Sanctions Relief Could be Biggest Obstacle to Iran Deal


While by all accounts nuclear negotiations with Iran are making serious progress, several reports over the past week have indicated that Iran is encountering problems receiving sanctions relief under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).   This issue foreshadows the major challenge ahead in providing concrete sanctions relief in any final nuclear deal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran has been unable to withdraw much of the unfrozen oil revenues that have been released under the interim nuclear deal.  Following the conclusion of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, a senior U.S. administration official indicated that the administration has “done everything that we committed to doing” under the interim nuclear agreement.  This is likely true. But while the U.S. is upholding its commitment to unfreeze Iranian funds in exchange for Iranian compliance with the deal, complications from the sanctions regime have helped prevent the delivery of sanctions relief.

The challenges of trying to permit limited sanctions relief while maintaining the overarching sanctions regime extend beyond unfrozen Iranian oil revenues.  Despite the fact that medicine and other humanitarian goods are technically exempt from sanctions, for several years banks and companies have refused to conduct humanitarian trade with Iran out of a fear of U.S. sanctions.  And while the JPOA includes a provision to establish a financial channel to alleviate humanitarian shortages, these shortages reportedly persist.  21 members of Congress highlighted these continuing problems last week in a letter to the President while urging that the administration take action to rectify the issue.

Further, while the airline company Boeing has received a permit from the U.S. Treasury Department to sell spare parts to Iran for its aging civilian aircraft, Al Monitor has reported that another major international airline company has refused to conduct repairs, citing concerns that it could not complete the work within the limited six month window allowed by the JPOA.

These challenges risk playing directly into the Iranian hardline narrative that the U.S. never intends to relieve sanctions, regardless of Iranian actions.  As the Los Angeles Times reported, despite fears that limited sanctions relief would start “melting the iceberg” of the sanctions regime, “many Iranians think the interim accord has done little to help them.”  This creates a vulnerability for Iranian President Rouhani – if he fails to demonstrate that a pragmatic diplomatic approach yields results, he opens his approach to attack from those that want to see the nuclear deal fail, which in turn will limit his flexibility for a final deal.  Thus, as negotiations proceed, it is critical for the U.S. not just to make sure that Iran is abiding by its JPOA commitments, but also to make sure that sanctions relief provided in the JPOA is delivered.

Further, the difficulties of providing sanctions relief under the interim deal likely pale in comparison to the political and technical challenges of lifting sanctions if a final nuclear deal is struck. As Paul Pillar, a former intelligence officer with the CIA, asserts, “We have already seen how hard it is to redirect the sanctions machine. Aircraft carriers do not turn around on a dime, and neither do sanctions, especially ones as complicated and extensive as the ones on the Iranian pile.”

But to redirect the sanctions regime, the administration must bring in Congress, which to date has been more inclined to add sanctions on Iran than permit their relief.  If the administration fails to convince Congress of the merits of lifting sanctions for protections against a nuclear-armed Iran in a final deal, it will be the U.S. that is violating the terms of an internationally-brokered agreement.  Such a failure would risk dissolving international support for the sanctions regime, removing limitations and oversight over Iran’s nuclear program, and raising the threat of military conflict – risks that the U.S. can ill afford.


NIAC Applauds UN Renewal of Iran Human Rights Rapporteur Mandate


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement regarding the UN’s 21-9 vote to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran:

“NIAC welcomes this morning’s UN Human Rights Council vote to renew the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. Over the past few years, the Special Rapporteur’s reports have been critical to shining a light on human rights violations in Iran. The mandate renewal marks an important step in ensuring that Iran’s government is held accountable for rights violations and begins the process of respecting its citizens and human rights.

“NIAC reiterates its call for Iran’s government to permit the Special Rapporteur to visit the country and to respond honestly and faithfully to the Special Rapporteur’s numerous requests for information. Reports that the Special Rapporteur has been in contact and met with high ranking officials in Iran’s Judiciary, the branch of government responsible for the troubling execution rate in Iran, are a promising first step. Since the Special Rapporteur was given a mandate to investigate human rights abuses in Iran in March 2011, Iran’s government has refused to permit an in-country visit and has been non-responsive to many of the Special Rapporteur’s requests for information. NIAC hopes that this new outreach with Iranian officials will yield increased cooperation.

“NIAC has remained a strong and sustained supporter of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and has worked to support it, beginning with NIAC’s advocacy for the reestablishment of the mandate in 2011. NIAC believes that multilateral monitoring and accountability mechanisms, such as that of the UN Secretary-General, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, and NGO work, are vital to ensuring that Iran’s government takes the steps required to respect its citizens’ rights.

“NIAC also strongly supports the recent diplomatic outreach with Iran by the United States and other countries that can yield benefits in the human rights situation, as dialogue encourages and supports Iran’s burgeoning civil society. NIAC has consistently supported broadening the dialogue to include human rights. We hope that President Rouhani lives up to the promise of his campaign to the Iranian people and that his government will work with the Special Rapporteur to ensure that necessary reforms are undertaken to ensure Iran upholds its human rights obligations.”

Al Monitor: In Iran New Year’s Address, Khamenei Questions Holocaust

Khamenei’s Holocaust denial remarks are “extremely problematic and deeply disappointing, because these things do undermine a very carefully constructed, useful atmosphere that has been built, that can help facilitate a [nuclear] agreement,” Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told Al-Monitor Friday.


Al Monitor: World Powers, Iran Agree on Roadmap for ‘Marathon’ Nuclear Deal Talks

“One must say that everything that has happened up to this point has been unprecedented. We should use that momentum going forward to tackle the very difficult challenges ahead. We should believe that this process can succeed. Otherwise, what’s the point,” said NIAC Research Director Reza Marashi.

Al Monitor: US Treasury Tries to Boost Medical Sales to Iran

“The Obama administration needs to help create a clear pathway for humanitarian transactions through the financial blockade that sanctions have created. Without this, the effect of today’s authorization for medical devices will be severely blunted,” said Jamal Abdi.




Legislative Update, July 24, 2013: Concerning Legislation Underway in Congress

Washington, DC – Four bills are currently under consideration in Congress – and one is set to be voted on in the House – which seek to increase pressure on Iran through a variety of means. If these bills are enacted, the measures they implement will be harmful to ordinary Iranians as well as to U.S. interests.

In addition to several negative features of each bill in particular, which are outlined in more detail below, imposing additional sanctions on Iran or passing otherwise provocative measures at this time is a poor idea in general. For one thing, it would send precisely the wrong message to Iranian citizens, punishing them after electing the most moderate of the candidates running in their recent presidential election. Furthermore, passing confrontational measures before president-elect Hassan Rouhani – who has pledged to pursue “constructive interaction with the outside world” – even has a chance to enter into office threatens to squander an important potential opportunity for diplomacy, which is particularly unfortunate considering such opportunities have been few and far between.

However, as Congress considers additional punitive measures, last week Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) sent an unprecedented, bipartisan letter to President Obama, signed by 131 representatives, urging him to take advantage of the potential opportunity of Rouhani’s election by reinvigorating diplomacy.  Further, the letter recommends avoiding provocative actions that could undermine Rouhani in relation to hardliners and to ease sanctions in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions. The letter is by far the loudest call for diplomacy to ever come from Congress.

Further, as CQ‘s Emily Cadei reports, Congress usually has a sanctions bill ready for the President by the summer.  While the House still could pass H.R.850 in August, many believe that a comprehensive Senate bill will not be ready until the fall.  Thus, it could be until the end of the year or later before the President considers new Congressional sanctions. 

1) Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850)

Led by Representatives Ed Royce (CA) and Eliot Engel (NY).

View the full text and cosponsors. 

Why NIAC Opposes: 

  • Adds hurdles to negotiations by limiting the President’s authority to lift sanctions & waivers in return for Iranian concessions
  • Imposes oil and commercial embargoes that could break up international coalition against Iran by directly targeting U.S. allies for their ongoing trade with Iran
  • Expands medicine shortages inside of Iran by failing to exempt food, medicine, and other licensed trade from the criteria used to determine which countries qualify for sanctions waivers
  • Disproportionately hurts ordinary Iranians and thereby empowers hardliners in Iran’s government who are advancing anti-West and anti-U.S. narratives


This bill was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has over 350 cosponsors. A final vote could take place the last week of July 2013, before Rouhani even enters office.  

Further Analysis of this Bill:  NIAC: LobeLogHuffington PostFriends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL): Huffington PostPolitixNew York Times Editorial BoardWashington Post Congressional Quarterly (paid subscription required)Americans for Peace NowCenter for Arms Control and Non-ProliferationRoll CallReuters 

2) Iran Loophole Elimination Act (S. 892)

Led by Senators Mark Kirk (IL) and Joe Manchin (WV).

View the full text and cosponsors.  

Why NIAC Opposes:

  • Further restricts Iranian patients’ access to life-saving medicines by blocking Iran from accessing its foreign currency reserves in Euros, having a particularly significant impact on Iranians’ access to patented medicines produced only in Western countries that Iran and its remaining trading partners cannot produce


This bill was assigned to a congressional committee on May 8, 2013, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.

Further Analysis of this Bill:  New York Times

3) Iran Export Embargo Act (S. 1001)

Led by Senators John Cornyn (TX) and Mark Kirk (IL).

View the full text and cosponsors.

Why NIAC Opposes:

  • Makes lifting sanctions nearly impossible by removing all waivers and failing to provide sunset criteria, thereby elminating the incentive for Iran to continue negotiating with the international community and pushing the U.S. and Iran further down the path toward war
  • Removes the existing “Cooperating Country Waiver,” thereby risking angering U.S. allies and fracturing international coalition against Iran
  • Eliminates the President’s ability to waive sanctions if doing so is in the best interest of the national security, or based on considerations of the global petroleum price and supply
  • Makes humanitarian trade with Iran impossible by blocking all property that might be of interest to the Iranian government, without including humanitarian exemptions, and by prohibiting transactions with Iran’s Ministry of Health & Medical Education


This bill was assigned to a congressional committee on May 21, 2013, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole. The bill currently has 19 cosponsors, all Republican.

Further Analysis of this Bill:  

NIAC Policy Memo: The Iran Export Embargo Act

4) Iran Regime Change Act (Draft Bill)

Led by Senator Mark Kirk (IL).

View leaked bill summary obtained by the FCNL.

Why NIAC Opposes:

  • Expands sanctions against Iran’s financial sector, making it more difficult for Iranians to access food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods
  • Repeats the mistakes of the Iraq Liberation Act by calling for regime change, which would derail ongoing diplomatic negotiations that represent the best chance to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, avoid war, and seriously address human rights issues in Iran
  • Strengthens hardliners in the Iranian government by confirming their suspicions that U.S.-led economic pressure is not part of a diplomatic effort to convince Iran to curb its nuclear program, but rather an attempt to overthrow the Islamic Republic itself


This bill is currently being drafted and has yet to be introduced.

Further Analysis of this Bill:National Iranian American Council: The Huffington PostFCNL: The Huffington Post Blog and quoted in a Huffington Post articleBloomberg Colin H. Kahl and Alireza Nader in Al Monitor

5) Iran Sanctions Implementation Act (S. 965)

Led by Senator Jim Inhofe (OK).

View the full text and cosponsors.

Why NIAC Opposes:

  • Attempts to use sanctions as a politically popular cover for expanding U.S. oil drilling, while containing a number of falsities regarding Iran’s nuclear program, such as the assertion that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, which goes against U.S. national intelligence analysis affirming that Iran’s weaponization program was discontinued in 2003 and has remained so ever since
  • The President has no authority to remove this sanction, thereby adding hurdles to negotiations by limiting his ability to offer sanctions relief in return for Iranian concessions


This bill was referred to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee on May 15, 2013, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.

Further Analysis of this Bill:  Long Island Press




Al Monitor: Why the White House Is Giving Blanket OK For Earthquake Aid to Iran

“This enables NGOs to send donations directly to other NGOs in Iran,” bypassing the Iranian government, which has said it would accept foreign help but has so far rejected assistance offered by the US government. “Now the onus is back in the Iranian court,” Parsi said.




Al Monitor: Iranian Charity and Banker Say US Sanctions Hurting Patients

“We’ve got tons of examples of people who can’t get medicine,” Trita Parsi told Al-Monitor. He said he knew of one case of an Iranian-American’s father-in-law who’s in a coma because he couldn’t get the necessary medication from the United States.




Al Monitor: White House Rejects Blanket OK For Aid to Iranian Quake Victims

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, told Al-Monitor that the Bush administration not only issued a three-month general license for aid to quake victims, but renewed the license twice, enabling Americans to send help for nine months without needing to get permission.




Reuters: Iranians surf shark-infested, state-controlled web

At a Tehran cafe, a young man turns on his laptop to check out the latest gossip on Facebook. The scene could be repeated anywhere in the world, but the difference in Tehran is that he, like countless other Iranian Internet users, is breaking the law.

The social networking site was banned in Iran, along with Twitter, YouTube and countless others, shortly after the 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the huge street protests that followed.

Seen by the government as part of a “soft war” waged by the enemies of Iran, social networking and picture-sharing sites were a vital communication tool for the anti-Ahmadinejad camp – more than a year before they played a similar role in popular uprisings that toppled Arab dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Iran, trying to access Facebook on a normal Internet line will redirect the user to a page familiar to anyone who has surfed the web here – (“”). This page suggests an array of government-approved sites the user might like to try instead, the first being a searchable online Koran.

The filter page says blocked sites are those considered criminal; that offend “Islamic sanctities” or insult public and government officials. But, for many Iranians, bypassing the government filter is as easy as switching on the computer.

Access to a virtual private network can be obtained – by making discreet enquiries to the right kind of person among Iran’s well-informed computer savvy youth – for as little as $60 per year. The VPN makes the computer appear as if it is based in another country, allowing it to bypass the filter.

“I think the server’s in Malaysia,” said one young computer user, himself an IT manager in Tehran, who asked not be identified for fear of prosecution.

While the VPN gives access to blocked sites, it does not protect the user from potential monitoring, he said. “I don’t know if my VPN is safe or not. You just have to hope,” he said.

While Iranians have little difficulty accessing forbidden sites, that does not mean the government is neglecting the “soft war” – the term it uses to describe Western propaganda it believes is aimed at weakening the Islamic system of government.

“The Revolutionary Guard has succeeded in creating a cyber army and today it is the second cyber army in the world,” Ebrahim Jabbari, a commander of the elite military force, told the semi-official Fars news agency last year.

The exact nature of Tehran’s counter-offensive in the soft war is not clear but a key part is thought to be monitoring and blocking content and clamping down on people posting material deemed “unacceptable.”

U.S.-based think tank Freedom House, in a report published last month on Internet freedom around the world, said Iran had jailed 50 bloggers of whom a dozen are still in detention.

Hossein Derakhshan, dubbed Iran’s “Blogfather” due to his pioneering of blogging in Farsi, was jailed for 19 years in September for “cooperating with hostile countries, spreading propaganda and insulting religious figures,” according to a human rights activist who spoke to Reuters at the time.

Freedom House ranked Iran the worst of all 37 countries in its report – below Burma, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. It said Tehran was waging “an active campaign against Internet freedom.”

“The 2009 election seemed to mark the end of [Iran’s] internal debate, as the leadership decisively chose political control over the benefits of a more open society,” said the report sponsored by, among others, the United Nations Democracy Fund and Google.

Aside from filtering and the threat of legal action, one simple way of restricting Internet access is to slow the system down to the point where it is unusable.

While this is not an officially acknowledged policy, Iranians say it happens regularly during politically sensitive times, such as when opposition demonstrations were being organized last February for the first time in more than a year.

“I talked to the ISP [Internet service provider] and they told me sharks had attacked the undersea cable,” said the Tehrani IT manager, who was unable to get on the Web around the time of a Feb. 14 demonstration.

“We were both laughing. They were told to say that.”


In addition to official action against the “soft war,” there are some reports that pro-government Iranians may also be taking up computer arms against the enemy.

In March, a hacker in Iran attacked Comodo, a U.S.-based company that issues security certificates for websites, in an apparent attempt to set up fake versions of websites belonging to Google, Yahoo, Skype, Mozilla and Microsoft.

According to a New York Times report on March 24, Comodo described the attack as well-planned and deployed with “clinical accuracy” from computers located mainly in Iran. Many analysts have speculated it was the work of the Iranian government.

Comodo said it quickly spotted and dealt with the intrusion.

But a message posted on the Internet, apparently by a freelance Iranian computer expert, claimed he had hacked the company in protest at cyber attacks on his country.

“I’m not a group, I’m single hacker with experience of 1000 hacker,” read the message, in broken English, posted at

“I’m a GHOST,” it continued, saying the writer was 21 years old and had no connection with Iran’s “cyber army.”

“I’m unstoppable, so [be] afraid if you should [be] afraid, worry if you should worry.” He ended his message in Farsi: “Janam Fadaye Rahbar” which roughly translates as “may my life be sacrificed for the leader,” referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The hacker said his attack was in part revenge for the Stuxnet virus – a computer worm discovered last year that several experts said appeared aimed at damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities and may have contributed to the latest delay in starting up its first nuclear power station at Bushehr.

Tehran denies accusations, voiced most vocally by the United States and Israel, that it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear ambitions are purely peaceful.

Tehran’s two greatest foes have said they do not rule out pre-emptive strikes to stop Iran developing the bomb. But some see Stuxnet as a signal they are favouring cyber war over conventional military action.

Neither country has confirmed it is behind the virus.

Internet speeds even at the best of times are not great in Iran. To get anything more than 128 megabits per second, Iranians have to prove a professional need for such bandwidth at home. By comparison, 1 gigabit per second is hardly considered speedy by broadband consumers in the West.

The government has suggested quicker web access will be more widely available once it has created an alternate, religiously approved, Internet.

“The preliminary work for setting up the first ‘halal’ Internet have been done,” Ali Aghamohammadi, an official in Ahmadinajad’s office in charge of economic affairs, told the official IRNA news agency last month.

“We would then witness great improvements in the government’s electronic services as well as e-commerce and e-banking systems,” Aghamohammadi said. “Such a network could be expanded and also could be connected to neighboring countries.”

Details of how the Iran-wide network would look are sketchy, but government critics fear it would be a way to exert greater control and possibly even isolate Iran completely from the World Wide Web once its own network is up and running.

Unlike North Korea and Cuba, where there is little or no access to the Internet, any suggestion that Iran would be unplugged from the web is unthinkable in an emerging industrialized country with a large, young and well-educated population.

“Limiting access to the Internet would have a huge negative impact on academics and students,” said Ali Jahangiri, a U.S.-based computer expert.

Iran ranks number 36 out of 210 countries in the world for the number of Internet users, with 8.2 million, about the same as a medium-sized European country, according to 2009 figures from the International Telecommunication Union.

For Reza Marashi, of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council, Tehran aims to “quarantine” its population from the global Internet.

“Producing indigenous search engines and email accounts – tools that allow the Internet to function – will help the government control the physical infrastructure of the Internet itself,” he said in a report published on April 30.

“By building filtration mechanisms into the infrastructure, the government will not only increase its control over the flow of information within Iran, but also information coming in and out,” Marashi said.

“This would be a huge – perhaps irreparable – blow to Iran’s internal opposition.”

Back in the Tehran cafe, the young IT manager predicted it would not be easy to stop Iranians accessing the Internet that has become a central part of their lives.

“Iranian people have learned to adapt,” he said, exhaling apple-flavoured smoke from a water pipe. “Computer systems always have a crack. You just have to find it.”




NIAC Urges Obama to Publicly Press Iran to Halt Execution of Zeinab Jalalian

For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Elwood
Phone: 202-423-7957

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council is gravely concerned by reports that the Iranian government plans to execute Zeinab Jalalian, a 27-year old Iranian-Kurdish political prisoner. NIAC urgently calls on President Obama to raise this issue publicly and to press Iran to halt the execution of Ms. Jalalian and other political prisoners sentenced to death in Iran.

“The international community must urgently turn its focus to the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “President Obama must press Iran to halt the execution of all political prisoners and make it clear that human rights are an issue of paramount concern for the United States.”

NIAC reiterates its call for the Obama Administration to make human rights a central pillar of its Iran policy and to work with the international community to establish an international monitoring mechanism to improve the human rights situation in Iran.

NIAC reiterates its call for Iran to release all political prisoners, suspend all sentences for individuals who have not been provided fair trials, and comply with its international human rights obligations.

Zeinab Jalalian was charged in January 2009 with Moharebeh, or waging war against God, which is punishable by death. Reports indicate that no evidence was presented warranting this charge against Ms. Jalalian, she was denied access to a lawyer, and her trial lasted only minutes. Ms. Jalalian has been detained since March 28, 2008, and for much of that time has been held incommunicado, her family has had no information regarding her fate, and there are concerns that she may have been tortured.




NIAC Conference: Blix, Pickering propose nuclear compromise

Washington DC – “The United States and the West have painted themselves into a corner,” Hans Blix, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday. Blix was referring to the Bush administration’s insistence that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium before talks can proceed. Iran has refused to do so, claiming that it is unacceptable to be expected to concede the main object under negotiation before talks even begin.

Blix made the comments during a Capitol Hill conference titled “Breaking the U.S.-Iran Stalemate,” hosted by the National Iranian American Council. Both Blix and co-panelist Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, strongly advocated direct and unconditional engagement with Iran over its nuclear program and also assessed the merits of a proposal to create a multinational uranium enrichment facility on Iranian soil.


The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency argued that the West has a “thin legal argument” when it comes to forcing Iran to halt its enrichment since such activities are allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is despite the fact that for years Iran hid aspects of its nuclear program from the international community.

Pickering agreed that the preconditions have delayed talks, to the detriment of the United States. “Time is not on our side,” he said. “Iran can certainly build centrifuges faster than we can exert pressure, unfortunately.”

Pickering, who has had a career spanning five decades as a U.S. diplomat, serving as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, ambassador to the United Nations and Israel, and special assistant to Henry Kissinger, raised the notion that zero enrichment on Iranian soil even as an end goal has become “increasingly more remote as a possibility.”

“We should not let the perfect become an enemy of the good,” Pickering said in reference to Washington’s insistence on zero-enrichment.


Instead, Pickering and colleagues William Luers and James Walsh have recently advanced a proposal to house a multinational uranium enrichment facility on Iranian soil. According to the ambassador, the joint program would meet Iran’s desire for nuclear independence while at the same time providing strong barriers against Iranian pursuit of a weapons capability.

In fact, he argued, “this is better than a unilateral Iranian” promise to not enrich uranium, (which is what the Bush administration currently requires) since a large number of inspectors would permanently reside inside the country as part of the deal. The inspectors would closely monitor Iranian nuclear scientists-most of whom have been trained in the West-in order to ensure that they do not participate in clandestine activities.

The facility would be under the joint ownership of a number of different governments who would collaborate with Iran, helping to finance the project and sharing in its revenue. In return for international help with the nuclear program, Iran would be prohibited from reprocessing spent fuel or plutonium, which could be used for a bomb. No research and development on the nuclear fuel cycle outside of the “narrow confines” of the deal would be permitted either. Finally, the Iranian military would be prohibited from maintaining any involvement in the nuclear program.

ImageBlix addressed the concern that many have raised over a possible spread of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East if Iran were allowed to enrich its own uranium. He suggested that the Arab countries should be allowed to participate in a multinational Iranian program so that they would not feel the need to create their own.

Blix saw the proposal as a “welcome contribution” that would “add considerable transparency.” As the former executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Blix gained world notoriety for his part in successfully verifying the dismantlement of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program. As for the Iranian nuclear program, he concluded that the current level of IAEA inspections in the country is insufficient in ensuring against proliferation, and that the Pickering proposal would allow for better safeguards.


Co-panelist David Albright applauded Pickering’s “courage” in advocating what some feel to be a controversial position. Currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C., Albright also cooperated with the IAEA Action Team from 1992-1997, focusing on analyses of Iraqi documents and past procurement activities.

He stressed the importance of understanding that any possible suspension of enrichment by Iran during future talks would likely be only temporary. As a result, guaranteeing a future international monitoring presence in the country would be essential, after which the Iranians “can restart a centrifuge program, but with our blessing.” Albright used the Bushehr reactor as an example. After years of protest over activities at that facility, the Bush administration is now less concerned after IAEA inspections.

The three panelists also provided their thoughts on a proper U.S. policy to deal effectively with Iran.

“We are guilty of erecting barriers,” said Pickering, which has impeded diplomacy with Iran. Along with dropping the preconditions, the U.S. should also be open to discuss all mutual grievances.

The United States has become increasingly concerned recently with Iran’s alleged hand in fomenting violence in Iraq. NIAC’s event occurred at the same time that General David Petraeus was testifying on Capitol Hill about the situation in Iraq. A portion of his testimony dealt with Iran’s growing influence in the neighboring country.

For its part, Iran has lashed out against the West for what it feels to be threats to its independence and internal stability. Blix stressed the essential part that security guarantees from the United States would play in convincing Iran to come to the negotiating table.

Albright also criticized U.S. sanctions against Iran. Only hours before the NIAC event, the Senate Finance Committee held a sanctions hearing, in which most of those testifying advocated a new and harsher sanctions bill that would further punish Iran. Panelists at the sanctions hearing argued that economic isolation was the only viable alternative between war and complete submission to Iran.

Pickering disagreed with this sentiment. “When you’re in a deep hole, you should stop digging,” he said. Years of isolation and threats have not solved the problem, and have actually strengthened the Iranian government’s hand by delaying negotiations.

“The longer we wait the more centrifuges we have to deal with,” he said.