NIAC Deplores Trump’s Push to Violate Iran Nuclear Deal

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Sincerely,

Access Now

ASL19

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

United4Iran

 

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.

Continue reading on Iranian.com >>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Bombast From Trumpland Was A Gift To The Iranian Government

In the latest installment of “Trump Tells the World He’s Going to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was dispatched this week to Washington’s neoconservative beehive – the American Enterprise Institute – to wag the dog.

It was hard to keep up with all the little fibs and deceptions that she weaved into her remarks with such speed and tenacity. They were ridiculed across the world in real time on social media and, subsequently, by the commentariat.

Equally important but less understood, however, is the gift that Haley served to Iran’s government on a silver platter. Two key points illustrate why her speech left Iranian officials smiling.

Reinforcing unity

First, Haley’s bluster has reinforced the strategic decision made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani four years ago: maintain unity on policy towards America, regardless of whether there is a nuclear deal or not. The foundation of this decision was predicated on avoiding the diplomatic and financial isolation that plagued Iran from 2005-13 – which in turn eroded government legitimacy in the eyes of many Iranians, thereby widening the gulf between Iran’s state and society, and destabilising the former.

Like any politicians, the two men have their political differences, but this does not change the baseline: Khamenei needs Rouhani to continue digging Iran out of the political and economic hole shoveled by Ahmadinejad. And Rouhani needs Khamenei to protect him from hardline political sniping as he tries to put Humpty Dumpty – the government’s legitimacy – back together again.

For this reason, Rouhani has maintained one of the most diverse political coalitions in the history of the Islamic Republic – over the duration of two election campaigns and four years in office. Now the hostile deceit from Haley and her fellow Trump administration foreign policy hawks is incentivising Iran’s disparate political factions to further strengthen ties around the shared goal of resisting and surviving American aggression.

By contrast, the aftermath of the nuclear negotiations forced the same Iranian stakeholders to grapple with countless internal divisions – from economic policy, to press freedoms, to ending the house arrest of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi – that returned to the forefront when hostility from Washington was not a potent unifying force. 

Shifting blame

Second, Haley’s screed is yet another example of bombast from Trumpland that Iranian officials can use to deflect domestic political pressure by shifting the onus of US-Iran conflict onto Washington. To that end, the growing unity amongst political elites on the issue of American aggression is also matched by increasing cohesion between state and society.

Today, Rouhani and Khamenei continue to utilise the domestic narrative they constructed when negotiations with Washington began in 2013, based on three interconnected premises: 1) We are exhausting all options in pursuing peaceful solutions that protect your rights, interests and dignity; 2) Thus, it is America that bears responsibility for any remaining conflict, so do not blame us for sanctions; 3) And since America is killing the nuclear deal despite our compromises and compliance, the onus is on them to cease hostility, resume constructive dialogue, and resolve this unnecessary standoff.

Each sentence uttered by Haley at the podium helped deflect responsibility onto America in the eyes of Iranian society. If Washington kills the deal, Iranians will not blame their leaders because they can correctly accuse the Trump administration for reigniting a nuclear conflict that was resolved two years ago.

Political unity intact, state-society relations improved, blame shifted to the United States, rally-around-the-flag nationalism on the rise – and the Iranian government did not have to lift a finger to produce this favourable outcome. Decision-makers in Tehran may not be strategic masters, but they are masterful at taking advantage of America’s self-inflicted wounds.

I served at the US Department of State during the George W Bush administration, and one of the marching orders we received from the White House was to promote fissures within the Iranian government to weaken it, isolate it, and – over time – help it crumble. Republicans demonstrably failed then, and they will fail now.

Haley’s speech was only the latest in a long line of own goals that empower the very government this administration is trying to pick a fight with. Iran would prefer to keep the nuclear deal alive and reduce tensions with the United States.

America killing the deal will likely reduce nuclear, financial and geopolitical constraints on Iran at little cost to its political elite. If Trump’s team wants to allow Tehran to have its cake and eat it too, Iranian officials will gladly oblige.

This piece originally appeared in the Middle East Eye.

5 Lies Nikki Haley Just Told About The Iran Deal

At the home of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank whose scholars helped make the case for the devastating war with Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the case for Trump to kill an agreement that is effectively forestalling both a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran.

In so doing, Haley relied on a host of lies, distortions and obfuscations to paint an Iran that is cheating on its nuclear commitments and terrorizing the world. Lest the U.S. once again repeat the mistakes that led the U.S. to war with Iraq, it is worth rebutting several of these lies:

“Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The IAEA, in its eighth report since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect, once again affirmed that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitments last week. Yet, Haley falsely asserted that Iran has been caught in “multiple violations” since the accord went into effect. 

Her evidence centers around Iran exceeding a “limit” on heavy water on two separate occasions in 2016. Unfortunately for her accusation, there is no hard limit mandated by the JCPOA – which indicates that Iran shall export its excess heavy water, and that Iran’s needs are estimated to be 130 metric tons. Thus, there is no violation on heavy water, and Iran continues to abide by the  provisions of the JCPOA – including notably on uranium enrichment and inspector access.

“There are hundreds of undeclared sites that have suspicious activity that they (the IAEA) haven’t looked at.”

In the question and answer portion of the event, Haley asserted that there were not one or two suspicious sites that the IAEA can’t access – but hundreds! Of course, the U.S. intelligence community likely monitors dozens if not hundreds of non-nuclear sites in an attempt to detect any potential covert Iranian nuclear activities. Yet the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, stated in July that “Based on the evidence that’s been presented by the intelligence community, it appears that Iran is in compliance with the rules that were laid out in the JCPOA.” Hence, there is no indication of Iranian cheating and no need for the IAEA to knock on the door of hundreds of “suspicious” sites, as Haley suggests. 

If there is solid evidence that a few of those suspicious sites that Haley cited are harboring covert nuclear activities, the U.S. can present the evidence for those suspicions to the IAEA and press them to investigate. Critically, however, Haley declined to do so at her meeting with the IAEA last month. According to a U.S. official, “Ambassador Haley did not ask the IAEA to inspect any specific sites, nor did she provide the IAEA with any new intelligence.” 

“Iranian leaders…have stated publicly that they will refuse to allow IAEA inspections of their military sites. How can we know Iran is complying with the deal, if inspectors are not allowed to look everywhere they should look?”

While Iran barring an IAEA request permitted under the accord would be concerning, the IAEA has not recently had cause to request access to any non-nuclear site. Again, Haley has reportedly even declined to present evidence to the IAEA indicating that they should access any suspicious sites – military or otherwise. Hence, one can reasonably conclude that Haley’s statements are not based on legitimate fears, but are part of a political attack on the deal that her boss wants to unravel. 

In fact, initial reporting on the U.S. pushing for military site inspections cast it as a justification for Trump withholding certification of the nuclear accord. As a result, when considering Iranian statements on military site access, one must also factor in the ample evidence suggesting that the Trump administration is fabricating a crisis to withdraw from the accord. 

Further, there is little reason to take Iranian statements in response to Haley’s at face value. Iran issued similarly threatening statements ruling out inspections of military sites during negotiations in 2015, yet eventually allowed IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano access to the Parchin military base as well as the IAEA to collect samples at the site later that year.

“The deal [Obama] struck wasn’t supposed to be just about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening with Iran; a welcoming back into the community of nations.”

As the Obama administration outlined ad-nauseam, the nuclear deal was limited to the nuclear sphere. There is no annex in the JCPOA directing the U.S. and Iran to settle their differences on Iraq, Syria or Yemen, or obligating Iran to comply with its international human rights obligations or transform to a true democracy. The Obama administration did hope that the JCPOA could build trust to enable the U.S. and Iran to potentially resolve issues outside of the nuclear sphere, but such hopes rested on engagement outside of the contours of the JCPOA. The JCPOA dealt with the number one national security threat presented by Iran – the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Haley’s assertion to the contrary is merely meant to cast the deal in a negative light.

“We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate.”

The U.S. Congress held dozens of hearings over several years to examine the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran and – midway through the negotiations ― passed a law instituting a 60-day period of Congressional review wherein Obama could not begin to waive sanctions. Congress engaged in heated debate, and opponents of the accord poured in tens of millions of dollars in order to pressure Members of Congress to vote against the deal. No Republican legislator supported it despite there being no favorable alternative, and enough Democrats backed the accord in order to block resolutions of disapproval that would have killed the JCPOA in its crib. 

That intensely partisan, fact-optional debate would once again decide the fate of the accord if Haley has her way – only this time, there would be no filibuster. If Trump withholds certification, even if Iran remains in compliance, Congress could consider and pass sanctions that kill the deal under expedited procedure thanks to little-noticed provisions in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Trump could pass the buck to Congress and if every Member of Congress votes as they did in 2015, the deal would be dead.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

###

 

Trump’s Plan To Kill The Iran Deal? Outsourcing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Trump and Israel Must Not Conflate North Korea Nuclear Threat With Iran

“How can dictatorships be deterred from developing operational nuclear arsenals?” This is a good question posed in an August 10 Haaretz op-ed about North Korea and its potential lessons for Iran. The subsequent answers, however, demonstrate either misdirection or a misunderstanding. Assertions to the contrary are less than honest. Israeli concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program are straight-forward: Tehran is a geopolitical adversary, and maintaining Tel Aviv’s qualitative military edge has been a top priority dating back to David Ben-Gurion. However, these concerns should not cause Israelis to draw the wrong lessons from failed nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Here’s why.

First, conflating Pyongyang and Tehran is troublesome for an obvious reason: One has the bomb, and the other does not. Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons makes it fully aware of the geopolitical differences between haves and have-nots: North Korea has nuclear retaliatory capabilities when its survival is threatened; Iran does not. Weakness did not prevent Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama from threatening to attack Pyongyang over its nuclear program. Rather, it was the bipartisan consensus that existed until Donald Trump: Nuclear war is insane, so best to avoid writing checks that you cannot and should not cash.

Furthermore, the lessons learned by most of the world from America’s handling of authoritarian governments with nuclear programs are quite different than prevailing assumptions in Israel. Attacking Saddam was deeply unpopular and arguably motivated more Iranian officials to maintain some iteration of their nuclear program. Overthrowing Gadhafi after he relinquished his program likely reinforced that consideration. And today, much like in the early 2000s when Washington made the globally unpopular decision to torpedo the Agreed Framework, Tehran’s takeaway has not been “our nuclear program threatens regime survival,” but rather greater skepticism regarding Washington’s ability to sustain complex diplomatic deals.

Iran’s skepticism is increasingly shared globally. Europe, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea – essentially every country not named Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – is watching in horror as America threatens to kill another popular nuclear deal. Combined with Washington pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement, killing the TPP trade deal, and wavering on its Article 5 NATO treaty obligations, this erodes U.S. power and sows global doubt regarding its credibility far more than failing to threaten a war with North Korea that all of its regional neighbors actively oppose.

Second, the domino affect damaging U.S. credibility is not negotiating with North Korea or failing to attack it, but rather the precedent set by unraveling the 1994 Agreed Framework. Washington’s handling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program is indeed an important learning opportunity to prevent an Iranian bomb, but many Israelis appear to be learning the wrong lesson. Simply put: America was never going to allow North Korea or Iran to have an unfettered nuclear program.

One of the driving forces behind the North Korea deal was the political space that it provided. With the technical aspects of its program frozen underneath a firm ceiling – and the threat of war and weaponization eliminated – it allowed Washington to test the proposition of whether improved bilateral relations over time could facilitate peaceful, indigenous political change in Pyongyang. In my conversations with former U.S. government colleagues, many have privately conceded that if such change did not occur, the plan was to pull out of the deal or renegotiate it. Accepting an unrestrained nuclear North Korea was never an option.

Fast forward to 2017, and the exact same paradigm applies to Iran – and Israeli officials know it. Their fear is not only an Iranian bomb, but also the potential for improved U.S.-Iran relations that the JCPOA provides. That is why Israeli protests over Iran nuclear restrictions being lifted years from now ring hollow: Tel Aviv wants Tehran to remain in the penalty box, regardless of whether Iran has a nuclear program or what its construct looks like.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, advocating a military confrontation with North Korea over its bomb as a way of deterring Iran from building one highlights the very reason why nuclear deals with both countries are so important. Pyongyang did not have nuclear weapons until after Washington torpedoed their agreement. Had the Bush administration simply continued fulfilling America’s commitments, we likely would not be talking about a North Korean nuclear crisis today.

Again, the same principle applies to Iran. If Trump corrects course and fully implements Washington’s JCPOA obligations, the risk of Tehran pursuing Pyongyang’s path is slim to none. The longer he continues violating the terms of the deal, the more likely it becomes that Iran resumes systemically advancing the technical aspects of its nuclear program – without the unprecedented, state-of-the-art monitoring and verification regime currently in place. Given the chorus of Israeli voices calling for this disastrous latter outcome, one can be forgiven for thinking that they want to fight a war with Iran down to the last American.

Deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a noble goal – one that America and Israel ostensibly share. How to go about doing so is another story. Short of being the change it seeks in the world and relinquishing its own nuclear weapons, Tel Aviv can still support Washington’s non-proliferation efforts elsewhere. Doing so, however, will require correcting its perceptions and right-sizing its expectations. Most American officials agree that war should be a last resort, if an option at all. Israel can enhance its own security by following America’s lead rather than trying to wag the dog. 

This piece originally appeared in Haaretz.