NIAC Statement on Apple’s Decision to Restrict Iranian-Made Apps

 

 

   
 
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after sending a letter to Apple Inc. raising concerns about its decisions to restrict mobile applications made by Iranian developers:

“Apple’s decision to restrict mobile apps made by Iranian developers may be an overly cautious approach to U.S. sanctions compliance that undermines U.S. interests by limiting the Iranian people’s access to technologies used for personal communication. Apple’s move has the effect of punishing the Iranian people, not Iran’s government, and only succeeds in discouraging Iran’s burgeoning tech entrepreneurs and forcing Iran’s youth back under the umbrella of government censors.

“NIAC calls on Apple and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to take all necessary steps to ensure that Iranians are able to once again make their mobile applications available on the Apple app store.
 

“Today, NIAC published a letter directed to Apple, seeking an explanation of the legal basis for its move and whether Apple has undertaken efforts to receive license authorization to host Iranian apps in its App Store.  In NIAC’s view, Apple’s current policy ‘risks undermining core U.S. foreign policy interests in ensuring Iranians are able to utilize the Internet for personal communications absent the censorship of their home government.’

“Apple’s decision to remove Iranian apps is yet another indication of the deleterious impact of broad U.S. sanctions targeting Iran and impacting the Iranian people. Apple, like many other U.S. companies, have to figure out how to navigate broad, often intentionally ambiguous, U.S. sanctions, and the conclusion for many has been to exercise undue caution in ways that may undermine U.S. interests. For instance, we have seen cases where U.S. banks close the accounts of Iranian students studying in the United States, despite there being no prohibition on U.S. banks maintaining such accounts. Ultimately, because such caution is likely to persist into the future, it is incumbent on the U.S. Treasury Department to provide sufficient guidance to companies so that they do not undertake actions counter to U.S. interests.

“We trust that Apple shares our interest in encouraging young Iranian tech entrepreneurs and promoting internet freedom around the world. We hope they will respond and look forward to discussing these matters with them.”

The full letter can be found here.

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NIAC Urges President Obama to Establish U.S.-Iran Banking Channel

Washington, DC – With a potential nuclear deal only weeks away, the National Iranian American Council is urging that a direct banking channel be established between the U.S. and Iran. Such a channel would allow for humanitarian transactions, the sale of licensed goods like phones and computer software, and the transfer of personal remittances and inheritances between the U.S. and Iran. While the channel would be limited to transactions that are currently permitted under the U.S. trade embargo on Iran, it could eventually provide for a broader opening of trade relations between the two countries.

In a letter sent to President Obama last week, NIAC wrote, “Many Iranian Americans have family and friends in Iran and are in need of a financial channel to engage in authorized transactions. A direct financial channel would help facilitate legitimate transactions and would also boost the role Iranian Americans can play bridging the divide between the two countries.”  A NIAC Policy Memo on the topic further outlines the benefits of such a channel, as does a 2013 report by the Atlantic Council.

According to a U.S. official close to the negotiations, a direct banking channel is “on the table” in the nuclear talks. If established, a direct channel between the two countries would be a significant development. U.S. sanctions have long prohibited most contacts between the U.S. and Iran and the lack of a direct banking channel has frustrated U.S. and Iranian parties’ attempts to engage in legal transactions between the two countries, such as the transfer of inheritances or even the sale of food and medicine to Iran. To perform these activities right now, U.S. and Iranian parties have to route funds through third-country banks, many of which refuse to process the transactions. This has brought U.S.-Iran trade to its lowest levels ever, U.S. census bureau data shows

Moreover, a direct banking channel could facilitate a broader opening with Iran, as U.S. businesses would be able to take advantage of existing trade opportunities to enter Iran. For instance, reports suggest that Apple is in talks with Iranian distributors regarding the sale of its products in Iran. However, Apple is concerned about being able to receive payments from its Iranian customers and is consulting with the U.S. government over the matter at present. Establishing a direct banking channel would resolve this issue.

NIAC will continue to work to alleviate the burdens of sanctions on Iranian Americans and, in this vein, urges both the U.S. and Iranian negotiating parties to agree to a deal that includes a direct banking channel between the two countries. This will not only ease the burden of conducting transactions between the U.S. and Iran, but will also pave the way for both countries to steer a different course in their relations. 

NIAC Encouraged That Apple is Looking at Entering Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org
 
Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council Policy Director Jamal Abdi released the following statement regarding reports that Apple, Inc. is exploring opportunities to sell goods in Iran should a nuclear deal be reached and sanctions be sufficiently lifted:
We are strongly encouraged by reports that Apple may be looking to enter Iran in the near future. We commend everyone who is working to build bridges to a brighter future between Americans and Iranians, whether through diplomatic engagement, people to people exchanges, or economic investment.
 
As Iranian Americans, the stakes couldn’t be clearer for us. Not long ago, a young Iranian-American woman shopping in Alpharetta, GA was told she could not purchase any Apple products because of U.S. economic sanctions. This was an egregious but not unusual story for our community. The fact that Apple is now considering selling its products directly to Iran suggests how far the United States and Iran have come in negotiations and how this has positively impacted people on all sides, including the Iranian-American community. 
 
This past February, the Obama Administration took an important step when it issued General License D-1, which permits the export of personal communications technologies and software, including iMacs and iPhones. This was a commendable step by the Administration that was strongly supported for years by NIAC and other human rights and diaspora organizations.
 
Ending Iran’s economic isolation, and enabling relationships with Iran’s innovators, will be mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Iran’s population is young, highly educated, and deeply interested connecting with the global community. Where the standoff between the U.S. and Iran has been a negative sum exercise that has put us on a path to war, a diplomatic solution can be the beginning of a positive sum relationship towards a brighter future. Thirty-five years of sanctions and escalation have done nothing to improve human rights for Iranians. Diplomacy, and the prospect of lifting sanctions and encouraging trade, can help ensure Iranians are able to improve their human rights situation. 
 
These new hopes and opportunities only add to the already high stakes of the ongoing nuclear negotiations. With just few weeks remaining in the talks, all parties need to boldly seize the moment to secure a nuclear deal, de-escalate tensions, and start to steer the relationship in a new direction. If and when there is a deal, it will be imperative for both sides to fully live up to their end of the bargain. For Iran, that will mean taking verifiable actions to demonstrate that its nuclear program is limited to exclusively peaceful purposes. For the U.S. and others, it will mean implementing relief from sanctions in a sufficiently robust manner so that ordinary people feel the positive effects. 
 
There will be many obstacles and hard work ahead, including the U.S. embargo on Iran that may remain in place even with a deal. Those on both sides working towards positive relations will have our work cut out for us. But the reports of Apple and others taking a serious look at opportunities with Iran are a positive sign that bolder steps towards a brighter future are within reach.
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American Journalists on Sanctions Impact Inside Iran

Washington, DC – Two prominent American journalists who recently returned from Iran are cautioning that new sanctions at this time would undermine U.S. interests and hurt the people of Iran. Washington Post journalist David Ignatius warned that imposing “much more aggressive sanctions that follow breakdown of negotiations will empower the people we would least like to see on top.” He added, “More sanctions will, in part, have the effect of enfranchising, just as they did in Iraq, the most corrupt people, who control levers of illegal business.” 

Robin Wright, editor of Iran Primer, spoke alongside Ignatius at the US Institute of Peace yesterday at an event cosponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center to discuss the importance of understanding the effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy and society and how this would impact U.S. interests. Wright argued, “Congress would make an epic miscalculation to assume new sanctions would add pressure on Iran to make a deal.” Director of the Wilson Center, Jane Harman also added that the new Senate sanctions bill introduced by Senator Menendez “is disturbing” and suggested Congress give both sides rooms to let the deal work.  

According to Wright, the Iranian economy is not crippled in the sense many assume but rather, appears to be thriving when on the streets of Tehran, saying “the grand bazaars [are] popping, the isles are packed… there is a technology mall that is just for computers and there are so many apple stores that have the Apple brand on it where you can get an iPad, iPhone, iPod of the latest variety in any color.” Ignatius insisted Iranians are a resourceful people and have found ways to work around sanctions. 

However, Wright said sanctions are indirectly affecting the most vulnerable Iranians’  access humanitarian materials and medical supplies, despite both being exempt from sanctions. “I went to a hospice care facility where one guy was literally dying, he may have died since I came back, and they were showing me the inhalers that he needed and are American made and that he couldn’t get access to because no pharmacy could get anybody to finance the ability to buy these things,” Wright said. 

Both Wright and Ignatius said that direct diplomacy through negotiations would have a far better effect on both ordinary Iranians and US interests than implementing new sanctions. Ignatius concluded that, despite how hard it will be to get a final deal, “it is very much in Iran and America’s interests.”  

 

 

 

Iranian Students in U.S. Hit by Discriminatory Banking Sanctions

Washington, DC – Financial sanctions purportedly aimed at Iran’s government may yet again be taking a toll on ordinary Iranians, this time punishing Iranian students studying in U.S. universities. 

Students and faculty at the University of Minnesota have reported that at least twenty-two students have been notified by TCF Bank that their university-linked bank accounts are being terminated. The bank provided no further explanation for the action, but it soon became clear that the students had one thing in common: they are all Iranian. 

As U.S. and E.U. sanctions on Iran have ratcheted up over the past three years, they have had a significant chilling effect on even perfectly legal transactions. For instance, many banks have decided it is not worth the risk to facilitate payments for the sale of medical goods or food to Iran or to send family remittances, even though these items are technically exempt from sanctions. Testing services required for Iranian students to study abroad, such as Educational Testing Service’s TOEFL test, have been intermittently suspended and plagued by problems in facilitating payments. And many Iranian students are increasingly reporting hardship in paying their tuitions at U.S. schools because sanctions have closed off channels for legally receiving money from family in Iran.

However, while financial sanctions have have convinced many companies and banks to take an overly broad view of the restrictions, U.S. law protects against discrimination on the basis of national origin. So, while many banks have decided it is not worth the risk to engage in business related to Iran, they are not permitted to profile individuals in the U.S. based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin. 

In a meeting setup between the students and the TCF Bank’s representatives, facilitated by the university, the representatives claimed that the closures were triggered by “irregularities” in transactions that had been detected by the bank’s monitoring software. However, the fact that all of the students received the notices on the same date, and some had never engaged in international transactions, raised doubts about the bank’s explanation. At least one of the impacted students even said their account had been completely inactive for over a year. 

In a letter sent today, National Iranian American Council called on TCF Bank to reverse its decision and ensure its policies do not discriminate against Iranians. NIAC noted that, even though there are significant financial sanctions against Iran, there is no law justifying the closure of bank accounts of Iranian students on the basis of their nationality. Such action, NIAC wrote, would constitute discrimination from which all persons in the United States–regardless of nationality–are protected.

Broad sanctions against Iran have led to over-enforcement and misapplication that has manifested at times in the form of profiling and discrimination. Last year, a number of Iranians and Iranian Americans reported that Apple Store employees were refusing to sell items to them and profiling on the basis of their language or national origin. Isolated cases of banks refusing to open accounts for Iranians have been reported over the past year as well. And, in perhaps the most sweeping case, TD Bank in Canada unilaterally closed the accounts of individuals with Iranian last names last summer. Eventually, public backlash led the bank to reverse that decision.

 

 

 

Iran Nuclear Talks Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC and Geneva – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media during and after nuclear negotiations between the United States, other members of the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva.

There are strong expectations that diplomats will strike a historic interim deal that would be a key step toward resolving the nuclear standoff. Now Congress must support rather than undercut U.S. negotiators. Despite President Obama’s call for Congress not to ratchet up sanctions yesterday, many in Congress are still pushing new sanctions that would undermine the President’s ability to strike a deal. 

NIAC analysts available in Washington, DC:

Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Trita Parsi, PhD is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

NIAC analysts available in Geneva:

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and is on the ground for negotiations in Geneva.  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:

“Iran Talks: Do We Want a Deal or a War?” CNN, November 8, 2013

“Serious Progress and a Familiar Road Map at Iran Nuclear Talks,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2013

“Pushing Peace: How Israel Can Help the United States Strike a Deal With Iran – And Why It Should,” Foreign Affairs, October 1, 2013

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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Why D.C. Is Wrong to Discredit Iran’s New President

America finds itself exactly where Iran was four years ago. Back then, America had just elected a new, articulate president who offered hope and promised a new approach to the world and Iran. His election was a direct rejection of the foreign policy of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose favorite tools of statecraft appeared to be military force and confrontational rhetoric.

The question Iran grappled with in 2009 was whether this new president — Barack Obama — really represented change or if it was merely an act of electoral deception.

Today, the roles are reversed. Iranians have elected a new, articulate president who is promising both the Iranian people and the world community hope and a new approach. His election is seen as a direct rejection of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s confrontational policies and rhetoric. Iranians wanted hope and change and they went to the ballot boxes to obtain it.

But four years ago, the Iranian leadership couldn’t bring themselves to believe that the new U.S. president could be a sign of change. Was Obama really intent on shifting Washington’s Iran policy or was it all just talk? Even if his intentions were good, did he have the power to change long-standing policies?

Archconservatives expressed disbelief that Obama could even win. In their cynical view of the U.S. political system, perhaps reflective of their own political conduct, they never thought that Obama could get elected — in spite of his strong popular support. Rather, he won because “those behind the scenes who make presidents and make policies — the puppeteers — decided, and only changed their puppet.”

Similarly today, conventional wisdom in Washington first dismissed as fantasy the idea that Hassan Rohani could win the Iranian presidential elections and later wondered why Iran’s supreme leader had “permitted” this impossible outcome.

Some in Iran accused Obama of putting “on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal,” while others pointed to structural factors inhibiting Obama’s maneuverability. Even if Obama’s intentions were good, the gigantic U.S. foreign policy machinery would overwhelm and devour him, these skeptics said. The supreme leader, Khamenei himself, questioned Obama’s influence.

“I do not know who makes decisions for America,” Khamenei said, “the president, the Congress, [or] behind the scene elements.”

Similarly, Washington critics of Rohani question the role and importance of the Iranian president. They argue that the real decision maker in Iran is the supreme leader and that the president hardly counts. (The same circles made the opposite claim regarding Ahmadinejad’s influence only months earlier.)

Others in Iran were less cynical, but even then, optimism had to be avoided it seemed. Ali Larijani, the powerful speaker of the Majles, said in 2008 that he favored an Obama victory “despite our knowledge that U.S. policy will not change much.”

The hard-line view in Iran eventually prevailed. Obama’s intentions and capabilities were unclear, they argued, and as a result Iran could not take a risk by making conciliatory moves toward his administration. Change had to be fundamental and not cosmetic.

Much like Washington’s demand of Rohani today, the Iranians wanted concrete evidence that Obama was sincere. “The U.S. must prove that their policies have changed,” said Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, one of Ahmadinejad’s closest advisers.

At the same time that the Iranians were debating the possibility of change in U.S. foreign policy, they were preparing for it not to happen. The Iranians didn’t miss an opportunity as much as theydismissed it through their cynicism and reactivity. So they obtained the predictable result: Ultimately, Obama could only proceed with his intent for resolving the conflict to the extent that Tehran tangoed along.

Today, the roles are reversed. The new and smiling face is in Tehran; the skeptical and jaded counterpart is in Washington.

Now, it’s Washington’s turn to raise the same arguments Tehran injected in 2009. Rohani is just a new face to an old policy. He is a regime insider and Khamenei loyalist. Or alternatively, he is a reformist whose policies will be blocked by the conservatives at every step. So ultimately, even if he means well, he doesn’t have real influence.

But Rohani can make a difference. He isn’t a reformist but a centrist who won the elections due to the reformist vote. His political center of gravity is at the center. He enjoys good relations with most elements within the Iranian power structure, from the IRGC, to the clergy to the various political factions.

Perhaps most important, he appears to have a mutual agreement with Khamenei. While Rohani used the rhetoric of the reformists in the election campaign, he was very careful to avoid one of their memes: Unlike leaders of the Green Movement in 2009, Rohani repeatedly declared his loyalty to Khamenei and credit the supreme leader for all of his own successes. By this, Rohani signaled that he would not violate Khamenei’s most critical red line: Khamenei will yield Rohani the ability to create or change policy in most areas — as long as the president does not challenge the institution of the supreme leader (Velayat-e faqih).

This is a central difference between Rohani and the leaders of the Green Movement. It makes him less attractive for the purpose of democratization in the short run. But it also increases his ability to deliver in other areas.

Ultimately, change in foreign policy will be limited unless it’s accompanied by progress in Iran’s internal situation. But at a minimum, neither the intent nor capability of Rohani should be discounted.

Obama suffered from this very Iranian mistake in 2009. Now he must be careful not to repeat it.

This article originally appeared in Reuters.

 

 

 

Iran Elections Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Contact:
Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325, tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org 
 
 
Washington, DC – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media before, during and after Iran’s presidential election for analysis of the internal political dynamics inside Iran; the implications for Iran’s pro-democracy and human rights movement; the considerations of policymakers inside the U.S. and implications for the nuclear issue; and the reaction of the Iranian-American community.  
 
 
 
 
On Friday, June 14, Iran will hold presidential elections that will have major implications for its domestic politics and relations with the outside world – including the nuclear standoff with the United States. Iran’s 2009 vote saw the mobilization of the pro-democracy “green movement” and massive demonstrations that plunged the country into chaos for months after allegations of a fraudulent Ahmadinejad victory. This year, authorities do not appear to be taking any chances, clamping down on dissent and disqualifying prominent pro-reform candidates. But Iran’s election promises to be full of surprises and shifting dynamics that will shape decision-making inside Tehran, as well as Washington’s calculations and options going forward.

Available NIAC analysts:

 
Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

 
Trita Parsi is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

 
Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:
 
 
 
 
 

 

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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NIAC Applauds Lifting of Communications Sanctions for Iranians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – NIAC applauds the Obama Administration’s anticipated decision to lift sanctions on consumer communication tools for the Iranian people tomorrow. This long sought action will help ensure sanctions do not block important consumer communication hardware, software, and services for ordinary Iranians. NIAC commends the organizations and individuals in the Iranian-American community who worked tirelessly on this issue over the past four years.

“Lifting these sanctions is an extremely positive step,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “There was no better example of sanctions that undermined human rights and civil society efforts of Iranians, and helped the regime.”

Sanctions on communications tools in Iran have been in place since before social media, text messaging, and cell phones were an everyday part of life. They have prevented companies from selling laptops, cell phones, or modems to Iran, which has fueled a major black market for these goods. They have blocked services like satellite Internet, website hosting, and VPNs for Iranians. And the sanctions even made it illegal for Iranians to download basic software and security updates, which left many vulnerable to malware and cyber intrusions by the government.

“Iranians have been squeezed between a repressive government on one side and crippling sanctions on the other,” said Abdi. “Now the U.S. is taking steps to ensure that, as Iran’s government cracks down on Internet access and SMS, sanctions will no longer block cell phones, software, and hardware.”

The sanctions were felt most acutely four years ago, at the height of Iran’s green movement protests. The world was galvanized by cell phone videos and reports of abuses coming from inside of Iran, and SMS and other communications tools were being used to help organize massive demonstrations. Yet all of those tools were under U.S. sanctions. Some limited actions were taken by the Obama Administration to ease sanctions on basic, freely available software, and to license other tools in 2010. But until now, most of these items have been largely blocked.

In recent years, as sanctions ratcheted up, the enforcement of these restrictions became even more severe. In 2012, there were several reports of Apple Stores discriminating against Iranian Americans by blocking them from buying iPhones or iPads. Apple employees claimed to have done so because, under the sanctions, it was illegal for anybody to travel with or send cellphones or laptops to Iran. Recently, companies like Samsung started blocking Iranians from accessing their mobile app stores. And even online games like World of Warcraft and online dating sites were cut off for users with Iranian IP addresses because of sanctions.

“At a time when broad sanctions are causing many Iranians to seriously question whether the U.S. is aiming at them or their government, this is a very important gesture,” said Abdi. “Steps like this can go a long way to demonstrate that we stand with the Iranian people.”

“This also shows that sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians can be lifted if we press policymakers and work with them to find solutions,” Abdi said. “Serious issues remain to be addressed, including sanctions that are preventing medicine from reaching ordinary Iranians, and we look forward to progress on this front.” 

NIAC has been working with the Obama Administration and Congress to lift the communications sanctions since 2009, when they supported the Iran Digital Empowerment Act that was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). NIAC strongly supported the Obama Administration’s issuance of a waiver for limited personal communications software in 2010 and continued to push the Administration to lift restrictions on these items in 2011. NIAC supported the Obama Administration’s issuance of a favorable license policy for other communications tools in 2012 and worked with other organizations to press private tech companies to stop over-enforcing sanctions on certain software. NIAC helped highlight cases of discrimination at Apple Stores against Iranian Americans and published an op-ed in the New York Times on the issue in 2012.

NIAC wishes to express its gratitude to the U.S. government and partner organizations on this issue including International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, United For Iran, Human Rights Watch, Center for Democracy & Technology, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Open Technology Institute.

 

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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Iranian Students Hit by Sanctions on Schools, Banks

Washington, DC – Iranian students are facing new obstacles to pay for college tuition and even to enroll in universities in the U.S. and Europe due to increasingly broad sanctions. 

A university in the Czech Republic recently notified an Iranian applicant that, due to EU sanctions, the school would not be accepting any Iranian students, in a letter publicized last week.

Another notice, obtained by NIAC, was issued by an American university stating U.S. schools operating programs abroad received specific guidance that they were no longer allowed to enroll Iranian students in math, science, or engineering classes above introductory levels and could not admit any Iranian graduate students or faculty without explicit U.S. government permission. The notice said the restrictions were the result of sanctions passed by Congress last year—purportedly aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and improving the human rights situation. The notice warned that these restrictions may also come into force within the U.S. as the law is implemented. This is in addition to new visa restrictions against Iranian students included in the sanctions bill.

Additionally, it was revealed this past week that TCF Bank, which in December notified at least 22 Iranians students at the University of Minnesota that their accounts were being closed, has been under investigation by the Treasury Department and fined $10 million for incomplete monitoring and reporting of cash transactions.

The revelation may provide clues as to why the bank moved to close dozens of accounts belonging to Iranian students in a potential act of discrimination.

Those closures, in conjunction with the Treasury investigation and penalty, may suggest the latest instance in which broad sanctions have raised significant risks and burdens on banks and companies engaging in legitimate transactions related to Iran. The pressures to enforce the broadening array of sanctions on Iran has created a  “chilling effect” in which many banks and businesses have opted to end these legal transactions, including the sale of medicine and humanitarian goods, the provision of Internet communication software, and now the operation of bank accounts to enable Iranian students to pay for their tuition and study in the U.S.

In addition to paying the fine, TCF announced they had beefed up their “compliance program aimed at monitoring, detecting and reporting suspicious activities, as well as its other legal and regulatory requirements.” However, according to the Treasury Department, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) includes several exemptions to enable Iranian students to study in the U.S.

TCF Bank holds an exclusive contract with the University of Minnesota to sell checking accounts to students linked to their student ID cards and donated a $300 million football stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, to the school. But faculty members at the university notified the school administration that they would begin closing their TCF accounts and moving their mortgages to other banks in protest.

“We no longer feel comfortable having TCF be the responsible institution for our deposits,” wrote the faculty members in a letter to the university.

The apparent over-enforcement of sanctions in spite of legal exemptions aimed to protect against “unintended consequences” has so far led companies like Google and Go Daddy to deny their services to Iranians for fear of violating sanctions. The “chilling effect” has also led to alleged discrimination in the past, including reports that Apple employees refused to sell products to Iranians and Iranian Americans in a misplaced effort to enforce sanctions. Additionally, Canada’s TD Bank began canceling accounts last July, providing little explanation and no opportunity for customers to defend themselves. TD Bank eventually relented and reopened the accounts after significant public pressure.

 

 

 

Brzezinski: US Should Not Follow Israel on Iran Like a “Stupid Mule”

Brzezinski Video Still

Watch the conference video – Panel discussion | Brzezinski keynote | Transcript

Washington, DC – “I don’t think there is an implicit obligation for the United States to follow like a stupid mule whatever the Israelis do,” said Zbigniew Brzezinski. “If they decide to start a war, simply on the assumption that we’ll automatically be drawn into it, I think it is the obligation of friendship to say, ‘you’re not going to be making national decision for us.’ I think that the United States has the right to have its own national security policy.”

Speaking before a conference sponsored jointly by the Arms Control Association and the National Iranian American Council, Brzezinski effectively ruled out a U.S. or Israel attack on Iran as “an act of utter irresponsibility” that would mean “the region would literally be set aflame.” He warned that a policy based on such unrealistic options ultimately undermined U.S. credibility. 

Ahmad Sadri PanelPanelists at the event argued that the timing is right for a renewed diplomatic initiative with Iran.  “Right now is the right time, right after the American elections, and right before the Iranian elections,” observed Professor Ahmad Sadri of Lake Forest College.  “Remember back to 2008 when we were in the same point in the cycle, except right now on the ground the situation is much worse.  There’s more fissile material, and there’s less optimism.”  

However, at the same time, Sadri noted that Iran’s soft and hard power in the Middle East has declined. “If I was an
American negotiator, I’d say this is exactly the right time to go into [negotiations].”

Nuclear specialist Jim Walsh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argued that both sides needed to be prepared for compromise and to expand their existing offers.  “You’re not going to have success if you simply continue to repeat the things you did before that didn’t work.”  

“Content-wise, both sides have presented proposals where they are asking a lot and offering very little,” Walsh
observed.  “This is classic, everyone does this, but in this particular instance where nobody trusts one another, they take that proposal as evidence, ‘Ah ha! The other side isn’t serious.’”

Ambassador EkeusThe panelists agreed that the lack of trust was a major obstacle for successful talks.  Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, former head of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq, criticized the inability of the U.S. and Iran to pursue areas of important strategic interest, such as stabilizing Afghanistan, because of the lack of a relationship. Sadri advocated that working together to address the drug trade funneled out of Afghanistan could be an area to start to build confidence.  

Any negotiations that resolve the nuclear issue, according to the panel, would necessarily include  a discussion on easing sanctions.  Walsh cautioned against an unbalanced approach by the U.S. and the UN Permanent Five plus German (P5+1).  “The things they’re offering Iran are very limited, very small, in fact some of them are out-dated,” Walsh said. “We’ve been at this so long, offering spare parts for planes isn’t going to cut it anymore.”

Walsh Ekeus Sadri KimballHowever, Walsh cautioned, the Iranians cannot hold unrealistic expectations regarding sanctions relief. “The Iranians are saying once we get rid of the 20% issue and we get Parchin a clean bill of health, we’re done, and all the sanctions should be gone. That’s not going happen.”

Instead, he said, “Iran has to adopt the Additional Protocol. It has to follow through on its current safeguards arrangements, and do so in a way that’s forward leaning rather than reluctant. That’s not happening. So the core issues are not going to go away, even if we solve 20%.”

Ambassador Ekeus discussed the lesson of Iraq sanctions in the
1990s, which he grappled with as the head of the UNSCOM inspections effort.  Initially, he said, the sanctions were “a functioning system” because they conditioned the easing of sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s disarmament and acceptance of robust inspections.  However, when Iraq eventually came into compliance in 1997, the U.S. announced that it would still not lift sanctions unless Saddam Hussein stepped down.  The goal became regime change, which, Ekeus said, “destroyed” the system and ultimately brought the U.S. into war.

“That’s the scenario I fear with the US,” said Walsh.  “We sanction a country, they start to do what we want them to do, and then someone announces, ‘Well, it really doesn’t matter what you do because we’re going to keep the sanctions regardless,’ and then the thing falls apart.”

Brzezinski expressed similar concerns.  “I do fear that some of the energy for sanctions is driven simply by a kind of almost fanatical commitment to a showdown with the Iranians.” 

Brzezinski ParsiBrzezinski said that, in addition to eschewing the so-called military option, one diplomatic strategy to consider would be secret, parallel talks between the U.S. and Iran held outside of the U.N. Security Council led negotiations.  Walsh endorsed the idea that talks should be shielded from public political scrutiny.  “Any real negotiation, you’ve got to meet all the time, every week, all the time,” said Walsh.  “Meet behind closed doors, eventually the cameras get tired, stop coming to the meetings, and then you can get stuff done.” 

But if talks do not yield results, Brzezinski argued that the best back up option would be a mix of sanctions and deterrence instead of a drift to military action.  “Deterrence has worked against a far more powerful, far more dangerous, and indeed, objectively, more aggressive opponents in years past,” he argued.

Conference audienceHe argued that the goal of any U.S. policy should be to prevent Iran from acquiring a “significant military nuclear capability,” and warned against policy prescriptions based on “a hypothetical, imaginary, non-credible notion that the moment they have one or two bombs they’ll eager rush into national suicide.”

“The notion that somehow or another they’ll put it in a picnic basket and hand it to some terrorist group is merely an argument that may be convincing to some people who don’t know anything about nuclear weapons,” Brzezinski said.

“I don’t find that argument very credible, I’m not sure that people who make it even believe in it. But it’s a good argument to make if you have no other argument to make,” he stated.  “The fact of the matter is, Iran has been around for 3000 years, and that is not a symptom of a suicidal instinct.”

Watch the conference video – Panel discussion | Brzezinski keynote | Transcript

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

New Study Outlines Impact of Broad Sanctions on Iranian Americans

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is pleased to announce today’s release of a new study, “Unintended Victims: The Impact of the Iran Sanctions on Iranian Americans,” authored by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) as part of a collaborative effort with NIAC, the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA).

NIAC, which has consistently opposed broad sanctions that punish ordinary people and supported targeted sanctions against human rights violators, commends ALC for producing this study. NIAC welcomes the report and the documentation of the consequences that broad U.S. sanctions are having on Iranian Americans as an important educational tool for the public and for policymakers. 

“This report sheds needed light on how sanctions are not just punishing our friends and family members inside of Iran instead of the government, but also coming back to punish ordinary Iranian Americans in the U.S.,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. 

The ALC study documents some of the instances of Iranian Americans being blocked from completely legal transactions through unclear or overzealous enforcement. The case of Iranian Americans being denied purchases at Apple retail stores earlier this year was just the tip of the iceberg.

The report documents the case on one man, given the pseudonym Karim in the study, who needed to have knee surgery while he was in Iran. Upon returning to the U.S., the pain medication he purchased in Iran was confiscated and he was arrested. While Karim was eventually released and the charges were dropped, he incurred massive legal fees. 

Other cases documented in the study include a 20-year old student in California whose parents both tragically died and who was unable to get financial support from her remaining family in Iran for weeks. There are also cases that include difficulties in attempting to send humanitarian relief to Iran, problems with Iranian Americans having their inheritances frozen, and issues for Iranian Americans attempting to sell property in Iran.

The report explains that the sanctions are often overzealously enforced because they are extremely broad and complicated. The current Iran sanctions regime has been built by 30 years of executive orders and legislation. The resulting byzantine system has unclear barriers and serious penalties for violations. As a result, enforcement agencies and private entities like financial institutions are often unsure about is and is not allowed. So, they play it safe by over-enforcing the sanctions. 

“By clarifying how sanctions are being improperly enforced, hopefully we can prevent Iranian Americans from being discriminated against and further burdened,” said Abdi. “But to truly fix this problem, there must be a change in policy.”

Sanctions are being imposed on Iran, according to policymakers, to address the nuclear issue. However, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said today that sanctions are having no visible impact on Iran’s nuclear program.  At the same time, there are increasing reports of medicine shortages inside of Iran.  The UN General Secretary, as well as independent civil society actors, have warned of increasing humanitarian and human rights consequences resulting from the sanctions.

To begin to resolve the impact of sanctions on Iranian Americans, the ALC report recommends that the U.S. government engage the Iranian-American community to understand the collateral damage its policy the sanctions causing; and to clarify the boundaries of sanctions by specifically explaining which transactions are legal to Iranian Americans, U.S. financial institutions and to border protection agents.

The report, “Unintended Victims: The Impact of the Iran Sanctions on Iranian Americans” is available here.  ALC’s “Know Your Rights” guide for Iranian Americans is available here.

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