NIAC Statement on Iran’s Intent to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran would reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this Friday. This is the third time Iran has taken such steps since the Trump Administration abrogated the agreement last year. The latest declaration comes ahead of the deadline set by Iran for Europe to uphold sanctions lifting obligations in exchange for Iran’s continued compliance with the nuclear accord. 

Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for returning to full compliance with the deal. The proposal includes a $15 billion credit line to offset oil revenue lost under U.S. sanctions, but its payout requires a commitment from the U.S. not to block the funds.

In response to these latest developments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement: 

“Iran’s announcement is a predictable consequence of the Trump administration seemingly closing off every opportunity to resolve the Iran standoff diplomatically. A U.S. failure to pivot from maximum pressure to the diplomatic opportunities initiated by France and other American allies ensures a continued cycle of escalation that could quickly spin out of control.

“Iran’s decision to stop abiding by further JCPOA restrictions risks playing into the escalation trap set by John Bolton and other diplomatic spoilers. While France and other mediators have sought to mitigate U.S.-Iran tensions and safeguard the JCPOA, Bolton and other administration hawks are furiously attempting to fuel the flames of hostility.

“Importantly, Iran’s actions on the JCPOA are reversible and it has indicated its readiness to return to full compliance with the deal if parties to the accord provide Iran with sanctions relief. The current French proposal to establish a $15 billion credit line for Iran stands to achieve this, but only if President Trump allows it to materialize. 

“The ball is in the President’s court. He has the option to de-escalate the dangerous tensions with Iran and move the two countries off the path to war. But only if he shifts away from counterproductive “maximum pressure” and towards practical actions that build the confidence necessary for successful diplomacy.”

NIAC Congratulates Sharif University Students on 2019 AIAA Win

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 29, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding travel and sanctions restrictions placed on Iranian students from Sharif University of Technology, who won the engine design competition at the 2019 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum:

“We would like to commend the group of Sharif students who defied the odds to win an engine design competition at a prestigious AIAA forum, as well as to extend our apologies on behalf of our elected government for the ridiculous and offensive hurdles placed in these students’ way.

“This group of engineering students from Sharif University entered the AIAA competition only to have their entry into the U.S. denied due to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban that denies visas for all Iranians with few, apparently arbitrary, exceptions. Undeterred, the group participated by video conference and managed to win the competition only to learn that they could not receive the cash prize for their program due to U.S. sanctions.

“These students are among Iran’s best and brightest, and U.S. policies should seek to empower them and allow humanity to benefit from their ingenuity. However, instead of celebrating their successes, these extraordinary students have been met with hurdles and indignities. This is a microcosm of the self-defeating and nonsensical treatment of Iranians by U.S. government policies. The Iranian people already have to deal with their own government’s deplorable human rights record, corruption, and other failings. Unfortunately, our American government often chooses to makes the situation worse. 

“NIAC reiterates its condemnation of the Trump administration’s unjust and xenophobic Muslim ban and the broad sanctions policies that are punishing ordinary Iranians. NIAC calls for an end to these destructive measures and for a U.S. approach towards Iran that prioritizes peace and engagement. We will continue our work to press for change and remain determined to remove barriers and instead build bridges between the American and Iranian people.”

NIAC Statement on the Imposition of U.S. Sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it was imposing sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The sanctions were imposed on Zarif, according to the Treasury, because he has acted on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader. The move comes after reports earlier this month that Trump had instructed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on the Iranian diplomat, before reversing his decision.

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

“Again, President Trump has chosen an action to push Iran away from the negotiating table, isolate America on the world stage, and take diplomatic options off the table. If Trump was serious about negotiating with Iran, he would appoint a credible envoy and direct them to negotiate with Iranian diplomats rather than subjecting them to a ridiculous sanctions designation. Instead, Trump is ensuring that there will be no serious negotiations with Iran during his tenure. Once again, without a clear line to Zarif or any other Iranian officials to de-escalate tensions, the next crisis that the U.S. or Iran precipitates will once again risk war.

“Regardless of any personal animosities Trump’s team felt toward Zarif, dealing with him has served U.S. interests on several occasions. Zarif assisted the U.S. in forming a government in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion, credibly hammered out a nuclear accord with former Secretary of State John Kerry, and was pivotal in both freeing American sailors who strayed into Iranian waters and the prisoner swap that freed unjustly detained Americans in 2016. All the while, Zarif represented Iran’s interests and was able to convince the Supreme Leader and other Iranian officials to buy into the more moderate approach represented by the Rouhani administration. His sanctioning now by Trump plays into the hands of Iranian hardliners and forces on all sides that want to entrench U.S.-Iran hostilities.

“It is without a doubt that Zarif has deflected from the regime’s human rights abuses and other Iranian actions to escalate around the region. Yet, if that were a credible standard for imposing sanctions, the U.S. should also designate top diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and countless other nations around the world.  

“The timing of this move, coming after Sen. Rand Paul reportedly was dispatched to meet with Zarif on behalf of Trump, underscores that hawks like John Bolton are trying to box in the administration and eliminate diplomatic off-ramps. Trump can’t simultaneously hold out the option of credible negotiations while implementing the path to war plotted by John Bolton. Only yesterday did we publish a letter in conjunction with prominent foreign policy practitioners outlining pragmatic steps that the U.S. and Iran can take to deescalate this crisis. The time is running out for Trump to shift tracks, lest he be locked into the inevitable result of his failing maximum pressure strategy leading to a disastrous war.”

Coalition of Foreign Policy Experts Outline 8 Recommendations to Deescalate Tensions with Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, July 30, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, an expert group of foreign policy practitioners published a letter underscoring the dangerous new phase that has put the U.S and Iran on the path toward war. The signatories include prominent academics, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Andrew Bacevich; foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal; former Member of Congress John F. Tierney;  former ambassadors and diplomats, such as Thomas Pickering, François Nicoullaud, and Peter Jenkins; national security expert Edward Price; and Iran experts such as Jamal Abdi, Dina Esfandiary, and Farideh Farhi.

The letter outlines a series of eight bold but practical recommendations to the U.S., Iran, and Europe that could widen the path to diplomacy that has narrowed considerably since the U.S. initiated a tit-for-tat ratcheting up of tensions with Iran. 

The signers urge the U.S. to suspend recent sanctions to provide space for deescalation and Iran to return to full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal. After these initial trust-building steps, the signers recommend further negotiations aimed at a prisoner swap and an Incidents at Sea agreement to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf. 

The full text of the letter and signatories is below and can be found on the web here.

Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

July 30, 2019

As foreign-policy practitioners with decades of collective experience in national security and diplomacy, we write to warn that U.S.-Iran tensions have entered a dangerous new phase that has put us on the brink of a disastrous and avoidable war. The administration’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement in pursuit of a so-called maximum pressure strategy is damaging the accord and U.S. interests in ways that could be difficult to reverse. There remains a narrow path for the U.S. and Iran to avoid military conflict and resolve ongoing disputes through negotiations. Doing so, however, will require bold action and constructive steps from all sides, as outlined below.

The U.S. Should Suspend Recent Sanctions to Provide Space for Diplomacy

  • The U.S. should suspend sanctions imposed after its withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran in May 2018 to provide space for de-escalation and assurance that it is serious about pursuing and adhering to a negotiated solution.

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

  • Iran’s recent decision to cease adherence with aspects of the July 2015 nuclear deal in response to U.S. sanctions feeds into a counterproductive escalatory cycle and could lead to an irreversible collapse of the agreement. Iran should welcome the suspension of U.S. sanctions by returning to full compliance with the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Should Pursue a Prisoner Swap

  • Iran has unjustly imprisoned at least five American citizens and dual nationals. According to publicized reports, at least a dozen Iranians are in custody in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges. Iran has publicly and privately offered to arrange a swap of American and Iranian prisoners held in each country’s jails. The Trump administration should pursue this overture and view it as the low-hanging fruit for negotiations that can build confidence for broader diplomacy.

Europe Must Take More Serious Steps to Address Challenges in Meeting Its Sanctions Relief Obligations

  • Due to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions, Europe has not been able to satisfy its obligations under the nuclear deal to ensure legitimate trade with Iran. To its credit, Europe’s development of a special financial mechanism to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran, known as INSTEX, is a constructive first step forward. Europe must now urgently take all necessary actions to ensure INSTEX is utilized to enable the trade and economic benefits promised under the nuclear deal.

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels 

  • The U.S. and Iran should reestablish a permanent and direct communication channel with Iran to de-escalate crises, such as the downing of the U.S. drone and the oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman. Absent a dedicated channel for deconfliction and deescalation, as existed under the previous administration, the chances of disaster remain far too high. 

The U.S. Should Appoint a Credible and Empowered Iran Envoy

  • To signal U.S. seriousness about negotiations and to facilitate the process, a new Iran envoy with the ear of the President and experience in diplomatically engaging Iran is needed. As long as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are viewed as leading the administration’s Iran policy, concerns that the U.S. seeks regime change and military action – and is not serious about a negotiated solution – will undermine any hopes for talks.

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

  • The U.S. and Iran came dangerously close to war following several incidents in the Persian Gulf and unverified accusations leveled by both sides. To avoid similar confrontations in the future, the two sides should negotiate an “incidents at sea” agreement to avoid collisions between their naval and air forces operating in close proximity.

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

  • Congress was not consulted when President Trump came just a few minutes away from attacking Iran, which could have dragged the U.S. into a major regional conflict far more damaging than the Iraq war. Congress must assert its war-powers authority and uphold its constitutional duty as a coequal branch of government by passing legislation to ensure the administration cannot start an illegal and disastrous war with Iran.

Signatories: 

Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, University of London and Fellow of Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Andrew Bacevich, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Michael C. Desch, Packey J. Dee Professor of International Relations, University of Notre Dame

Dina Esfandiary, Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and Security Studies, Harvard University; Fellow, The Century Foundation

John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University

Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate Faculty of Political Science, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Nancy W. Gallagher, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and Research Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Mark Gasiorowski, Professor, Department of Political Science, Tulane University

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology studying development and social change in the global South, UCLA

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

Bijan Khajehpour, Managing partner at Vienna-based Eurasian Nexus Partners,  a strategy consulting firm focused on the Eurasian region

Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1985) 

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Joshua Landis, Sandra Mackey Professor of Middle East Studies and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

Rouzbeh Parsi, Visiting Research Scholar, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University; Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs -Stockholm; Senior Lecturer, Human Rights Studies, Lund University.

Trita Parsi, Co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Adjunct Associate Professor, Georgetown University

Thomas R. Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations and Israel.

Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and Nonresident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Edward Price, Director of Policy and Communications, National Security Action; former National Security Council Spokesperson; Former Special Assistant to President Obama for National Security Affairs

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council

John F. Tierney, former Member of Congress and Executive Director of Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World

Stephen Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Khamenei Distances Himself from the JCPOA

Week of May 20, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Khamenei Scapegoats Blame for the JCPOA, Says Political System Needs Change

In a speech to university students, Ayatollah Khamenei sought to further distance himself from the JCPOA and shift blame for the deal on President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. He stated: “They [some people] link the approval of the JCPOA to the leader. Well, you have eyes and ears and have seen everything. You can see the letter that was written about the JCPOA and the conditions that were mentioned for its implementation.”

Khamenei was referencing an October 2015 letter he wrote to President Rouhani outlining nine conditions for Iran implementing the JCPOA. He added in his speech: “If these conditions were not implemented, it is not the responsibility of the leader to interfere.”

Khamenei stated in his speech that he had notified Rouhani and Zarif of his complaints with the deal on many occasions. He declared: “I did not strongly believe  in the way that the JCPOA was implemented. I have said this on many occasions to the president and foreign minister and we gave them notice in many instances.”

He added on why he didn’t prevent the deal: “My position is that the Leader shouldn’t interfere in executive actions unless in areas where the entire the revolutionary movement is being harmed.”

This isn’t the first time that Khamenei has expressed his displeasure with the way the JCPOA was implemented. In March 2016, shortly after the deal was implemented, he cited Javad Zarif as saying that Iranian diplomats were unable to meet some of Iran’s redlines.

In his speech this week, Khamenei also said that the structure of the Islamic Republic must be changed. He stated: “The legal foundations [of the Islamic Republic] are good. But its foundations can become complete and its defects can be resolved. For example, we once didn’t have an Expediency Discernment Council and now we do. It is like this in all political systems. Consequently, while the foundation doesn’t have problems, there must be additions and subtractions [to the political system].”

He dismissed the idea that Iran would switch to a parliamentary system, which he dangled as a possibility in a speech several years ago. He stated: “There have been discussions about a parliamentary system. We extensively discussed this matter in a conference reviewing the constitution. The conclusion was that the problems with a parliamentary system are greater than those of a presidential system.

In a 2011 speech, Khamenei had said Iran might switch to a parliamentary system, stating: “If one day, likely in the distant future, it is decided that a parliamentary system is better to elect executive officials, there is no problem with this.”

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Several Journalists Arrested

Journalist Masoud Kazemi, the editor of a monthly magazine and former reporter for the reformist Shargh, has been imprisoned. Kazemi was first arrested last October but freed after several days. His charges now include “propagandizing against the system” and “insulting the Leader.”

In recent weeks, Keivan Samimi of the reformist Iran Farda and Marzieh Amiri of the reformist Shargh newspaper were arrested.

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Rouhani Says He Needs More Authority

President Rouhani gave a speech to senior clergy where he stated that the office of the presidency should be given greater authority because of the crises facing Iran.  Rouhani stated: “During the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War] when we reached the point where we were facing problems, the Council for Supporting the War was created. This council had all the authority. Even the parliament and the judiciary could not interfere in this council’s decision making. Today, we are now facing an economic war.”

Rouhani emphasized that executive authority should be concentrated similar to how it was during the Iran-Iraq War. He said: “Just as during the 8-year war authority was delegated by Imam Khomeini. We were able to manage the war and even created many opportunities. Today we require the same level of authorities.”

Rouhani’s comments echo a speech he gave last week where he said that his administration’s authorities in various fields were limited. He had stated: “When the administration is questioned or when demands are made, there needs to be a look at the other side and at whether on these questions the administration has the relevant authorities.”

Rouhani specified in that speech that his administration lacked authority in the fields of foreign policy, cultural issues, and social media. He stated: “We have to see how much authority the administration has in these fields. The demands of the administration should be in the areas where it has enough authority to meet them.”

Mohammad Reza Khabaz, a former governor appointed by Rouhani, stated that Rouhani needed to set up a council to address Iran’s current challenges. Khabaz said Iran’s situation today was more difficult in some ways than the Iran-Iraq War, stating: “The sanctions today are not comparable to the time of the war. During the war, we only couldn’t buy weapons, but no one was preventing us from selling our oil. Today, we are in a situation that they are preventing us from selling oil in order to impose pressure on the people. The situation is worse than during the war.”

He added: “The current situation is sensitive and it’s necessary to form a ‘Council to Support the Economic War.'”

Rouhani’s comments also spurred criticism, particularly from conservative officials and institutions, arguing that Rouhani is failing to use the authority he has effectively. Abbas Kadkhodaie, the Guardian Council’s spokesperson, stated in this regard: “Presidents have extensive authority under the constitution. During this period, even greater authority has been given commiserate with the conditions faced by the country. Has this extensive authority been used to resolve problems?”

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Senior Officials Says Iran Won’t Enter Direct or Proxy War with the US

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, has said that the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf seek to draw the U.S. into a war against Iran. Falahatpisheh said that accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the UAE’s Fujairah port were driven by people “whose aim is dragging the Americans into the region and starting a war.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran would not enter a direct or proxy war with the United States. He stated: “Not starting a war is the policy of the Islamic Republic. No group can claim that is entering a proxy war on Iran’s behalf.”

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Prominent Reformist Says the U.S. Can’t Invade Iran

Prominent reformist figure Sadegh Zibakalam has said that Iran cannot be invaded the same way as Iraq because the ruling system has a greater degree of legitimacy. He stated: “The Islamic Republic, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, has support from enough people who would take up arms to defend it against a foreign aggressor. Iran has 80 million people. Even if 10 percent were willing to take up arms to fight off an American attack, that would be 8 million people. This would make any such endeavor impossible for Washington.”

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Congress Begins Efforts to Restrict Trump’s War Push

Congress took its first formal steps on Wednesday to eliminate a post-9/11 war authorization that some fear the Trump Administration will utilize as justification for attacking Iran. Separately, a measure to bar any funding for war with Iran was watered down after unified opposition from Republicans and an intervention by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

Since National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened to use “unrelenting force” against Iran, many legislators have been concerned that the Trump administration is heading toward war and might not even seek explicit Congressional authorization. While several bills have been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have the authority to launch a war, Republicans have yet to support any of the measures and Democratic leadership has yet to unite around a clear strategy.

Nevertheless, yesterday Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered two serious efforts to rein in Trump’s war authorities as lawmakers began finalizing the annual Defense Department funding bill. First, Rep. Lee succeeded in passing an amendment that would set up a process to repeal and replace the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and associated forces. Not only has the Trump administration falsely asserted that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda, but it has also refused to rule out using the 2001 AUMF to attack Iran. That’s exactly why NIAC Action and many other groups strongly supported Lee’s amendment.

Furthermore, Lee offered a second amendment that would have barred funding for the introduction of U.S. forces into Iran without explicit Congressional authorization. Defense Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN) offered his support for the amendment while Republicans, led by Rep. Ken Calvert, objected. Calvert asked, “What happens if the Iranians sink a ship in the strait of Hormuz this afternoon? Are we to do nothing?”

However, the amendment still appeared poised for passage until Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) objected, expressing concerns that it “precludes a preemptive strike in the event of an imminent threat” from Iran—one of the scenarios for which Bolton has reportedly requested war plans from the Pentagon. Rep. Lee sought to reassure Wasserman-Schultz that the President would retain authorities to address urgent threats but ultimately, Wasserman-Schultz’s concerns led to a significant watering down of the amendment. The compromise amendment states that nothing in the appropriations bill itself would authorize the use of force against Iran, but fails to restrict the President in any serious way. Thus, the apparent desire of Wasserman-Schultz to preserve Bolton’s ability to strike Iran appears to have significantly weakened the Congressional response to rising threats of war.

Still, Republicans opposed even this weakened messaging amendment, with Rep. Calvert warning that it “creates confusion about the U.S. purpose toward Iran and our right to respond if attacked.” The amendment ultimately passed 30-22 in a party-line vote. The bill will now be considered by the full Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Additional legislation has been introduced to clarify that Trump does not have authority for war with Iran, and to block funding from being used for a potential war. Additionally, both the Defense funding bill and a separate bill to set Defense Department policies will be considered in the weeks ahead, providing further opportunities to restrict the President’s powers to start a war of choice with Iran. However, if yesterday’s mark-up is any indication, those hoping to prevent a war will need to overcome opposition from both Republicans and some hawkish Democrats.

Iranian Officials Discount Possibility of War

Week of May 13, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Tehran University Students Protest Compulsory Hijab

On May 13th, students at Tehran University staged a demonstration against “hijab and chastity plans.” In a statement, the students said they were protesting “the presence and deployment of ‘women’s protection forces’ that have joined the previous guards.” They said these new security forces amounted to a “clear offense to students’ private lives and directly violated their human rights and were a naked injustice against female students.”

Videos of the demonstration showed clashes between the protesting students and students belonging to the state-backed Basij force.

The statement of the protesting students said that defending the “freedom of clothing” was an “obvious right.” The statement also said that the “minimal freedom on clothing that exists at Tehran University” was due to “resistance and pressure” from students. The protesting students shouted slogans against mandatory hijab and their placards called for the freedom of three activists arrested during May Day protests on campus: Marzieh Amiri, Atefeh Rangriz, and Neda Naji.

Majid Sarsangi, Tehran University’s vice president for cultural affairs, stated that no “morality police” had been deployed to Tehran University. He stated: “Some are ignorantly and deliberately creating tensions in the students’ environment.”

However, Sarsangi stated that more strict social rules were indeed being implemented due to the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan. He said: “The only thing that has happened is that—just like every year for Ramadan—to preserve the sanctity of this month there should be no visible signs of not observing fasting or wearing attire that doesn’t respect the sanctity of this month.”

He added: “To this end, security forces are at Tehran University to give warnings to people who don’t respect the sanctity of fasting.”

Sarsangi also stated that Tehran University must implement the law, but that it doesn’t have a say in whether the law is “good or bad.” He also stated that it was “unfortunate” that there were clashes between students who have “different beliefs and ideas.” He added: “We tried to calm down the students who were angry … we hope that we never have to see such behavior at the university.”

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New IRGC Chief Briefs Parliament, Discounts Possibility of War

On May 12th, new IRGC commander Hossein Salami debriefed the Iranian parliament on tensions with the United States. According to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the meeting was already planned and was primarily meant to introduce Salami to parliamentarians.

According to Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, Salami discounted the possibility of a U.S.-Iran war. Falahatpisheh said the “most important” part of Salami’s remarks was that Iran was ready for war, but that the “strategic analysis” was that war will not occur.

Falahatpisheh added that war would not occur because “the behavior of the Americans and their movements in the field shows that they’re not after war and are just creating the psychological atmosphere of war.”

Among Iranian officials during the Trump era, Falahatpisheh has consistently been more dovish and has continued to dangle prospect of U.S.-Iran negotiations. Last October, Falahatpisheh stated that there was a “diplomatic atmosphere for de-escalation with America.”

After the parliament’s meeting with Salami this week, Falahatpisheh said that Trump will have to convey a “more serious” desire for negotiations rather than just asking for a phone call. He added that if Trump conveys this more serious desire for negotiations, he will see that “Iran is different than any country, even North Korea.”

He further stated: “With their initial positions right now, the Americans have shown that their policy for now is not negotiations. If Americans want to create conditions for negotiations they must backtrack from some of their policies.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran has unused leverage, stating: “The Americans have played their hand, while Iran has yet to reveal its hand. America’s hand was just its old sanctions. Iran hasn’t played its hand yet because it doesn’t want to escalate tensions. I believe the Americans will change their stance in the future.”

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Officials Dismiss Trump Phone Call Request, Call for Practical Steps to Save JCPOA

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Russia, India, Japan, and China this week to discuss prospects to preserve the JCPOA, among other issues. In Beijing, Zarif stated: “Saving the nuclear deal is possible through practical steps, not just releasing statements in support of the agreement.”

Zarif said regarding what he meant by practical steps to save the JCPOA: “If the international community feels that this agreement is a valuable achievement, it must, like Iran, take practical steps to preserve it. The meaning of practical steps is clear: Iran’s trade relations must become normalized.”

Last week, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said Iranian oil exports must be facilitated and banking limitations on the country lifted. If not, Iran would gradually cease abiding by JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more details on Iran’s announcement that it would cease compliance with aspects of the JCPOA.)

Kamal Kharazi, a senior advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on diplomatic affairs, stated that Iran would “definitely” not call U.S. President Donald Trump. In response to Trump’s request that Iran call him, Kharazi stated: “We definitely don’t want to call. He wants to talk to everyone and take pictures just for propaganda purposes for himself.

Kharazi added: “America cannot be trusted. We can’t forget that America left the nuclear deal and has violated international laws.”

Kharazi, who was speaking while in France, also denied accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the Emirati port of Fujairah. He said a “third party” was likely behind the sabotage with the aim of taking advantage of the current tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

He further stated: “There was definitely no Iranian interference in this issue. There needs to be an investigation to identify who was responsible for this action.”

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Iran Starts Process to Halt Full JCPOA Compliance

On May 15th, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that it was starting the process of halting compliance on the JCPOA’s limitations on Iran’s heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEO) stockpiles. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated last week that Iran would no longer export surplus quantities of heavy water and LEU. (Read last week’s issue of Iran Unfiltered for more information of Iran’s decision to halt compliance with these JCPOA limitations.)

To meet the JCPOA’s limitations, Iran was exporting its surplus LEU stockpile to Russia and heavy water to Oman. However, Iran’s decision to cease these exports was preempted by the Trump administration threatening new sanctions against buyers of Iranian heavy water and LEU. Iran’s ability to meet these JCPOA requirements was thus already obstructed by the United States.

The AEOI also announced that media outlets would soon be invited to view the nuclear work that Iran is restarting. AEOI stated: “In the coming days, in order to inform the public of the steps that have been taken, there are plans to have media outlets visit the facilities at Natanz and Arak.”

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Khamenei Rules Out War or Negotiations with Trump

On May 15th, in a meeting with senior officials, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that there won’t be a U.S.-Iran war nor will Iran negotiate with the United States. He stated: “These confrontations aren’t of a military nature. Because there is not going to be a war. Neither us nor them [the U.S.] is after a war. They know that a war won’t be to their benefit.”

However, Khamenei added that “Iran will resist” and that “in this confrontation, America will have no choice but to retreat.”

Khamenei also said that negotiations with the Trump administration would be “poison.” He said about the prospects for negotiations: “Some domestically ask what is wrong with negotiations? Such negotiations are poison as long as America is what it is right now. Negotiations with the current administration are a poison.”

Khamenei ruled out any negotiations over the range of Iran’s missiles and Iran’s “strategic depth” in the region. He stated: “Negotiations portend a transaction and giving and getting something. However, what America seeks is our sources of strength.”

He added: “They want to negotiate over our defensive weapons. They ask, why do you develop missiles with such a range? Lower this range so that if we attack you, you can’t strike our bases and retaliate. Or they say, let’s talk about your strategic depth in the region. They want to take this from us.”

President Rouhani also stated at the same meeting that Iran was undergoing a “divine test” and that “without a doubt, with steadfastness and resistance, Iran will surmount this stage.”

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IRGC Deputy Attacks “Western-Oriented” Politicians

On May 16th, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the IRGC’s deputy for parliamentary affairs, criticized “Western-oriented movements” in Iran that warn of a U.S.-Iran war. Jokar stated that “Western-oriented movements” in the country “were playing a part in the enemy’s puzzle” by presenting “a binary of either war or negotiations.”

Jokar stated that such domestic forces were after “imposing another JCPOA on the country.” He further said that these movements have been able to “gather votes by creating false perceptions and politicking.” He added that the “interests of some capitalists and Western-oriented movements was to rumormonger about war and starvation.”

Jokar said the possibility of a war was “null” and that American society cannot “bear the costs of a new war.

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Regional Countries Attempting to Mediate U.S.-Iran Tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said after a cabinet meeting this week that neither the U.S. nor Iran sought war with each other. Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came on the heels of an unannounced trip last week to Iraq by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  

Abdul-Mahdi also stated that he has received signals from both Iran and the United States that indicate that “everything will be resolved in a positive manner.”

Qatar’s foreign minister also travelled to Tehran this week to find a path to resolve the “growing crisis between the U.S. and Iran and its consequences for the region.” According to Al Jazeera, Washington was made aware of the trip and the Qatari foreign minister had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.

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Memo on Subcommittee Hearing “The Status of American Hostages in Iran”

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East will hear from family members of individuals unjustly detained in Iran. This is an important opportunity to highlight and condemn the Iranian government’s unconscionable imprisonment of Americans and other politically motivated detentions that violate Iran’s human rights obligations.

It is also important that Congress spur the Trump administration to reverse course and take concrete steps to secure the freedom of Robert Levinson, Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Nizar Zakka, Xiyue Wang and other dual nationals unjustly imprisoned in Iran. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the President has made the release of dual nationals in Iran a priority, while his move to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose nuclear-related sanctions has torched existing diplomatic channels that could be used to press for the release of Americans – not to mention other interests including human rights and security issues.

The motivation behind the detentions are clear and require a serious approach rather than broad brush or politicized grandstanding. Dual nationals who have been arrested in Iran have been targeted by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Intelligence and prosecuted by the Iranian Judiciary that is not legally accountable to Iran’s civil government but rather only to unelected institutions. These hardline elements of the regime oppose Iran’s economic integration with the rest of the world, thrive under sanctions and the Iranian people’s isolation, and engage in ruthless tactics aimed at sabotaging rivals who prefer moderation of Iran’s foreign policy and reform of its domestic policies. These elements have benefited extensively from the Trump administration’s abdication from the nuclear agreement, the return of a sanctions economy, and appointment of advisors to the Trump administration who have openly called for war. Hardliners inside Iran prefer to maintain a revolutionary ideology predicated on confrontation with the West and fear the engagement with the U.S. that led to the JCPOA, as well as the potential of sanctions relief that would lift up ordinary Iranians, empower Iran’s private sector and build space for Iranian civil society. Imprisoning Americans is just one more way that these hardline elements seek to enshrine confrontation with the U.S. and guarantee their grip on power will not be undermined through engagement.

While the Trump Administration’s efforts to collapse the deal have undercut the political capital of moderates, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other members of the Iranian administration must continue to hear from the international community that these detentions and human rights violations are unacceptable and that they are responsible for challenging and stopping the perpetrators of these actions within the regime, even if they are not under the administration’s direct control.

The Obama Administration developed a playbook for bringing imprisoned dual nationals home, via consistent diplomacy and back-channel negotiations aimed at securing their release. A combination of public accountability of Iran’s government and credible diplomacy is the formula to achieve results in changing Iran’s behavior. To increase the chances of winning the release of current U.S. persons held in Iran, members of Congress should pursue a multipronged approach based on:

Spotlighting These Cases

  • The cases of American citizens arrested inside Iran on arbitrary charges has been tragic. Businessman Siamak Namazi, long an advocate of improved U.S.-Iran relations, has been imprisoned alongside his father Baquer Namazi, an 81-year old former diplomat for UNICEF whose health is ailing. Xiyue Wang was arrested while conducting research for his PhD dissertation at Princeton University on the Qajar dynasty. 

  • Former FBI agent Bob Levinson’s whereabouts have been unknown since he first went missing in Iran over eleven years ago, which would make him the longest-held U.S. hostage. Meanwhile, U.S. resident Nizar Zakka was arrested after being invited to a conference in Tehran by Iranian officials.

  • Congress cannot allow the plight of U.S. persons to languish in the background. Members of Congress should continue to hold hearings and raise awareness regarding these cases to increase the reputational costs of Iran committing such gross acts of injustice.  

Condemn Iran’s Hardliners–But Don’t Play Into Their Hands

  • The January 2016 prisoner exchange that led to the release of five Americans, including Washington Postjournalist Jason Rezaian, was reflective of moderate and reformist elements of the regime, including President Rouhani, prevailing in internal arguments that cooperation with the U.S. rather than confrontation pays off for Iran.

  • Condemn the elements behind these detentions inside Iran. Hardline factions, which control the Iranian judiciary, have their own reasons for resisting any thaw in the U.S.-Iran relationship and have been largely responsible for incarceration of foreign nationals.

  • Call for President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif and other officials in Iran’s civil government to hold these elements accountable, while publicly recognizing the split within Iran between these camps. 

Push Administration for a New Approach

  • Well-conceived and tough-minded diplomacy is necessary to lead to progress in the case of imprisoned dual nationals inside Iran. The prisoner exchange under the Obama administration took place after 14-months of secret bilateral talks led by veteran U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk and included negotiations with Iranian intelligence officials.

  • Reaching a similar approach today requires more, not less engagement with Iran. Demand accountability of the Trump Administration on this issue – including what is the Administration’s strategy for securing the release of these prisoners and advancing American interests and what tangible measures the Administration is undertaking to secure the release of these prisoners.

  • Any diplomatic effort to secure the release of U.S. prisoners in Iran would have a far greater chance of succeeding if the U.S. upheld its JCPOA obligations and restored regular diplomatic dialogue. While this is unlikely under the current Administration – and must not be allowed to be construed by Iran as a precondition for the release of Americans unjustly detained – Congress should signal that the U.S. will return to the nuclear deal under a new administration in order to boost U.S. credibility.

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Trump’s Offer to Meet with Iran’s President Rouhani Won’t Get Us a Better Deal. We Had Our Chance and Lost it.

A woman walks past a mural painted along Palestine Square in the Iranian capital Tehran on July 24. (Atta Kenare / AFP – Getty Images)

After withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and threatening Iran with “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before,” President Trump announced on Monday that he wants to meet with President Rouhani without preconditions to craft a new deal.

Trump thinks he can achieve this by sanctioning Iran until the rulers in Tehran beg for mercy. But if history is a guide, there will be no such capitulation by Iran: With the Iranians, one of the most costly things to do, both culturally and politically, would be to show Trump the respect and deference he desires after his aggressive string of insults.

So I am skeptical about Trump’s ability to pivot to diplomacy with Iran, but that is not to say that a better deal cannot be achieved. Indeed, better deals have often been on the table — but the United States rejected them at the time.

In March 2003, the Iranians sent a comprehensive negotiation proposal to the George W. Bush Administration through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. Unlike the Iran nuclear deal, this proposal was not solely focused on nuclear matters: The Iranians offered to help stabilize Iraq, disarm Hezbollah and collaborate against all terrorist organizations (especially al Qaeda). They even offered to sign on to the 2002 Beirut Declaration, recognizing Israeli statehood in return for Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state. And, of course, Tehran offered to open their nuclear program for full transparency.

But the Bush administration believed — much like Trump — that it could secure a better outcome by just continuing to pressure Iran and didn’t even dignify Iran with a response. Instead, the State Department reprimanded the Swiss for having delivered the proposal in the first place.

Two years later, the Iranians sent another proposal through the Europeans: Having already expanded their nuclear program, Tehran offered to cap its centrifuges at 3,000. The Europeans didn’t even bother to forward it to Washington, knowing the administration would reject anything that allowed Tehran to keep even a single centrifuge.

The Iranians had roughly 150 nuclear centrifuges at the time of the 2003 proposal; by the time the interim nuclear deal was struck in 2013, Tehran had 22,000.

During a closed White House briefing with a number of organizations that favored a peaceful resolution to the Iran situation in early 2014, a colleague asked one of America’s negotiators where a final deal likely would land in terms of centrifuges. Would it be possible to rollback Tehran’s centrifuges to 3,000 again? “We would jump on the opportunity to get that deal if it was offered today,” the official responded.

A few weeks later, I interviewed the Iranian foreign minister during one of the round of talks in Europe and asked the same question, trying to find out how the centrifuge issue likely would be resolved. To my surprise, Zarif explained that 3,000 had just been Iran’s opening bid in 2005. “We would have settled for 1,000,” he recalled with a smile. Eventually, Obama’s nuclear rolled back their program to 5,000 centrifuges — 2,000 more than their opening bid in 2005.

There are many similar examples; what they all have in common is that the United States usually believes that it is too strong to ever offer Tehran any concessions and doing so would ultimately undermine America’s standing. After all, Iran — unlike North Korea — doesn’t even have nuclear weapons, the thinking seems to go.

 

From left, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talk before a group picture in Vienna on July 14, 2015, after Iran and six world powers agreed to a nuclear deal. (Carlos Barria / Pool via AFP – Getty Images File)


Trump may even be eager to grant Tehran some concession: Trump partly opposed the Obama’s nuclear deal because it only lifted secondary sanctions (sanctions the U.S. imposed on other countries trading with Iran) without touching America’s primary sanctions, keeping American companies from entering the Iranian market. (Few doubt that Trump would love to build Trump Towers in Tehran.)
 
But other changes in U.S. policy will be trickier. Iran, for instance, will not agree to limit its missile program if Washington continues to sell Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.A.E. billions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry. In fact, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi outspend Iran on weaponry by a factor of five and two, respectively, despite having far smaller populations. And while Iran cut back its defense capabilities through the nuclear deal, the Saudis and Emiratis both beefed up their defense spending. Unless Washington is ready to rethink its arms sales to its Arab allies — and Trump clearly wants to sell them more weapons — it should have no expectations that Iran will cut back its missile program.
 
Another non-starter is the idea that Iran must stop asserting its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon while Washington continues to help Saudi Arabia starve the people of Yemen, turns a blind eye to the Saudi Crown Prince kidnapping the Lebanese Prime Minister and financing the spread of extreme Salafism (the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS).
 

And then of course you have Trump’s unquestioning support for the Netanyahu government in Israel and the tensions between Hezbollah and Israel, where neither side is in a position to simply capitulate or walk away.

The bottom line is that a better, bigger deal invariable will entail both American and Iranian concessions. If Trump isn’t willing to recognize this, he should stop pretending that his reckless rhetoric and Twitter threats are aimed at paving the way for diplomacy.

Trump’s Iran Tweet May Trap US in Another War

 

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions about the 2016 U.S Election collusion during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The world has become so numb to the words of the President of the United States that it even dismisses threats of war as either a political distraction or a Trumpian negotiation tactic.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s threat to inflict on Iran “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” may very well have been an effort to divert attention from the Russia investigation. Others have dismissed the danger of the tweet since Trump did an about-face on North Korea, going from calling the North Korean dictator “rocket man” to a “very honorable” man. And, on Tuesday, Trump stated once again that he’s “ready to make a deal” with Iran.
 

But there are five reasons why a pivot from threats to diplomacy with Iran will be much harder — and why Trump’s reckless threats may trap the United States in yet another war.

 

1. Saudi Arabia and Israel oppose diplomacy. Japan and South Korea advocated it.

The geopolitical circumstances around North Korea differ vastly from that of the Middle East. In the North Korean case, America’s allies — and even its Chinese competitor — strongly opposed any military confrontation with Pyongyang and pushed for diplomacy. In fact, the pivot to diplomacy with North Korea had far more to do with the South Korean President’s maneuvering in the background than Kim Jong Un fearing Trump’s “fire and fury” or his sanctions.
 
In the Middle East, the situation is the opposite: American allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long opposed US-Iran diplomacy (with an impressive track record of sabotaging attempts at US-Iran dialogue). Mindful of their influence in Washington and the Trump administration’s deference to them, any attempt by Trump to pivot to diplomacy with Iran will likely face a formidable challenge by these Middle Eastern powers.
 
Moreover, there is no obvious “South Korea” in the Middle East today that can quietly do behind-the-scenes shuttle diplomacy to bring the United States and Iran together — at least not one Trump would engage.
 
Former President Barack Obama needed a go-between to make diplomacy with Iran bear fruit. In that case, it was the country of Oman, which helped establish a secret diplomatic channel with Iran, paving the way for the historic nuclear deal of 2015. But Trump is unlikely to turn to Oman precisely because Obama did so.
 

2. Trump thinks pressure will force Iran to negotiate. He’s wrong.

Trump has stated that verbal escalation and sanctions will force Iran to come to the table. The logic is based on a misread of what brought about the nuclear deal of 2015. The conventional Washington narrative reads that Obama crippled Iran’s economy till the rulers of Tehran grudgingly agreed to negotiate. But the secret negotiations between the US and Iran in Oman reveals a very different picture.
While Obama’s sanctions were truly crushing — Iran’s GDP contracted more than 35% between 2012 and 2015 — Tehran did not lack leverage of its own. Its response to the sanctions was to double down on its nuclear program and move ever closer to a nuclear weapon. Just as sanctions put pressure on Tehran, more centrifuges put the squeeze on Washington.
 
It wasn’t until the Obama administration secretly made a major concession to Iran — agreeing that Iran could continue to enrich uranium on its own soil — that diplomacy started to bear fruit.
 
In other words, a policy solely centered on sanctions and pressure did not bring about the desired breakthrough in the talks. Ultimately, it was American flexibility that ended the standstill and elicited Iranian flexibility.
 
Two conclusions can be drawn from America’s past diplomatic experience with Iran. First, pressure alone will not work. Second, Iran will meet pressure with pressure. And herein lies the danger of Trump’s approach: Even if he does not intend to draw this to a conflict, he may quickly lose control over the situation once the Iranians decide to counter-escalate by, for instance, reactivating their nuclear program.
 

3. North Korea has a one-man dictator. Iran has politics.

North Korea is run by a one-man dictator with the political maneuverability to dramatically shift policy from testing nuclear weapons to sitting down with the man who hurled insults at him — without facing any domestic political consequences. Iran, on the other hand, has a complex political system where power is dispersed and not controlled by any single person or institute. Even Iran’s Supreme Leader — the most powerful man in Iran — cannot act alone without taking into consideration both public and elite opinion.
 
Iran’s fractured politics and factional infighting renders any dramatic policy shift — particularly involving diplomacy with the United States — all the more difficult. President Hassan Rouhani is already paying a political price for having been so “naive” as to negotiate with the “untrustworthy” Americans. The political space needed to restart negotiations, particularly after Iran adhered to the previous deal and Trump pulled out of it, simply does not exist right now and Trump’s rhetoric is not moving matters in the right direction.
 

4. Don’t forget: Trump hates Obama.

As Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group has pointed out, Trump’s antipathy toward Obama and his obsession with undoing Obama’s policy legacies should not be underestimated. As a Trump official told the Atlantic, “There’s the Obama Doctrine, and the ‘F— Obama’ Doctrine,” he explained. “We’re the ‘F— Obama’ Doctrine.”
On Iran, that may not just translate into Trump killing the nuclear deal against the advice of his Secretary of Defense. It may also mean that Trump will pursue a nuclear deal with North Korea at almost any cost (a problem Obama left largely untouched) while rejecting a deal with Iran (the country Obama decided to negotiate with). More than striking a “better deal” with Iran, Trump may think that truly sticking it to Obama necessitates burying diplomacy with Iran altogether.
 

5. Trump advisers don’t want a deal; they want regime collapse.

The members of Trump’s inner circle have changed dramatically over the past few months. The so-called “adults in the room,” who had a moderating effect on Trump, have largely been replaced with ideological hawks, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And uber-hawk Tom Cotton has emerged as one of the senators whose advice and viewpoints Trump pays close attention to.
 
All three of these have a long track record of advocating confrontation with Iran. Bolton famously penned an op-ed in the New York Times at the height of the nuclear negotiations titled “To Stop an Iranian Bomb, Bomb Iran.” As a congressman from the state of Kansas, Mike Pompeo quipped that bombing Iran would only take 2,000 fighter jet attacks, which he said “is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.” Cotton, in turn, is the author of the unprecedented letter in the midst of the nuclear talks, telling the leaders of Iran not to trust the President of the United States.
 
Going forward, the moderate voices inside the Trump White House will essentially be absent, while new advisers will likely egg on Trump to escalate tensions further — even though the Trump administration continues to claim that its goal is not regime change.
 
All of this amounts to a sobering reality: Trump is embarking on a path of escalation without having the exit ramps he had with North Korea. The danger now is not to overestimate the risk of war, but to underestimate it.
 
 

Iran’s May 19 Election: A Mandate for Moderation

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Iran’s overwhelming reelection of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani on May 19 delivered a stark message to the world. The Iranian people are pushing their country in a positive direction, demanding greater openness at home and engagement with the world. It is vital that the United States not stand in their way:

Mandate for Moderation

  • More than 41 million Iranians voted in Iran’s May 19th Presidentialelection, or nearly 75% of the electorate. That figure included tens of thousands of Iranians in the diaspora. Overall, voter turnout inside and outside Iran was remarkable given the obstacles imposed by Iran’s unelected institutions.
  • The election was a 57-38% landslide for incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, and a defeat for hardliners – including the leadership of Iran’s judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – which mobilized for the conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi. 
  • It was not just a defeat for hardliners at the Presidential level, but also in city council races throughout the country. Reformists swept all 21 seats in the capital Tehran, and are also poised to sweep council seats in other major cities, including Raisi’s conservative hometown of Mashhad.
  • For the first time in Iran’s history 6 women were elected to Tehran’s 21 member city council, and another 415 women won seats on councils in Iran’s conservative Sistan and Baluchistan provinces. In Mashhad, a woman won a seat on the city council with her campaign slogan “Let’s Vote for Women.”
  • The Iranian people sent an overwhelming message that they want to push their country in a positive direction through peaceful, indigenous change through the ballot box, not externally imposed regime change.

Implications for Policy

  • By building and maintaining the most robust political coalition in the 38-year history of the Islamic Republic, Rouhani has solidified a significant power base. Unlike past Presidents with a reformist agenda, he has been more pragmatic and may now be able to make good on his promises to reform human rights at home and broaden his international engagement, though ill-advised U.S. policies will almost certainly undercut his agenda.
  • Theelection was a referendum on the benefits of the Iran deal, further diplomacy with the West, social freedoms at home, and even the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 
  • Critically, Rouhani floated the possibility of pursuing negotiations to lift all sanctions on Iran, which would necessitate further U.S.-Iran diplomacy on sensitive issues including state sponsorship of terrorism and the war in Syria.
  • Rouhani went so far as to publicly criticize the IRGC, which is overseen by Khamenei, for undermining Iran’s economic benefit under the nuclear deal by test-firing ballistic missiles with anti-Israel rhetoric.
  • Prior to theelection, Rouhani’s challenger Ebrahim Raisi was considered a top contender to replace the aging Khamenei as Supreme Leader. After defeating Raisi, Rouhani has burnished his credentials for the critical, and potentially transformational, role.

Will the U.S. miss this opportunity?

  • This could be a major turning point and opportunity. If the U.S. is serious about addressing Iran’s role in the region and curbing its missile program, it must work to engage rather than undercut Rouhani’s moderate coalition and the millions of Iranians who voted for greater openness and engagement.
  • It has not been lost on Iranian society that, in spite of mobilizing to vote for moderation, Donald Trump was in Saudi Arabia showing solidarity with unelected monarchs who have a history of ties to terrorism and spreading radical ideology throughout the Muslim world. 
  • Trump’s call to isolate Iran, as well as Tillerson’s unilateral demands in the wake of theelection, were a slap in the face to the Iranian people who voted for Rouhani as a way of extending Iran’s hand to the international community. Congress must not be so reckless as to assist Trump in wasting an opportunity to reduce mutual tensions with Iran and stand in the way of the Iranian people pushing their country in a positive direction.

 

NIAC Statement on First Anniversary of the Finalization of the Iran Nuclear Accord

Press Release

 

 

 

NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement on the one year anniversary of the finalization of the Iran nuclear accord:

“Today marks a full year since the U.S. and Iran, along with world powers, concluded marathon negotiations in the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The accord has succeeded where bluster and un-ending sanctions failed by rolling back and ensuring unprecedented inspections over Iran’s nuclear program. Critically, this has averted two disasters: that of an Iranian nuclear weapon as well as a costly war that would further destabilize the region and devastate the hopes of the Iranian people for a brighter future. It has also opened the door to cooperation outside the nuclear sphere if the U.S. and Iran can seize the opportunity.
 
“The diplomatic path has not been easy. Even now, it is under threat as opponents of the JCPOA in Congress force votes on bills that would violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions that have been relieved. These efforts have fed into ongoing sanctions relief complications that have drained support for the accord among the Iranian people. While Iran has gained some relief, particularly in oil sales and access to recently un-restricted revenues, the lack of major banks willing to engage in Iranian transactions has greatly hampered the pace of relief. As the Iranian people have not seen the benefit of the bargain, increasing distrust could lead to major complications in implementation of the accord down the road, and must be addressed.
 
“Over the course of the second year of implementation, the JCPOA will undergo major tests as both the U.S. and Iran hold elections for the Presidencies of their respective countries. Both Presidents Obama and Rouhani have proved willing and able to set aside the enmities of the past in order to reach for a brighter future. It will be vital for Obama’s successor to maintain this approach in order to ensure the accord is on solid ground and to build on its success. For Rouhani to maintain the Iranian Presidency, it will be vital to show that sanctions relief complications can be overcome and to show greater willingness to fulfill electoral promises by pursuing moderation internally.
 
“While there will be strong incentives for all parties to stay within the agreement, regardless of changes in U.S. and Iranian leadership, the next five and a half months offer a critical opportunity for the Obama and Rouhani presidencies to strengthen the foundation of the accord. There are a whole host of opportunities that can strengthen U.S.-Iran diplomatic channels and insulate the deal from political opposition – including via efforts to fix sanctions relief complications; pursue sustainable diplomatic solutions in Syria and Yemen; enabling enhanced U.S.-Iran academic exchanges; establishing a permanent diplomatic channel; and by securing the freedom of imprisoned dual nationals like Siamak and Baquer Namazi. 
 
“It took more than three and a half decades for diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to become routine, and all of the diplomatic dividends of renewed ties will not come overnight or even in one year. However, it is vital that the U.S. and Iran not succumb to the forces that want to limit collaboration to the nuclear sphere, which would only succeed in making the JCPOA easier to unravel. Now is the time to lean forward and make sure that the historic steps taken since 2013 are irreversible.”

 
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