2020 Marked by a Tumultuous Start for Human Rights in Iran

On January 14, Human Rights Watch released its annual summary of the state of human rights in Iran, reviewing Iran’s from brutal crackdowns on protests, arbitrary arrests, and execution; Iran’s continued discrimination based on religion, gender, and orientation; and the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Some issues raised in the report include:

  • The right to assemble, protest, and voice rightful grievances has long been repressed by Iranian authorities. However, under the weight of growing internal pressure from economic discontent and sanctions beginning in late 2019, Iranian authorities grew increasingly cruel in their crackdown on domestic dissent. 
  • This has resulted in an increase of arbitrary arrests of journalists, artists, activists, and foreign and dual nationals. Additionally, the judiciary has increasingly ignored due process and lacked transparency in dealing with such cases, and has doled out harsh sentences. 
  • The worst of these abuses came in November of 2019, after protests – sparked by a spike in gas prices – were met with brutal force. At least 300+ deaths have been reported, but may include many more as the government refuses to declare actual numbers. A staggering 7,000 people were reportedly arrested and the internet was shut down for nearly a week as Iranians were forcibly cut off from the outside world. 
  • Though the report notes some small victories for women, such as limited permission to attend soccer matches and an amendment to the nationality law that allows women to pass citizenship to their children, the legal status of women is still highly discriminatory. Such inequitable practices are also true for religious minorities, especially of the Bahai faith, and homosexuality continues to be criminalized.
  • The report also discusses the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions. Though legally exempt from sanctions, the report notes limited access to vital medicines and medical equipment due to banking restrictions.

As is evident in the report, 2019 was a bleak year for human rights and Iranians have suffered greatly under domestic and foreign pressures. Unfortunately for Iranians, the new year has been a devastating continuation of tragedy. The events of the past two weeks have rocked not only Iran, but also the globe, as people all across the world held their breath bracing for a war that seemed inevitable after the U.S. assassination of Iran’s General, Qassem Soleimani.

In their attempt at retaliation, Iranian authorities carried out an attack on U.S. airbases in Iraq. On the night of the attack, January 8th, Iranian defenses mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, which was leaving Iranian airspace and carrying 176 civilians. The weight of this tragedy was compounded by authorities hiding the details of the crash for three days. More protests broke out after the state declared its error, as Iranians took the streets to grieve and shout their anger at incompetent officials culpable for this and other calamities. Again, protestors were met with unjust force. 

Those responsible for this appalling loss of life must be held to account. Iranian authorities must end their authoritarian practice of silencing rightful dissent and do justice by their citizens by adhering to their obligations under international human rights law. 

The 176 lives needlessly lost were a consequence not only of inept Iranian officials, but also a result of increased escalation and conflict between the United States and Iran.

As Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau stated: “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians [57 of crash victims] would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and war, innocents bear the brunt of it and it is a reminder why all of us have to work so hard on de-escalation.”

Such tragedy is a reminder that the greatest human rights violation is war itself, which is why it is incumbent upon both Iran and the United States to end this cycle of violence and bellicose language in order to prevent further loss of innocent life and the unpredictable costs of war.

With MLK Day upon us we are reminded of his sage words so many years ago during the war in Vietnam: “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just…’ America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood…War is not the answer.” 

NIAC Statement on European Powers Triggering JCPOA Dispute Resolution Mechanism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 14, 2020
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to European powers triggering a dispute resolution mechanism over Iran halting compliance with nuclear limits following President Trump’s violation and withdrawal from the deal, Ryan Costello, Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement:

“Europe’s complete fecklessness in the face of Donald Trump’s pressure is once again on full display. Unlike the Trump administration that has orchestrated this nuclear crisis, Europe wants to keep the Iran deal alive and has exerted diplomatic energy toward that end, with little to show for it. However, this step is likely to be viewed in Iran and much of the rest of the world as a cave to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure after Europe has continually failed to deliver promised sanctions relief to Iran. This will further reduce Iranian appetite for accommodation with the West and adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Moreover, hawks in the U.S. are likely to seize the dispute resolution mechanism to try to collapse the agreement on faulty legal grounds, even if that is not the intent of European powers.

“All powers need to tread cautiously, lest they risk playing into those intent on collapsing the agreement and all diplomatic pathways with Iran. Keeping the deal alive, and with it a diplomatic opening to resolve broader concerns with Iran, is in the national interest of the United States, Europe and Iran. This shouldn’t change as a result of Europe’s triggering of the dispute resolution mechanism, which risks doing more harm than good. The alternative scenario of a collapsed deal will rapidly escalate already high tensions and make a conflict increasingly inevitable. Europe will pay a high price for any increase in instability in the Middle East and renewed refugee flows.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Accidental Downing of Passenger Plane

WASHINGTON DC – In response to reports that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had acknowledged that it was responsible for accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger plane this week, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“Our hearts are with the families and friends still grieving over their lost loved ones. This has been a tremendous loss for Iran, the Iranian diaspora and all who lost loved ones on the flight.

“Today we learned this was an entirely avoidable and irresponsible error, which has already prompted large protests in Iran. It was also brought on by avoidable tensions between the U.S. and Iran that threatened to spill over into full-blown war. It underscores that when tensions rise, it is unfortunately all too common for mistakes to be made that lead to disastrous consequences. We urge the U.S. and Iranian governments to continue to deescalate, open up diplomatic channels and ensure there is no further loss of life from the reckless rush to the brink of war.”

NIAC Statement on Iranian Missile Attacks on U.S. Bases in Iraq

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – In response to reports that Iran had launched missiles targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“NIAC is deeply concerned by reports of Iranian missile attacks against U.S. military bases inside Iraq. We condemn all military escalations by both the Iranian and U.S. governments that have led us to this tragic and avoidable point. It is not too late to pull back from a full-blown war. However, that window is closing rapidly. Congress must act immediately to halt hostilities and prevent Trump’s threats of massive retaliation, including bombing of Iranian cultural sites.

“Donald Trump owns this 100%. He inherited a working nuclear deal and a tense but stable situation with Iran. He has deeply wounded the first major diplomatic initiative between the U.S. and Iranian government in decades, and listened to ideologues who convinced him to assassinate an Iranian general. At every step of the way, he has been warned he risked moving back on the path to war. Now that day may be here.

“Our thoughts are with all the people who will be harmed by this senseless and needless conflict. It is ordinary Iranians, Iraqis, and people across the region who will bear a profound cost that can’t be justified. So too will American soldiers, and their families here at home, who will bear the consequences of yet another war that was thrust upon them by callous leaders.

“We call on the international community and the United Nations to do everything in its power to find a diplomatic resolution to these hostilities before the entire region erupts in war.

“We also remain deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s detainment of Iranian Americans at the border on the basis of national heritage and additional discriminatory actions against our community. We will remain vigilant amid the looming specter of war and safeguard our community’s rights.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Decision to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

In response to reports that Iran would continue to reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The catastrophic ineptitude of President Trump’s maximum pressure strategy is yet again on full display, this time with Iran’s nuclear program. From the assassination of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani to now a further reduction in Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement Trump has worked to unravel, this president’s policies have accelerated the prospects of war, the specter of nuclear proliferation, and instability in the region. At every crossroad where a diplomatic offramp was possible, Trump has chosen self-defeating conflict and inexplicable escalation.

“Despite Trump taking the U.S. very nearly to a point of no return, it appears Iran is still keeping open the prospect of saving the nuclear deal that remains the best vehicle to impose limits on Iran’s nuclear program.  

“Even as it ceases application of its commitments, and amidst threats from the U.S. president that he may bomb Iranian cultural sites, Iran’s announcement appears to be a deliberate step to ensure that the nuclear agreement can remain at least in life support. While nuclear safeguards have been downgraded with this final step, Iran’s professed willingness to continue providing IAEA nuclear inspectors access to its nuclear sites and its continued implementation of the Additional Protocol suggest that even at this reduced state, the JCPOA is still an option on the table for the international community – and perhaps Trump’s successor – to salvage.”

NIAC Urges Universities to Extend Admission Deadlines for Iranian Students amidst Internet Shutdown

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, November 21, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

Washington DC – President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement urging universities to extend application deadlines for Iranian nationals in light of the extended Internet shutdown imposed by the Iranian government:

“We ask all university administrators to extend deadlines as necessary to accommodate Iranian nationals seeking admission in light of recent turmoil in Iran. As documented by both human rights organizations and tech companies, the Iranian government has responded to protests with a brutal crackdown and effectively shut down the internet for six days, at the time of publication. Such circumstances render it impossible for Iranian nationals to take standardized tests (reports indicate the administration of tests have been canceled), secure transcripts and send in application materials in advance of forthcoming deadlines. Moreover, there is little clarity as to when the Internet and other basic functions will be restored. Prospective Iranian students should not be further harmed as a result of the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian government, and we encourage all university administrators to extend all possible accommodations to them.

“NIAC staff stands willing to discuss the situation on the ground with any administrators in order to underscore the importance of extending application deadlines for prospective students.”

یک پیروزی برای زنان ایران و الگویی برای تغییر

مبارزه برای گرفتن حق حضور زنان ایرانی در استادیوم‌های فوتبال سالهاست که توسط مدافعان حقوق زنان و فعالان مدنی داخل کشور در جریان بوده است. همانگونه که در فیلم آفساید، محصول سال ۲۰۰۶ به کارگردانی جعفر پناهی به تصویر کشیده شد، مسئله تنها به برابری حقوق جنسیتی محدود نبوده و حس عمیق غرور ملی و عشق به ورزش و کشور را هم در بر می‌گیرد. در فیلم پناهی که بسیار هم مورد تجلیل قرار گرفت، گروهی از زنان هنگامی که سعی داشتند برای تماشای یک بازی مقدماتی جام جهانی، با گریم مردانه یواشکی وارد استادیوم شوند، گیر میافتند. در حالی که فیلم بر دیالوگ بین این زنان با ماموران محافظ استادیوم متمرکز است، پایان فیلم چالش‌هایی که کماکان زنان ایرانی با آن درگیرند را برجسته می کند. در پایانی تلخ و شیرین، تصاویری واقعی از جشن پیروزی ایرانی‌ها پخش می شود. در حالی که این زنان از ورودشان به استادیوم جلوگیری شده، در اتوبوسی که دارد از استادیوم آنها را می برد به خبر پیروزی تیم ملی کشورشان گوش می کنند.

اما بالاخره خبر خوبی از راه رسید. در هجدهم مهرماه، مقامات ایرانی نهایتا ً کوتاه آمدند و به زنان اجازه دادند تا برای نخستین بار بعد از روزهای اول انقلاب، برای تماشای یک بازی مهم فوتبال به استادیوم بیایند. برای تکمیل این پیروزی، تیم ملی ایران با نتیجه باورنکردنی ۱۴ گل در برابر تیم حریف به پیروزی رسید ــ شاید بواسطه انرژی مثبتی که از تصاویر زنانی که در استادیوم به جشن و تشویق مشغولند قابل لمس است ــ این قطعا ً روز خوبی برای ایرانیان بود.

مبارزه برای حقوق بشر در داخل ایران مسیری سخت و طولانی را طی کرده است. در بین ایرانیان خارج از کشور، تلاش‌های واقعی برای حمایت از این آرمان، به جای آنکه بر پیشرفت معنادار سیاسی و ارتباط سازنده متمرکز باشد، در بسیاری از موارد به شاخصی برای ارزش‌گذاری و آزمونی برای سنجش ائیدولوژیک تقلیل یافته است. پیروزی ــ هر چند کوچک ــ که در تضمین حق ورود زنان به استادیوم‌های فوتبال به دست آمد، فرصتی است برای ارزیابی اتفاقات درستی که به این پیروزی انجامید و اینکه چگونه می توان از این تحولات کوچک برای تحقق تحولات بعدی الگو برداری کرد.

نسبت به سایر جنبش‌های اجتماعی که برای تغییر رفتار حکومت ایران تلاش می کنند، این جنبش از آغاز بر پایه‌ای بهتر برای موفقیت استوار شد، به این دلیل که پیشبرد آن توسط ایرانیان داخل کشور و برای آنها انجام شد. نیل به این هدف هزینه عظیمی در برداشت؛ علاوه بر تمام زنان هوادار فوتبال که در تلاش خود برای به دست آوردن حقوق برابر جرأت کردند که از دستورات مقامهای حکومت سرپیچی کنند و به این خاطر زندانی هم شدند، حد نهایت آن، قربانی شدن سحر خدایاری، معروف به دختر آبی بود. تلاشهای آنها توسط سازمان‌های حقوق بشری و رسانه‌های برون مرزی که مبارزه این زنان برای حقوق برابر را بازتاب دادند تقویت شد. مجموع این تلاشها به اهرمی برای اعمال فشار افکار عمومی بر فیفا تبدیل شد. فیفا نیز به نوبه خود از وزن فدراسیون جهانی برای اعمال فشار بر مقامات ایران استفاده کرد تا این تغییر ایجاد شود.

البته فشار فیفا تنها به این خاطر موثر بود که ایران در این بازی یک سهمی داشت، یعنی به معنای واقعی کلمه امکان حضورش در بازی‌های بین‌المللی در گرو حل این مسئله بود. فرض کنید مثل بسیاری از تشکلها، شرکتها و حتی دولت‌هایی که هیچ ارتباطی با ایران ندارند و در نتیجه هیچ مشوقی هم برای مجاب کردن مقامات ایران به نرمش ندارند، رابطه فیفا هم بواسطه تحریمها با ایران قطع شده بود. در مورد ایران، طبق گفته مشهور جرج دبلیو بوش، آمریکا با اعمال تحریم، خود را از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم کرده است. و حالا، به بواسطه نظام تحریم‌های یک جانبه‌ای که توسط دولت ترامپ علیه ایران اعمال شده، آمریکا تضمین کرده که بخش اعظم سایر کشورهای جهان هم از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم شوند. در نتیجه، به جای آنکه بتوانند از موفقیت فیفا در تاثیرگذاری بر سیاستهای حکومت ایران الگو برداری کنند، مجموعه‌هایی که مایلند تغییری در رفتار حکومت ایران ایجاد کنند تنها می توانند همان کاری را بکنند که دولت آمریکا می کند: یعنی صدور اولتیماتوم و طرح درخواست‌های تخیلی، بدون ارائه مشوقی جز تهدید به اعمال مجازات‌های حتی شدیدتر، تهدیداتی که حکومت ایران تصمیم گرفته با آنها سر کند.
حالا تصور کنید که ایالات متحده به توافق هسته‌ای با ایران پایبند مانده بود، شرکت‌های آمریکایی حضوری تجاری در ایران داشتند، موسسات آموزشی دو کشور برای تسهیل ارتباطات آکادمیک می کوشیدند و دولتهای ایران و آمریکا در عرصه‌های علمی و پروژه‌های زیست محیطی با یکدیگر همکاری داشتند. اگر احتمالی بود که آن شرکتها، موسسات آموزشی و سایر نهادهای مشترک، همانند فیفا تهدید به قطع ارتباط کنند، در آن صورت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن داشت. در عوض سیاست آمریکا در منزوی کردن ایران شرایطی ایجاد کرده که دولت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن ندارد.

البته پیش از راهیابی زنان به استادیوم‌ها، پیروزی‌های دیگری در حوزه حقوق بشر به دست آمد. سازمان نایاک از تعیین یک گزارشگر حقوق بشر در سال ۲۰۱۱ برای ایران حمایت کرد. این تلاش یک تفاوت فرخنده با انواع فعالیتهای حقوق بشری معمول که ما در ایالات متحده شاهد آن هستیم دارد، فعالیتهایی که بعضا ً در حد صدور بیانیه‌های محکومیت، ژستهای سمبولیک یا شعارهای تحریک آمیز محدود می شود، اقداماتی که بعید است در رهبری هیچ کشوری انگیزه‌ای برای تغییر رفتار ایجاد کند. با تعیین گزارشکر ویژه حقوق بشر، سازمان ملل متحد یک مجرای ارتباطی مورد نیاز ایجاد کرد که مقامات ایرانی، بعد از سالها مقاومت، در نهایت آنرا پذیرفتند. هر چند به ندرت به آن اشاره می شود، اما تلاش‌های گزارشگر حقوق بشر سازمان ملل به پایان دادن به مجازات اعدام برای جرائم مواد مخدر کمک کرده و چون از این اتهام برای تسویه حساب‌های سیاسی و سرکوب مخالفان هم استفاده می‌شد، عملا ً جان هزاران نفر را نجات داده است. اینها پیروزی‌های کوچکی هستند که برای ایجاد تغییر به آنها نیاز است. تاثیر این اقدامات به مراتب بیشتر از بیانیه‌های ایدئولوژیک و محکومیت‌های از راه دور احساس می شوند.

بهترین کاری که ما می توانیم به عنوان ایرانی ساکن خارج از کشور و مدافع توسعه اجتماعی در ایران انجام دهیم، تشویق و ترغیب برقراری گفتمان چند جانبه، دو جانبه، غیر رسمی و هر نوع دیالوگ ممکن با ایران است، تا فضاهایی واقعی برای گفتگو درباره حقوق بشر ایجاد شود همراه با نتایج واقعی، ورای ژست‌های تو خالی. پایان دادن به انزوای اقتصادی ایران و ارتباط با این کشور موجب می‌شود که حکومت ایران در قبال عدم پاسداشت استانداردهای حقوق بشری، چیزی برای از دست دادن داشته باشد. این تحول اگر با اطلاع رسانی نسبت به موارد نقض حقوق بشر همراه باشد می تواند تلاش‌های فعالانی که در درون کشور برای ارتقای حقوق بشر تلاش می کنند را تقویت کند. آنچه که ما نمی‌توانیم انجام دهیم، مگر آنکه بخواهیم به جامعه مدنی ایران بیشتر لطمه بزنیم، مصادره به مطلوب تلاش‌ها و جنبش‌های مردم ایران است، و یا اینکه اجازه بدهیم دیگران برای مقاصد پنهان خود از این تلاشها سوء استفاده کنند.

به عنوان آمریکایی‌های ایرانی‌تباری که مشتاق کمک به تسریع پیشرفت مدنی در ایران هستیم، ما باید اینجا در ایالات متحده از دولت آمریکا به خاطر اقداماتش حسابرسی کنیم. هرچند عدم وجود روابط دیپلماتیک رسمی بین ایالات متحده و ایران، تاثیر ما را از ده‌ها هزار کیلومتر فاصله محدود می کند، اما ما می توانیم از دولت ایالات متحده بخواهیم تا با اقدامات سنجیده این امکان را برای ما فراهم کند که بتوانیم بخشی از تلاش‌های مشروع برای متعهد کردن دولت‌ها، از جمله دولت ایران، به استانداردهای جهانی باشیم.

برای آنکه ایرانیان بتوانند به حقوق بشری که حقشان است برسند، کارهای زیادی هست که باید انجام شود. به عنوان یک تشکل خارج از کشور، ما باید نسبت به آنهایی که داخل کشور کار واقعی را انجام می دهند، رویکردی راهبردی و توأم با شکیبایی اتخاذ کنیم. این دستاورد مهم زنان ایرانی به ما نشان داد که نه تنها در ایران راه پیشرفت وجود دارد، بلکه فداکاری صبورانه مردم ایران، همراه با حمایت متواضعانه خارج از کشور ــ در قبال طرح مطالبات حداکثری ــ می‌تواند تدریجا به شیرین‌ترین پیروزی‌ها منجر شود.

NIAC Statement on Rouhani’s Speech at the UN General Assembly

Washington DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In his remarks, Rouhani emphasized the rising tensions across the Middle East and underscored that negotiations with the United States could not move forward until sanctions are lifted.

In response, NIAC’s Senior Research Analyst Sina Toossi issued the following statement:

“Both President Trump and Iranian President Rouhani engaged in ritualistic grandstanding and rhetoric against each other’s countries at the UN. However, both also kept the window for diplomacy open, even as they couched their overtures in bombast. Trump proclaimed yesterday that he is ready to “embrace friendship” with those who seek peace, and both leaders have made clear they don’t have an appetite for war. 


“While Trump seeks a photo-op with Rouhani, confidence and trust must first be built to restore lost U.S. credibility with the parties to the nuclear deal. Rouhani gave Trump a face-saving way to abide by the accord’s framework, without formally returning to the deal. The path to negotiations and durable U.S.-Iran peace exists, but requires each side to leave the escalation cycle and for the U.S. to ease sanctions to jumpstart dialogue.”

 

NIAC’s Statement on President Trump’s Tweet Concerning Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities

WASHINGTON DC – Today, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States was “locked and loaded” for a response after senior administration officials said Iran was to blame for an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, for which Yemen’s Houthi group had earlier claimed responsibility.

In response to these developments and President Trump’s latest comments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“If Trump fails to heed his anti-interventionist instincts and listens to the warmongers surrounding him, the U.S. risks triggering a regional war more catastrophic than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cooler heads must prevail and invest seriously in deescalatory measures to stabilize the whole region.

“Even before the facts have become clear, President Trump tweeted that he is prepared to launch military strikes pending Saudi verification of the perpetrators. The U.S. is not obligated to fight Saudi Arabia’s wars  and we urge Trump to discard his repeated willingness to cede U.S. policy to other nations and instead fulfill his self-professed aim to put America’s interests first.

“We do not know definitively who was behind the attacks, though Houthi forces in Yemen have been at war with the Saudi coalition since 2015 and have claimed responsibility for them. Iran has a motive, given the economic warfare being waged against it, but there is no smoking gun to implicate them. Those jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence seem eager to embroil the U.S. in another war that does not serve our interests.  

“Congress has not authorized war, nor has the U.N. greenlit any military action in response. As the region’s tensions near the boiling point, hot rhetoric can lead to miscalculation and must be avoided at all costs. There is a skeleton of a deal in place if Trump sets aside the strategy for war left behind by John Bolton and kept warm by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The international community would offer economic relief in exchange for Iranian restraint, with an agreement for further negotiations. The status quo of escalation can not hold—Trump must choose peace over war.”

NIAC Statement on the Imposition of U.S. Sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was imposing sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The sanctions were imposed on Zarif, according to the Treasury, because he has acted on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader. The move comes after reports earlier this month that Trump had instructed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on the Iranian diplomat, before reversing his decision.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“Again, President Trump has chosen an action to push Iran away from the negotiating table, isolate America on the world stage, and take diplomatic options off the table. If Trump was serious about negotiating with Iran, he would appoint a credible envoy and direct them to negotiate with Iranian diplomats rather than subjecting them to a ridiculous sanctions designation. Instead, Trump is ensuring that there will be no serious negotiations with Iran during his tenure. Once again, without a clear line to Zarif or any other Iranian officials to de-escalate tensions, the next crisis that the U.S. or Iran precipitates will once again risk war.

“Regardless of any personal animosities Trump’s team felt toward Zarif, dealing with him has served U.S. interests on several occasions. Zarif assisted the U.S. in forming a government in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion, credibly hammered out a nuclear accord with former Secretary of State John Kerry, and was pivotal in both freeing American sailors who strayed into Iranian waters and the prisoner swap that freed unjustly detained Americans in 2016. All the while, Zarif represented Iran’s interests and was able to convince the Supreme Leader and other Iranian officials to buy into the more moderate approach represented by the Rouhani administration. His sanctioning now by Trump plays into the hands of Iranian hardliners and forces on all sides that want to entrench U.S.-Iran hostilities.

“It is without a doubt that Zarif has deflected from the regime’s human rights abuses and other Iranian actions to escalate around the region. Yet, if that were a credible standard for imposing sanctions, the U.S. should also designate top diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and countless other nations around the world.  

“The timing of this move, coming after Sen. Rand Paul reportedly was dispatched to meet with Zarif on behalf of Trump, underscores that hawks like John Bolton are trying to box in the administration and eliminate diplomatic off-ramps. Trump can’t simultaneously hold out the option of credible negotiations while implementing the path to war plotted by John Bolton. Only yesterday did we publish a letter in conjunction with prominent foreign policy practitioners outlining pragmatic steps that the U.S. and Iran can take to deescalate this crisis. The time is running out for Trump to shift tracks, lest he be locked into the inevitable result of his failing maximum pressure strategy leading to a disastrous war.”

Coalition of Foreign Policy Experts Outline 8 Recommendations to Deescalate Tensions with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 30, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, an expert group of foreign policy practitioners published a letter underscoring the dangerous new phase that has put the U.S and Iran on the path toward war. The signatories include prominent academics, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Andrew Bacevich; foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal; former Member of Congress John F. Tierney;  former ambassadors and diplomats, such as Thomas Pickering, François Nicoullaud, and Peter Jenkins; national security expert Edward Price; and Iran experts such as Jamal Abdi, Dina Esfandiary, and Farideh Farhi.

The letter outlines a series of eight bold but practical recommendations to the U.S., Iran, and Europe that could widen the path to diplomacy that has narrowed considerably since the U.S. initiated a tit-for-tat ratcheting up of tensions with Iran. 

The signers urge the U.S. to suspend recent sanctions to provide space for deescalation and Iran to return to full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal. After these initial trust-building steps, the signers recommend further negotiations aimed at a prisoner swap and an Incidents at Sea agreement to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf. 

The full text of the letter and signatories is below and can be found on the web here.

Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

July 30, 2019

As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.

The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy

  • The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

  • Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap

  • Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.

Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations

  • Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels 

  • The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel with Iran to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high. 

The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy

  • To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

  • The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

  • Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.

Signatories: 

Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame

Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation

John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners,  a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985) 

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs -Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University.

Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel.

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council

John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

We Iranian-Americans Know the Price of War. We Can’t Let it Happen Again.

Americans of Iranian descent know the price of war only too well.

Many of us lived through the gruesome Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein’s U.S.-made missiles rained down on cities in Iran. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives in a drawn-out conflict that eventually ended in a stalemate.

And as if the war was not enough, the revolutionary Iranian state exploited the external threat to crack down internally, targeting political opponents and executing thousands to solidify its hold on power.

Fellow Americans who did not live through the Iran-Iraq war have now experienced their own drawn out and devastating war in Iraq. Setting out to quash the illusory and misleading threats of Iraqi WMDs, Americans have lost thousands of young servicemen and squandered trillions of dollars in a war that has had no winners, but many victims.

And while the destruction of the two wars dominated events in the Middle East, another conflict loomed on the horizon. A U.S. military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

Read the full story in Newsweek.