal. Period. Period. Period. Period. Exclamation point.”

Had Obama stuck with sanctions and pressure, he wouldn’t have gotten a better deal – or regime change, for that matter. He would have gotten war.

As the nuclear deal turns two, Trump’s failure to reject the illusion that a pressure-only policy makes America safer risks putting the US and Iran back on a path towards a war neither side can truly win.

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.

Trump Is Violating The Iran Deal

With two years of successful implementation in the books, Washington should be celebrating the anniversary of a historic Iran nuclear deal. Instead, President Trump is violating the pact and prompting its demise. With each passing day, it becomes less plausible that his violations are mistakes rather than malicious. This is all the more ironic given reports that his administration plans to once again re-certify Iran’s compliance with its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commitments. However, reaffirming that Iran is fulfilling its end of the bargain does not mean America is doing the same. As the deal turns two, all parties to the deal should consider three key points about their landmark diplomatic achievement as it exists today.

First, it is now clear that the Trump administration intends to flout the full scope of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA so as to limit promised business ties with Iran. For instance, a White House press briefing revealed that President Trump spent his time at last week’s G-20 Summit urging nations to stop doing business with Iran. Trump’s directive to world leaders is the latest in a string of evidence that the U.S. is acting in material non-compliance with its express obligations under the JCPOA. These obligations include not just the formal lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, but also express commitments to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran…” and “from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of [the] JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” 

Considering, too, that the U.S. has the positive obligation to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy,” Trump’s private urging to foreign countries to withdraw business ties with Iran puts the U.S. in irrefutable breach of the JCPOA.  No one can any longer remain agnostic or in denial as to this basic fact.

Second, in breaching the JCPOA, the Trump administration appears keen on adopting the failed playbook of the past.  Soon after taking office in 2001, the Bush administration skirted U.S. obligations under the Agreed Framework, prompting North Korea’s departure from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and effectively weaponizing North Korea’s nuclear program. Neoconservative champions of that approach – one that haunts us to this day – are now pushing this same disastrous policy with Iran, hoping that  death-by-a-thousand-paper cuts will sink the Iran deal and place Washington and Tehran back on the path towards war. To this end, the Trump administration is taking deliberate steps to breach the JCPOA and provoke an Iranian response.

So far, though, the effect of Trump’s policy is to isolate only the United States. Next week, the Joint Commission to the JCPOA will meet to discuss implementation of the deal, and there can be little doubt that a central focus of that meeting will be America’s failure to abide by the terms of the agreement. The Trump administration will have effectively inverted the order of things at the Joint Commission so that America, not Iran, is the subject of the meeting and its lack of commitment to the deal bemoaned by other world powers.  

In the upside-down world of Washington, this is the position of “strength” from which the U.S. can challenge Iran. Pipe dreams aside, though, there can be no mistaking the fact that the U.S. has effectively ceased to be a constructive party to the nuclear deal. With the rest of the JCPOA parties indicating that they will move ahead with the nuclear accord regardless, the Trump administration has successfully cratered U.S. influence and caused the other parties to the deal to balance against it. 

Finally, it cannot be overstated that all of this was entirely avoidable – because the Obama administration had put U.S.-Iran relations on an entirely different trajectory. Multiple channels of dialogue were established, and both sides sought to use the JCPOA as a foundation from which dialogue on additional points of contention could grow. The clock ran out on Obama’s second term before more progress could be made, but Trump could have picked up where his predecessor left off. Heightened tensions with Tehran were not a fait accompli, and that is precisely the problem: The Trump administration has chosen to double down on discord that was in the process of being managed six months ago. 

There is time to reverse Trump’s policy direction. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, will be in New York next week. It would be the height of diplomatic malpractice if Trump does not send a cabinet-level official to privately meet with him. Hawks in Washington can no longer deny that diplomacy with Iran can help achieve American interests because the JCPOA is the receipt from Obama’s efforts. Whether or not Trump chooses to rip up that receipt remains to be seen, but the current trajectory on the Iran nuclear deal’s second anniversary should alarm anyone who thinks more war in the Middle East is a bad idea.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.