Don’t Let Trump Turn Iran into North Korea

Thirteen months into Trump’s presidency
, the Iran nuclear deal is alive but wounded. Ironically, while many in the U.S. argued that Iran could not be trusted to abide by its terms, it is the U.S. under Trump that has violated the agreement on multiple occasions. Ominously, Iran has warned that if the status quo does not change, it could withdraw from the accord. Unless the administration changes course and halts its diplomatic sabotage, the JCPOA risks the same fate as another landmark nonproliferation agreement, the Agreed Framework with North Korea, to the profound detriment of U.S. security and the nonproliferation regime.

Read the full article on Defense One…


Think Again: Iran’s Missile Program

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In spite of Iran’s verified implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and subjected it to far-reaching inspections, Iran’s periodic testing of ballistic missiles has provoked substantial angst in Washington. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the resolution endorsing the JCPOA, Iran is “called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” including tests for a period that will last up to eight years. While that language does not impose a binding legal obligation on Iran, both the U.S. and other parties have criticized Iran’s missile testing as “inconsistent” with UNSC Resolution 2231, though not a formal violation.

Since President Trump entered office, his administration has rolled out eight rounds of new sanctions designations and signed new sanctions legislation into law targeting Iran’s missile program. Moreover, the President in January threatened to terminate the JCPOA unless Congress passes legislation stating “that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”

Despite this flurry of activity, there have been subtle shifts in Iran’s missile program that could reduce the program’s threat. In particular, Iran’s articulation of a range limit to its missiles and a shift toward short-range solid fueled missiles signals an interest in conventional, regional deterrence, not long-range nuclear missiles.

Iran is Focusing on Short-Range Missiles Aimed at Conventional Deterrence

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, asserted that Iran’s missile program is limited to a 2,000 kilometer radius around Iran under a policy endorsed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Similar statements have been issued in the past, though Jafari’s statement appears to be a firming up of prior policy and a signal to the U.S. and others regarding the relative limits of Iran’s missile ambitions.

Moreover, Iran’s testing since the conclusion of the JCPOA appears consistent with this limit. According to an analysis from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Nuclear Threat Initiative, Iran has shifted from seeking longer range systems toward short-range missiles primarily suited for conventional deterrence. According to the study:

“the JCPOA has helped redirect Iran’s priorities for its missile program away from developing an ICBM (whose only purpose would be as a nuclear delivery system), to developing solid-fueled versions of its short-range missiles. While such missiles could also be nuclear-capable, they do not extend Iran’s range or payload capabilities meaningfully, and appear intended to serve a conventional purpose.”

While a 2,000 kilometer range limit would include Israel and Saudi Arabia, in addition to numerous U.S. bases in the region, Iran’s focus on conventional solid-fueled missiles suggests they are indeed aimed at regional deterrence – as opposed to long-range missile development that could threaten Europe or the U.S. mainland. Such a shift also meshes with Iran’s signing of the JCPOA, which ensures Iran’s missile program cannot be fitted with nuclear warheads. This is a positive that could be built upon through deft diplomacy, or undermined via diplomatic sabotage.

Pressure Is Unlikely to Change, and May Even Reinforce, Iran’s Missile Calculus

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats stated in the annual Worldwide Threats Report this week that Iran “has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.” Yet, Iran’s competitors are not without missile inventories that match or exceed Iran’s capabilities. Saudi Arabia reportedly maintains dozens of missiles capable of striking Iran, with a maximum range of 2,650 kilometers. Israel is believed to possess both a sizable nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles capable of traveling up to 6,500 kilometers. Moreover, Iran lacks a modern air force due to a continuing arms embargo and is outspent militarily by Saudi Arabia at a 5:1 rate.

While Iran may prove willing to negotiate over the range of its missiles or confidence building measures with other states if the JCPOA is adhered to, Iran views its missile program as a regional deterrent that is central to its national defense doctrine. Sanctions have not altered that calculus and major arms buildups among Iran’s neighbors have likely strengthened it.

Much of this doctrine stems from Iran’s experience in the Iran-Iraq war, when Iran was almost completely isolated within the region and globally as the world turned a blind eye and even aided Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks on Iran. Moreover, while Hussein was able to target missiles at Iranian cities from within Iraq, Iran had no similar deterrence or response capability. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has stated that Iran needs its missile program “to prevent another Saddam Hussein around the corner attacking us with chemical weapons because the international community has failed miserably in protecting the Iranian people.” The development of a conventional deterrent and response capability is one that has broad support within Iran across political divides. Unless the U.S. and international community engages on the fundamental issues at the heart of Iran’s missile calculus, no amount of sanctions or regional arms sales will succeed in altering it.

Iran’s Missile Testing Has Remained Sporadic

There were only a handful of confirmed reports of Iranian missile launches in 2017. These include:

  • Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile January 29;
  • Iran test-fired a pair of short-range ballistic missiles in early March;
  • Iran launched eight missiles at ISIS (a U.S. enemy) on June 18 in response to a terror attack in Tehran;

While President Trump took to Twitter to allege another Iranian missile launch September 23, this report was actually based on old video of the January test. Further, while Iran test-fired a Simorgh satellite rocket July 27 amid passage of Congressional sanctions targeting Iran’s missile program, that rocket is not designed to be capable of reentering the atmosphere and thus has limited military applications.

It is noteworthy that the July 27 launch appears to be the last undertaken by Iran – a testing pause of more than six months that has extended into 2018. In roughly the same period, the U.S. Navy has reported a significant lapse in dangerous run-ins with the IRGC in the Persian Gulf. While these trends should be monitored, it appears possible that Iran is attempting to avoid giving the U.S. a pretext to sabotage the JCPOA and turn Europe against Iran.

Iran launched roughly five missile tests per year from 2006 to 2012 before nuclear negotiations involving the U.S. gained traction in 2013, according to Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Iran largely abstained from missile tests while the negotiations that led to the JCPOA were underway. Since then, the frequency of Iran’s missile tests has been largely consistent with past practices, and – barring major changes – there remains little reason to expect Iran to dramatically ramp up or seek to field a missile capable of reaching beyond the region.

To put Iran’s missile testing in perspective, the CNS-NTI report notes that North Korea tested 14 missiles capable of traveling more than 3,000 kilometers between the signing of the JCPOA and August of 2017, a feat that has not been replicated by Iran.

Transfers to Yemen?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has taken the lead for the administration in alleging that Iran transferred missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, which were in turn launched against Saudi Arabia. Iran has vociferously denied the claim while indicating that Houthi missile stocks were left over from prior Yemeni governments. While Russia has dismissed the Trump administration’s allegations as inconclusive, a confidential UN report has indicated that Iran “failed to block ballistic missile supplies from being used by Houthi rebels.”

Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen – with substantial military assistance from the U.S – has been heavily focused on rolling back Iran’s alleged influence there. Yet, at least at the outset of the conflict, ties between Iran and the Houthis were tenuous at best, with Houthi rebels ignoring Iran’s warnings against taking the capital Sanaa in 2014. If Iran-Houthi ties have now progressed to the point where Iranian support has enabled the Houthis to nearly strike key targets in Riyadh, it should be a clear signal to policymakers that U.S. backing of Saudi Arabia’s intervention is having the opposite of its intended effect and is endangering Saudi and regional security.

What is needed is what the Trump administration has avoided since it came into office: serious, multilateral diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen and ameliorating all the actors’ security concerns. Absent this, the negative trend line of the war in Yemen is likely to continue, with disastrous results for the Yemeni people and regional security.

Trump is Escalating Missile Sanctions without a Serious Diplomatic Plan

Thus far, the Trump administration has continued to designate entities and individuals with ties to Iran’s missile program, while also signing new legislation into law targeting the program. Calls to subject Iran’s program to “severe sanctions” would be largely redundant, as the program is already heavily sanctioned. The administration and Congress’ actions since January 2018 include:

  • February 2, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on 25 individuals and entities following Iran’s January launch;
  • May 17, 2017 – The Treasury Department sanctions seven individuals and entities, including a Chinese network, for supporting Iran’s missile program;
  • July 18, 2017 – The Department of State designates two entities for supporting Iran’s missile program while the Treasury Department designates sixteen entities and individuals for supporting the IRGC;
  • July 28, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on six Iranian entities supporting Iran’s missile program in response to its launch of the Simorgh space rocket;
  • August 2, 2017 – The administration signs the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law, which mandates the imposition of additional sanctions in response to Iran’s missile program;
  • August 14, 2017 – The Treasury Department imposes sanctions on eleven entities and individuals, including one entity for supporting Iran’s missile program;
  • October 13, 2017 – The Treasury Department designates the IRGC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), while also designating four entities including for ties to Iran’s missile program;
  • October 25, 2017 – The House of Representatives passes H.R. 1698, the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act.
  • January 4, 2017 – The Treasury Department sanctioned “five Iran-based entities subordinate to a key element of Iran’s ballistic missile program.”
  • January 12, 2017 – In addition to sanctioning Iranian persons and entities under human rights sanctions, the Treasury Department designated persons and an entity for ties to entities sanctioned for supporting Iran’s missile program.  

In the absence of serious, direct diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Iran, there is little possibility of changing Iran’s security calculus and no possibility of trading in sanctions for concessions on Iran’s missile activity or other concerning behavior – ensuring that the status quo remains the same or worsens, but never sustainably improves.

Moreover, while it is fair to be concerned about the potential uses of Iran’s missile program or other Iranian activity that runs counter to U.S. interests, it is important to ensure that economic pressure is calibrated and proportional. Continuing to ramp up sanctions designations and legislation at such a pace risks undermining sanctions relief obligated under the JCPOA and could harden domestic political pressure within Iran to begin hedging on JCPOA-compliance and take a more aggressive stance towards the U.S. across the region.

Instead of replacing nuclear escalation with missile escalation, the Trump administration and Congress should protect the gains of the nuclear accord and seek to build on them through serious diplomatic engagement. Failure to do so will risk the unraveling of the nuclear accord and the U.S. once again facing the threats of a nuclear-armed Iran or war.

Poll of Iranians Punctuates Points Made in Protests


Conducted after weeks of sweeping protests across the country, the latest national poll of Iranians by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and IranPoll underscores growing Iranian discontent with the economy, Tehran’s mismanagement and corruption, disillusionment with the JCPOA and the effectiveness of international diplomacy, and increasing disapproval of the policies of the Trump White House.

When asked their opinion regarding “how good or bad our country’s [Iran’s] economic situation” was, 68.9% of Iranians believed the economic situation in Iran was somewhat or very bad, with 40.7% of all Iranians responding the state of the economy was “very bad.” This overwhelming negativity comes as little surprise to most pollsters, given unemployment rates among Iranian youth as high as 40% and the depreciation of the Rial by 25% in the past 6 months. Dr. Ebrahim Mohseni, a research scholar at CISSM, commented on the discontent among many young Iranians at a panel discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, stating “[I]f the educated segment of the population feels they are not being utilized or are unemployed, then that becomes a severe source of discontent; both for the people who have attained the education and the people who have paid for it.”

When asked what has had the greatest negative effect on the economy, 63.3% of Iranians believed that domestic economic mismanagement and corruption,were the most responsible for Iran’s current economic issues, while only 32.1% of the population believed foreign sanctions and pressures were the most culpable.

This frustration and discontent with domestic economic policy manifested itself in the protests this January. When polled on the issue of price inflation for food products, 81.3% of Iranians strongly agreed the government should do more to prevent this issue. Likewise, 85.2% of Iranians strongly agreed with the statement that “the government should do more to fight financial and bureaucratic corruption in Iran.”

The poll also demonstrated growing disappointment with perceived lack of economic benefits from the JCPOA, and strong sentiments that diplomacy has been ineffective in achieving the country’s interests.  When surveyed on the effect of the JCPOA on people’s living conditions, 74.8% of Iranians responded that their living conditions have not improved. Regarding their opinion of the success of the JCPOA, 67.4% of Iranians supported the statement that the “JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of the agreement.”

The poll found growing disapproval of the Trump Administration’s policies toward Iran. 60% of Iranians believe the United States has not complied with all of its promised sanctions removals, and 89% percent lack confidence that the United States will live up to its JCPOA obligations. When asked to rate President Trump’s Iran policies on a scale of 0-10 (0 being completely hostile and 10 being completely friendly), 69% of Iranians found his policies to be completely hostile, and when asked to indicate to what degree [they] held a favorable or unfavorable view of the United States government, 67% had a very unfavorable opinion.  

Also speaking at the Atlantic Council presentation on the survey was Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder and publisher of the online platform Bourse & Bazaar which supports Iranian “business diplomacy.” He expressed his concerns that the botched execution of sanctions relief under the nuclear deal –  by the current U.S. administration in particular – devalued the very idea of diplomacy to the Iranian people. “Sanctions, at least in the Iranian context, have been one of the most self-defeating diplomatic tools imaginable; because in their application and flawed removal, they have actually harmed the idea and the prospect of diplomacy moving forward,” stated Batmanghelidj.

When analyzing these findings, it is also vital to bear in mind potential constraints associated with conducting national polls in an authoritarian country. Dr. Mohseni acknowledged the need to phrase polling questions in a manner that those surveyed would not feel compelled to self-censor, particularly with phone interviews.

Briefing Addresses Iranian Protests and Implications for Washington and Tehran

Washington, D.C – “Public dialogue with the (Iranian) state occurs through protest and those protests force changes to come about,” observed Sanam Anderlini, Executive Director and cofounder of the International Civil Society Action Network, speaking at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the National Iranian American Council. “Each time there are protests, the regime gives some space and the public moves along, and there is an accommodation” that pushes the country in a more progressive direction.

Narges Bajoghli, research associate at the Watson Institute at Brown University, outlined how the protests began. On December 28th, she said, hardliners in Mashhad attempted to mobilize protests against Iranian President Rouhani and his economic policies. The protests, coordinated to take place ahead of an annual pro-government rally marking the suppression of the Green Movement post-election protests in 2009 and 2010, quickly escalated. The instigators “couldn’t control the slogans, so eventually protests came out 

against the system as a whole, not just President Rouhani.”

Political factionalism played a major role in the protests according to Bajoghli. She pointed to President Rouhani’s budget proposal to the Majles on December 10th, 2017 where, “he named the main conservative foundations in the country that were receiving blocks of money without any oversight,” referring to these entities as a “financial mafia.” In response, various groups retaliated with sophisticated media campaigns intended to give the impression of “grassroots videos and testimonies against Rouhani.”  

Bajoghli emphasized the Iranian economy, “which has been in a spiral due to mismanagement and a lack of sanctions alleviations,” as a major motivation for the protests. Over the past several years, she said, Iranians have struggled with rampant inflation, astronomically high costs of living, and high rates of unemployment and underemployment particularly among women and young people.

Bajoghli also observed that Iranians are frustrated with the lack of promised economic benefits under the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement which was initially overwhelmingly supported by Iranians. Sanctions relief obstacles under the deal, and the hostile rhetoric of the Trump administration, have helped create a situation in which 67% of Iranians no longer believe that it is worthwhile to engage with the international community to further their interests. Anderlini also discussed how sanctions against Iran have empowered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other state-connected elements at the expense of independent actors ever since their imposition under the Clinton administration. “The minute you impose economic sanctions,” she said, “…you reduce the capacity of independent actors to engage and you take away a lot of the transparent ways to transfer money.”

In his analysis of the U.S response, Reza Marashi, the current Research Director at NIAC and former official in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, juxtaposed the Obama administration’s measured response in 2009 against the Trump Administration’s in 2017. He cited the current administration’s poor wording, and the presumptive nature in which Trump appeared to speak for the Iranian people as to what the sentiments of these protests were.  He also characterized the administration’s timing to sanction the Iranian ballistic missile program as overwhelmingly unproductive and unhelpful for Iranian protests, “Rule Number one is do no harm…Don’t gien an excuse [to blame protests on foreign influence], Do No Harm.”

Anderlini contextualized the Iranian government’s response to the protest, saying the regime’s ultimate goal is survival, “but there is a recognition, that to survive they are going to have to be responsive to what the public is asking for.” According to Bajoghli, the political response in Iran to the protests have been markedly different than previous engagement toward major demonstrations because of the breadth of constituencies involved. “Unlike the 2009 protests, in which the political establishment eventually decided they should be suppressed, in this protest almost all factions have said publicly ‘we should let the people protest and let the people air their grievances’ because no one wanted to be seen as suppressing their base.” Summarizing the importance but also the limitations of the demonstrations, Bajoghli observed, “Protesting does not equal revolution; it does not equal regime change…This is a way in which the people [of Iran] can communicate with the state.”

NIAC Condemns Trump’s Divisive Address




Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to tonight’s State of the Union address:

“President Trump’s first year in office was spent dividing our union and undermining American credibility abroad. Far from taking actions to restrain a President woefully unfit for the job and dedicated to discriminatory and un-American policies like the Muslim ban, Congress has aided and abetted Trump. The American people, including the Iranian-American community, will remember those legislators who have defended Trump’s disgraceful policies and then stood and applauded him tonight. They will also remember those who criticized Trump’s actions on the sidelines but refused to challenge him when it really counted.

“Trump’s words of praise for the Iranian people were once again utterly hollow. Only a President without any conscience could praise the very people he is banning. Trump should drop the ban, but if he is too attached to his bigotry to do so, he should at least stop pretending to be a friend of the Iranian people.

“Trump once again reminded Congress that the buck stops with them on the Iran nuclear deal and broader areas of concern with Iran. But Congress cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a multilateral agreement without violating its terms. Moreover, there is already a blueprint of success on issues of concern with Iran: serious, multilateral negotiations aimed at mutual compromise. Unfortunately, Trump has shown outright disdain for this successful approach, with the administration having zero communication with Iran outside of what is required by the nuclear accord.

“Trump, of course, neglected to mention that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord and that international inspectors in Iran are implementing the most robust verification regime in the world thanks to the nuclear deal. Congress should continue to abstain from any action that would push the U.S. into violation of the accord, while also undertaking steps to pressure the administration to recommit to fully abide by all the terms of the deal. There is no excuse for Members of Congress to be an accomplice to Trump’s undermining of an accord that is forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran over its nuclear program – otherwise, they will share the blame for the accord’s collapse.”


NIAC Seeks Clarification on Postal Service Rejections of Packages to Iran

Washington, DC – Connections between Iranian Americans and their family members in Iran may have hit another roadblock thanks to the Trump Administration. According to numerous complaints received by NIAC, Iranian Americans have had their shipments of personal items to Iran blocked by the U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection, apparently on the basis that the items lack sufficient approval.

NIAC is contacting relevant agencies to determine if there has been a change to U.S. policy concerning shipping mail to Iran. The rejections of such packages undercut the long-standing U.S. policy of allowing the shipment of personal gifts, remittances and other permitted items to friends and family in Iran.

In a letter sent to Census Bureau, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Postal Service, we highlight that general licenses issued by the Treasury Department permit the export of gifts to Iran under the value of $100 and thus do not require separate authorization. Moreover, it clarifies that separate regulations do not appear to contradict the general license. The letter requests clarification from the agencies as to the regulatory authority under which these authorized exports to Iran are being rejected. NIAC will seek answers and conduct follow-up to resolve this issue that has affected many members of the Iranian-American community.

The text of the letters is below:

January 25, 2018

We are writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”) – the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans – regarding apparent policy changes at the United States Census Bureau and/or the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) concerning licensed exports to Iran.  Recently, we have received contact from a number of Iranian Americans detailing CBP and the U.S. Postal Services’s rejection of intended shipments to Iran on the grounds that such shipments lacked an “electronic export information (EEI) filing or exemption per the U.S. Census Bureau.”  In light of the fact that Iranian Americans have been able to ship licensed items to family in Iran for decades without this issue, we request clarification from the relevant U.S. authorities regarding the applicable laws and/or regulations under which this apparent new policy is being promulgated and enforced.

       As an immigrant community to the United States, many Iranian Americans retain close ties to family members and friends based in Iran.  As a result, Iranian Americans habitually send gifts, personal remittances, and other licensed items to families and friends in Iran.  For decades, U.S. policy has facilitated the shipment of such items to Iran, including via general license and statutory exemptions.  U.S. policy has sought to ensure that familial and personal ties between U.S. and Iranian persons are not undermined by the broader disputes in the U.S.-Iran relationship. Iranian Americans have thus been able to ship permissible items to Iran free from the hassle of requiring specific license authorization or other export-related filings.

       However, it appears that there has been a recent shift in U.S. policy.  Many Iranian Americans have contacted us, noting that their shipments to Iran of personal gifts, etc., have been rejected by CBP and the USPS.  This rejection apparently stems from the fact that such shipments lack a validated export license and/or an Electronic Export Information (“EEI”) filing.  As Iranian Americans whose packages have been rejected note, never before have their shipments to Iran been rejected for these reasons, and the burden of having to make an EEI filing to ship gifts to family and friends in Iran is significant enough to erode their willingness to do so.       

       It is unclear the legal basis for this recent shift in U.S. policy.  Most transactions with or otherwise involving Iran are regulated exclusively by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), which administers and enforces a comprehensive trade and investment embargo with Iran – the prohibitions of which are promulgated via the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560.  Due to OFAC’s primacy in Iran-related regulatory matters, “if OFAC authorizes an export or re-export [to Iran], such authorization is considered authorization for purposes of the [Export Administration Regulations] as well.”[1]  

       While the ITSR prohibits most transactions with Iran from the United States or by U.S. persons, wherever located, certain categories of transactions are deemed either exempt from the prohibitions as a matter of statute or authorized by OFAC via general license.  For instance, the export from the United States to Iran of certain information and informational materials – including, but not limited to, newspapers, magazines, films, etc. – are exempt from the ITSR’s regulations,[2] while the export from the United States to Iran of goods sent as gifts to persons in Iran are authorized via general license, provided that the value of such gifts is not more than $100 and the gifts are of such type and quantities as normally given as gifts between individuals.[3]  U.S. parties seeking to export items to Iran consistent with applicable exemptions and general licenses promulgated under the ITSR do not require specific authorization from OFAC or any other U.S. regulatory authority prior to the export of such items to Iran.

       It does not appear that regulations promulgated by the U.S. Census Bureau contradict this law.  Indeed, CBP’s own website notes that an EEI filing is required for U.S. exports in two specific cases: (1) where the value of the commodity classified under each individual Schedule B number is over $2,500; and (2) where a validated export license is required to export the commodity.[4]  While we have not received clarification from any of the relevant U.S. agencies regarding the reasoning behind their rejection of lawful U.S. exports to Iran, it appears that such exports are being rejected out of a belief that a validated export license is required to export exempt or licensed goods to Iran.  If true, that would be inconsistent with the plain language of the Census Bureau’s own regulations and would contradict long-standing practice by the relevant agencies permitting Iranian Americans to export licensed goods to Iran absent an EEI filing.

       We thus request clarification as to the regulatory authority under which the Census Bureau, CBP, and the U.S. Postal Service are rejecting authorized exports to Iran.  We trust that this issue can be resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to all relevant parties and that the relevant U.S. agencies can issue a policy statement specific to the Iranian American community regarding the laws and regulations surrounding exports of licensed goods to Iran.  Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.  


Jamal Abdi

National Iranian American Council

[1] 15 C.F.R. § 746.7(a)(2).

[2] 31 C.F.R. § 560.210.

[3] 31 C.F.R. § 560.506.

[4]CBP Info Center: When to Apply for an Electronic Export Information (EEI), United States Customs and Border Protection, last updated Sept. 29, 2017,


NIAC Deplores Trump’s Push to Violate Iran Nuclear Deal




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Orgs Urge U.S. Government to Allow Apple and Google to Host Iranian Apps

Washington, DC – NIAC and a group of Iranian American and human rights organizations are urging the U.S. government to lift restrictions that have recently prevented Iranians from hosting apps on the Apple and Google app stores.

In a Letter to Sec. Tillerson & Mnuchin sent today to the State and Treasury Department, the organizations officially requested that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reconsider the scope of the current licensing policies that affect Iranian developers whose apps have been removed from Apple and Google app stores.

On August 24, 2017,  it was reported that Apple began removing applications developed by Iranians from its mobile app store. Within a week, Google had taken similar action. Iranians reacted by taking their frustrations to social media, with the trending hashtag #StopRemovingIranianApps. Many tweeted in English during Apple’s annual iOS event to gain the attention of Apple CEOs to bring attention to this issue. Yaser Bahrami, an Iranian app developer, tweeted: “Today, Apple is the first enemy of iranian [sic] iOS developers. We are developing software not nuclear weapon.” Another user, an Iranian computer engineer named Payam, said this removal of Iranian apps from Apple and Google stores made it seem as if the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) never even happened.

While much of the backlash was directed at Apple and Google, the removal of apps was likely due to the existing U.S. trade embargo on Iran. Companies like Google and Apple have begun allowing Iranians to access and download software in recent years,. following the Obama Administration’s decision to exempt communications technology from the Iran embargo. The companies had also hosted apps by Iranian developers on those platforms until recently. That may be because, while the exemption allows for software to be exported to Iranians, it does not necessarily apply to the hosting of Iranian apps. It is unclear if recent threats by Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear deal may have prompted companies to reevaluate their policies regarding Iran, but their interpretation that they are barred from hosting such apps may be correct. A fix may only be possible if the Treasury and State Department broaden the exemption to allow the hosting of Iranian apps, as urged in the organization’s’ letter.

In addition to NIAC, the letter was sent by Access Now, ASL19, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Iranian American Bar Association, PARS Equality Center, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans and United4Iran.

The full text of the letter is below:

October 11, 2017

Dear Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mnuchin:

We are writing to raise concerns regarding recent events in which Apple and Google appear to have deleted mobile applications (“apps”) developed by Iranian users from their respective mobile application stores (“app stores”). These events are an impediment to the free flow of information and private entrepreneurship independent of the government of Iran. We are concerned that the actions by Apple and Google were mandated by current U.S. sanctions laws and regulations administered by the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), and are herein requesting OFAC to reconsider the scope of its current licensing policies and amend those policies as needed to ensure that Iranians are able to make their own apps available on app stores operated by U.S. parties.

On February 7, 2014, OFAC, in consultation with the State Department, issued General License D-1 (“General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications”) in order to facilitate the Iranian people’s access to information. GL D-1 was widely praised as an effective example of securing human rights, protecting access to online information, and avoiding government censors.

As a result of GL D-1, the Iranian people – including Iranian youth – were permitted access to apps made available from app stores run by U.S. companies, such as Apple and Google. Upon being granted access to apps made available from app stores like Apple and Google, many young Iranian developers themselves created their own apps for purposes specifically relevant to the Iranian people and submitted those apps to app stores operated by Apple and Google, where they were posted. The startup ecosystem created by young Iranian entrepreneurs has gained international attention for its promoting opportunities for both men and women to secure independence from the traditional state dominated economies of Iran. This movement has continued despite persecution by hardline elements.

Recently, though, both Apple and Google appear to have come to the conclusion that GL D-1 does not provide license authorization for U.S. companies, such as themselves, to host apps developed by Iranian users on their app stores. The disappearance of popular apps created by young Iranian developers and previously made accessible to Iranian users has created shockwaves amongst Iranians online – a potent feeling that they are being unfairly punished for the seemingly perpetual geopolitical dispute between their government and the government of the United States. 

We have appreciated the consideration that has gone into previous efforts by the U.S. government to broaden general license authorizations aimed at easing the burdens placed on the Iranian people by the U.S.’s comprehensive trade and investment embargo with Iran. We have likewise valued the manner in which the Departments of State and Treasury have received our ideas in the past regarding these matters. We believe that recent events merit OFAC to consider broadening the scope of GL D-1 as to expressly authorize U.S. parties to host apps developed by Iranian users on their app stores. Alternatively, if OFAC has concerns about issuing a general license authorization regarding the hosting of such apps, then OFAC should promulgate a statement of licensing policy specific to this matter so as to inform interested parties that OFAC will review license applications to engage in such conduct under a favorable presumption. These steps are critical to remediate the backlash that has been stirred amongst Iranians online and to ensure that the Iranian people are able to fully access personal communications technologies and evade the reach of their own government’s censors.

We trust that your agencies will engage in a thoughtful review of this letter and reconsider its current licensing policies regarding this matter. Further, we hope that this recent issue is not the result of any policy shift away from building bridges with the Iranian people through technology, but instead the result of unforeseen circumstances and technological developments outpacing current licensing. We would appreciate a meeting with appropriate representatives to discuss this matter in fuller detail and engage in a frank conversation regarding any concerns about broadening GL D-1. We thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your responses.


Access Now


Center for Human Rights in Iran

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Iranian American Bar Association

National Iranian American Council

PARS Equality Center

Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans



European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

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

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


Netanyahu Is Meeting Trump To Push For War With Iran

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Donald Trump at the White House and push the U.S. to withdraw from the nuclear accord with Iran. Netanyahu will present an argument that Trump already has come to accept: America’s adherence to the nuclear deal cannot solely depend on Iran’s compliance with the agreement, but also whether Iran’s other policies challenge U.S. national interests. It’s a more honest argument compared to the slogans Netanyahu has used in the past. But it is also a line that fundamentally contradicts Netanyahu’s central message of the past decades: That Iran’s nuclear program constitutes an existential threat to Israel.

The Trump administration has desperately sought a pretext to quit the nuclear deal and shed the limits the deal imposed on the U.S.’s ability to pursue aggressive policies against Iran ― even if it also sheds the limits the deal imposed on Iran’s nuclear activities. The latest idea is to use the Congressional certification ― due every 90 days ― where the president has to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the deal or not. But unlike the reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency ― who is tasked to oversee the implementation of the nuclear deal ― the president’s report to Congress goes beyond the nuclear issue: Trump must also report whether the suspension of sanctions against Iran is “appropriate and proportionate to the measures taken by Iran and vital to U.S. national security interests.”

The Trump plan ― as telegraphed by several administration officials ― is to certify that Iran is in compliance with the deal (Trump has no leg to stand on to claim otherwise ― both the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence services have consistently reported that Tehran is living up to its obligations), but to argue that the deal and its sanctions relief nevertheless is unjustified due to Iran’s policies in the region that are anathema to U.S. national security interests.

In her by now infamous presentation at AEI ― riddled with falsehoods and lies ― Ambassador Nikki Haley argued that the nuclear deal was “designed to be too big to fail” and that an artificial line was drawn “between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest of its lawless behavior.” The push to keep the deal, Haley argued, was put above all other concerns about Iran’s policies. As such, the deal is constraining America’s ability to act aggressively against Iran, much to the chagrin of hawks such as Haley and her neoconservative allies at AEI.

But it is not President Barack Obama, or the proponents of the deal for that matter, that Haley and Trump should blame for the nuclear deal not addressing non-nuclear issues. It’s Prime Minister Netanyahu.

As I document in my new book Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, Netanyahu has argued ever since the mid-1990s that Iran’s nuclear program and its enrichment of uranium constituted an existential threat to Israel. During the George W. Bush administration, he repeatedly warned that “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” The implication being that the U.S. must attack Iran before Tehran invades the West. No Israeli leader pushed this line harder than Bibi.

Netanyahu’s argument that Iran was on the verge of being able to destroy Israel served to achieve several objectives. First, an existential threat combined with the claim that the Iranians were irrational and suicidal could ensure that preemptive military action needed to be taken. After all, an irrational, suicidal entity cannot be negotiated with it.

Secondly, existential issues take precedence over all other matters. With the nuclear program defined as an existential threat, it superseded all other concerns ― and opportunities ― the U.S. had with Iran. In case Israel would fail to prevent negotiations from taking place, defining the nuclear issue as an existential threat ensured that there could be no bargaining between the nuclear question and other regional matters. Ideally, it would ensure that the U.S. would not even negotiate with Iran over non-nuclear issues, but rather only focus on Iran’s atomic program.

And that is exactly what happened. Largely due to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. adopted the position that the negotiations would solely address Iran’s nuclear activities. (the Iranians originally insisted that the agenda would have to include a whole set of issues, including global warming). From Netanyahu’s perspective, the sole focus on the nuclear issue would ensure that the talks would fail. “Leaders in the region were saying to me personally, and to the president, President Obama, you should bomb these guys,” then-Secretary of State Kerry recently commented. “That’s the only way to resolve this issue.”

For the Obama administration, the opposite held true: In order to ensure unity between the countries negotiating with Iran, it was critical to only focus on the matter they all agreed on: The need to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons option. Had the agenda been expanded to include regional questions such as Syria, Tehran could split the major powers as Russia and China were closer to Iran on that question than to Washington.

Now, Washington’s hawks and Netanyahu are complaining about the nuclear deal’s singular focus on Iran’s nuclear activities. The real threat is Iran’s regional “expansion,” they suddenly claim. Allowing the nuclear deal to restrain the U.S. from confronting Tehran in the region, or allowing sanctions relief to proceed under these circumstances, would not serve U.S. national security interests, the Trump administration argues.

It is not invalid to point out that the sanctions relief put an end to more than three decades of U.S. efforts to completely isolate and contain Iran. That argument, however, cannot be combined with the central assertion made by Netanyahu and Washington hawks in the past: That Iran’s nuclear program constitutes an existential threat.

If the hawks truly believed in that contention, they would not complain about the nuclear deal’s singular focus on this existential threat. They would celebrate it.

But in their effort to kill the deal, they are twisting and turning, contradicting the very premise that ensured that Iran’s nuclear program would top the U.S.’s and the international community’s security agenda for the first fifteen years of this century.

Nevertheless, whatever line Netanyahu uses to compel Trump to quit the nuclear deal, the end result is inescapable: Killing the deal will put the U.S. back on a path to war with Iran. Which is exactly what Netanyahu has sought for the past twenty-five years.

With Trump in the White House, he finally has a receptive ear for his shifting and contradictory arguments to push the U.S. into yet another war in the Middle East.

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Honor The Existing Iran Deal To Restore Badly Tarnished U.S. Credibility

The think tanks, advocacy groups, and major funders who spent tens of millions of dollars to stop Obama from securing the nuclear agreement between Iran and UN powers in 2015 are back at it again. Reinvigorated by the Donald Trump administration, there is now a full-scale campaign underway in Washington to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and convince the public that it is Iran – not the U.S. – who is violating the accord.

Some are campaigning for Trump to tear up the deal immediately, regardless of the consequences for the U.S. But the more sophisticated opponents of the deal offer an approach that is far more insidious – they want Trump to unravel the deal by demanding the agreement be re-opened and renegotiated to deliver a “better deal.”

If the Trump administration is serious about negotiating a “better deal”, it would first have to honor the deal that is before it and restore badly tarnished U.S. credibility. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite.

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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.