NIAC Members Take Action at 2014 Leadership Conference

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Rep. Keith Ellison: “Never doubt your power, you can make a difference.”

Washington, DC – “Do not doubt your power, you can make a difference” said Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), speaking at the National Iranian American Council’s 4th Annual Leadership Conference on a panel considering the role of Congress and grassroots organizations in sealing a nuclear deal with Iran.  

Grassroots support was critical to helping ensure Congress gave Iran negotiations a chance, Ellison said, and it would be very difficult to sustain negotiations and secure a nuclear deal with Iran without continued grassroots efforts. 

Speaking on Congress’ current mood, Rep. Ellison indicated that there has been growing sentiment in Congress for giving Iran negotiations a chance.  Ellison also noted that, when the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was extended this past July, there had been a lot of talk behind closed doors on Capitol Hill about the possibility of new sanctions that would have scuttled the extension. While Congress ultimately watched the talks move forward without taking up sanctions, Rep. Ellison warned that the threat of new legislation still loomed. If the talks fell apart, he said, new sanctions legislation would be all but guaranteed.

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Dylan Williams, J Street Director of Government Affairs

Also speaking on the panel were NIAC President Trita Parsi and J Street Government Affairs Director Dylan Williams. Parsi emphasized the important role Congress must play in eventually cementing a nuclear deal by granting authorization for sanctions to be lifted. Williams emphasized that it is imperative that Congress not stand in the way of the historic diplomatic opportunity, and explained that JStreet’s members support a diplomatic agreement because a deal is the best way to resolve their concerns about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. According to Rep. Ellison, the important work of JStreet demonstrates that “there’s more than one way to be a friend of Israel.”

Outlining his priorities for Iran policy, Representative Ellison urged that his colleagues in Congress must tone down its inflammatory rhetoric that he said undermined U.S. efforts. Here, Ellison distinguished between inflammatory rhetoric and valid criticism on human rights concerns. Ellison said that, as part of supporting increased contacts between the U.S. and Iran, it was essential that legitimate human rights concerns are addressed and never left off the agenda.

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Parsi: “If diplomacy fails, we won’t go back to the status quo. … This is a do or die moment.”

Both Parsi and Rep. Ellison highlighted the danger of failing to reach an agreement.  “If diplomacy fails, we won’t go back to the status quo,” said Parsi.  “There will be political, economic and military deterioration…this is a do or die moment.”  Rep. Ellison emphasized how much political capital both Presidents Obama and Rouhani have put on the line in negotiations.  Regardless of who is elected to the U.S. Presidency in 2016, Rep. Ellison indicated that President Obama’s successor would be less open to Iran diplomacy.  As a result, the current window for negotiations will not stay open for long.

Following the panel and the other events of the weekend, NIAC’s Leadership Conference culminated in a final “day of action” in which NIAC members attended meetings on Capitol Hill, as well as meetings with Obama Administration officials.  Their message was simple: diplomacy is personal for Iranian Americans, and the community will stay engaged to make sure that its voice is heard at this critical, historic juncture.  

About Author

Ryan CostelloRyan CostelloRyan Costello joined NIAC in April 2013 as a Policy Fellow and now serves as Policy Director. In this role, Ryan monitors legislation, conducts research and writing, and coordinates advocacy efforts. Ryan previously served as a Program Associate at the Connect U.S. Fund, where he focused on nuclear non-proliferation policy.
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