State Department Responds to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Washington, D.C. – Last December, NIAC worked with Rep. Jared Huffman and a group of 13 lawmakers who sent a letter to the the State Department regarding the dire humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian people. On February 15, the State Department sent its response to the lawmakers. Rep. Huffman’s letter requested responses on the following questions:

  1. Is it a deliberate strategy of the Trump administration to starve the Iranian people or deprive them of basic medicines? If not, what substantive steps has the administration taken to ensure the Iranian people have continued access to life-saving medicines?
  2. Which foreign nations have expressed concern about the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran, and what have they asked the administration to do to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to Iran?
  3. According to a report in The Guardian, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have pushed both the State and Treasury Departments to produce a “white list” that would “give clear guidelines about what channels European banks and companies should follow to conduct legitimate transactions with Iran without fear of future penalties.” Has the State or Treasury Departments acted upon this proposal to establish a white channel to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods? If not, why not?
  4. What additional measures have been contemplated to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranian people? If these were rejected, why were they rejected?
  5. Are broader license authorizations or exemptions necessary to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods to Iran? If not, what is the evidence for this assessment?

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to directly address these questions or acknowledge accountability for the humanitarian impacts of sanctions on ordinary Iranians. The response sidestepped any responsibility to uphold U.S. legal obligations to ensure essential goods, like food and medicine, are not blocked by sanctions. Yet, this is not the position of key U.S. allies in Europe, as the Huffman letter articulated.

As French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud stated in November 2018: “The fact is the banks are so terrified of sanctions that they don’t want to do anything with Iran. It means that in a few months, there is a strong risk that there will be shortage of medicine in Iran if we don’t do something positive.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Effects of Unilateral Coercive Measures has also warned that the administration’s reimposed sanctions “are destroying the economy and currency of Iran, driving millions of people into poverty, and making imported goods unaffordable.” Such concerns have led the European Union and Switzerland to create separate independent financial channels to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.

The administration’s failure to take these issues to heart is deeply concerning, as it appears to rule out steps that could alleviate the impact of sanctions on the same Iranian citizenry that the administration professes to support.

NIAC greatly appreciates Rep. Huffman and the lawmakers with whom he worked to spotlight this critical issue and for his efforts to hold the administration accountable to its humanitarian obligations. We will continue to work with its allies to shine a light on the impact of broad sanctions on the Iranian people and push the administration on its failure to properly facilitate humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions.

The full text of the State Department’s response is below and Rep. Huffman’s original letter can be read here.

State Department Response to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Rep. Jared Huffman and House Democrats Press the Trump Administration on Ensuring Sanctions & Humanitarian Aid

WASHINGTON D.C. — Earlier today, a letter organized by Rep. Jared Huffman and signed by 14 members of Congress demanded that the Trump Administration ensure that sanctions do not result in the blocking of humanitarian goods – like food and medical items – from reaching the Iranian people.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement, praising the letter and warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in Iran caused by overcompliance with US sanctions:

“There are strong indications that Donald Trump’s plan for Iran is to impose collective punishment on the Iranian people in violation of not just the Iran nuclear deal but of U.S. and international law. That’s why it is so important that Rep. Jared Huffman’s letter, backed by 14 Members of Congress, pressed the administration to ensure sanctions do not block humanitarian goods – like basic food stocks and medicines – from reaching the Iranian people.

“Since sanctions snapped back, we’ve already seen numerous reports on medicine shortages and skyrocketing costs of basic goods in Iran. The Iranian-American community knows this impact well, as many have heard from loved ones who are directly victimized. While the U.S. has exempted humanitarian trade on paper, in practice very few banks are willing to process humanitarian transactions out of the overriding fear of U.S. sanctions violations. Just today, reports indicated that three major global traders had halted food supply deals with Iran because sanctions have choked off all viable financial channels for the supposedly exempted goods.

“America’s European allies are pressing the Trump administration directly for guidance on how to process humanitarian transactions to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iran. Rather than deflect, the administration must engage seriously with the concerns raised by both Europe and Members of Congress and take proactive measures to facilitate humanitarian trade.

“The National Iranian American Council and its members are thankful for the leadership of Rep. Huffman and all of the Members who signed his timely letter, and looks forward to taking further action on this important issue in the new Congress.”

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Iran Hawk Accuses Lawmaker of Supporting Iranian Repression During Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – “It’s imperative that the administration change its direction and work with Congress, along with our European partners, to mitigate the very destabilizing consequences of our withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement,” declared Ranking Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT). On June 6, 2018, the Subcommittee of National Security of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform met to discuss the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rep. Welch put hawkish witnesses on the defensive regarding U.S. options after the collapse of the JCPOA, noting the increased risk that the U.S. will be backed into supporting war and regime change. This led to a shocking moment where one panelist accused him of acquiescing in the repression and torture of citizens by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

When pressed by the Chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), on whether the US was pushing toward war with its goal of regime change, Senior Advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Richard Goldberg dismissed the notion. He claimed that no official “on this panel and certainly in the administration…is coming anywhere near such a policy [of direct military engagement].”

Congressman Welch then asked if statements made by National Security Advisor John Bolton and President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who have both been clear in their desire for U.S.-backed regime change in Iran, should be dismissed. He asked Goldberg, “[John Bolton]’s the national security adviser for the president, he said to the American people that our goal should be regime change in Iran. Now you just want to blow him away and say that he didn’t mean it?”

Goldberg pushed on and suddenly accused the congressman of condoning the Iranian regime’s violations of human rights, asking Rep. Welch, “Congressman, are you for repression of the Iranian people, yes or no?” In an incredibly disparaging action towards the congressman, he immediately charged, “Are you for the repression and torture of [Iranians]?”

“There is no one in this Congress, no one in this country, that condones repression anywhere by any dictator in any country, and you know that. I’m asking the questions here,” Welch replied, taken aback by the wild accusation.

Congressman Welch pressed on in questioning the panelists on the Trump Administration’s policy if Iran were to aggressively ramp up its nuclear activities. He posited, “Let me ask this question, what’s the option for the United States, should Iran aggressively restart its activities towards building a nuclear weapon? Who on the panel would favor the use of military action at that point? Just raise your hands.”

David Albright, President for the Institute for Science and International Security, replied “Absolutely,” and Michael Pregent, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, proceeded to raise his hand in favor of future military force against Iran. Dr. Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and military action against Iran in the past, said: “There’s episodes of overwhelming pressure that has caused Iran to back down…I’ll let history be the precedent on this, Mr. Ranking Member.”

When Congressman Welch pressed the panelists on post-JCPOA policy recommendations, the sole JCPOA supporter on the panel – Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program – declared, “We don’t have a strategy and that this puts on a path to war, either by design – regime change – or we back into it as we respond to them a bit – beginning to reinstall their nuclear program.”

The ‘support for the Iranian people’ that Secretary of State Pompeo claims is the Trump Administration’s position was critiqued by Walsh, who stated: “On this issue of the Iranians whom everyone professes such great concern for…the Iranian people are not happy with us – Muslim ban, number one.”

Any military confrontation with Iran will not only embolden hardliners within the country, but will inevitably result in Iranian civilians actively resisting any foreign military aggression, Walsh continued. “A [private] poll came out last month that…asked the Iranian people… ‘How should we respond to the U.S pulling out?’” Walsh noted. “67 percent of Iranians said that Iran should retaliate. Why? Because they’re rallying around their flag.”

Walsh reiterated the fact that if Iran is attacked militarily by the United States, such an attack would damage U.S credibility in the eyes of Iranians. Any direct military strike by the Trump Administration is counterproductive to U.S. interests and only further alienates the Iranian people from any favorable view of America’s agenda in the region. As Dr. Walsh explained, “They may not like the corruption. They may not like the economy. But if you threaten to attack their country, we’re going to help the hardliners. We’re not going to strike a blow for democracy.”

Kicking the Hornet’s Nest: Consequences of Trump’s May 12 Iran Deal Decision

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President Trump has threatened to put the U.S. into material breach of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by failing to renew nuclear sanctions waivers by the May 12 deadline. As a result, it is necessary for policymakers to think clearly regarding the consequences of a U.S. material breach of the accord, including the collapse of the JCPOA, Iranian nuclear expansion, diminished U.S. influence with its allies, and a growing threat of war under Trump and his hawkish advisors.

Immediate Breach of the Accord

If the President refuses to waive sanctions on May 12, nuclear-related sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran passed via Section 1245 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would snap back into place, resulting in an immediate material breach of the JCPOA. Under this provision, countries must reduce their oil purchases from Iran or the U.S. will cut off that country’s financial institutions that transact with Iranian banks from the American economy. This would not reimpose all of the sanctions that the U.S. is obligated to waive – the next sanctions waiver deadline is 60 days later and pertains to the vast majority of nuclear-related sanctions. But by targeting both oil sales and banking, driving down oil sales and forcing companies to withdraw from the Iranian market, the U.S. would not just violate the agreement but would be unravelling the core of Iran’s incentives to remain compliant with the terms of the JCPOA.

Even if the administration seeks to dull the initial impact by delaying enforcement, as some have suggested may be its plan, the failure to waive will result in a material breach of the agreement. The text of the JCPOA also makes clear that a failure to waive sanctions on May 12 would result in an immediate breach. The U.S. is obligated to “cease the application” of  nuclear-related sanctions including the Central Bank sanctions contained in Section 1245 of the FY12 NDAA. Moreover, the U.S. has committed to “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions” lifted under the deal, while the JCPOA indicates Iran will treat such re-imposition “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” As former administration officials Rob Malley and Colin Kahl recently wrote, “in the absence of Iranian violations of the deal, the United States would be in material breach of the agreement the moment Trump refuses to waive U.S. sanctions, even as the deal’s other signatories remain party to it.”

The Trump administration has already violated the JCPOA repeatedly by any objective measure, including by actively warning foreign companies against doing any business in Iran, refusing to issue licenses for the sale of aircraft to Iran and holding U.S. implementation of the accord in doubt. While these violations have been serious, they have not struck directly at the core of the bargain. Reinstating oil sanctions would be a direct attack on the core benefit and put the U.S. in material breach.

Death of the Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has indicated that if the U.S. withdraws from the accord, Iran will do the same. The JCPOA includes a dispute resolution mechanism wherein Iran would be able to file an official complaint regarding U.S. failure to meet its sanctions-lifting obligations, a forum where the U.S. would be isolated following a U.S. breach. If Trump refused to correct the breach, Iran “could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments, in whole or in part, and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance,” according to the text of the agreement. In other words, Iran would have sufficient grounds to orchestrate a withdrawal from its JCPOA obligations while pinning the blame on the United States.

Other Iranian officials have suggested that Iran will resume many of its nuclear activities that deeply concerned the international community prior to the JCPOA. While it is unclear precisely how far Iran would go, Iran could:

  • Bring advanced centrifuges online or resume enrichment at the deeply-buried Fordow nuclear site;
  • Begin enriching uranium beyond 3.67%, potentially up to 20% or higher;
  • Expand beyond 300 kg of enriched uranium to sufficient quantities for multiple nuclear weapons with further enrichment;
  • Limit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector access, including access to suspect undeclared sites, uranium mines and mills and centrifuge production facilities.

Iranian officials have also suggested that their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – the foundation of the non-proliferation regime – could be jeopardized by a JCPOA withdrawal. While that would be an extreme measure that could ratchet up tensions significantly, the possibility cannot be ruled out in the event of a shocking unilateral U.S. rupture of a carefully-crafted diplomatic agreement that was narrowly secured against the opposition of many hardline interests in Tehran..

Isolated from Allies

It is no coincidence that both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Washington the same week, shortly before the May 12 deadline, to speak with Trump about the JCPOA. America’s European allies are extremely concerned that Trump will follow through and terminate a deal that is in the best interests of the transatlantic relationship, global security and the nonproliferation regime, with devastating results.

Macron has made clear that he is willing to work with Trump to address issues outside the scope of the JCPOA, including Iran’s missile program and regional security issues such as Syria, as part of a “grand bargain.” There are numerous uncertainties regarding Macron’s approach – after all, Iran would likely be unwilling to engage on a new deal when the U.S. has failed to implement the JCPOA. However, it is also clear that the U.S. would forfeit such coordination with its allies if the foundation of the JCPOA is terminated by a unilateral U.S. withdrawal, as Macron warned is still the most likely outcome.

As more than 500 members of the United Kingdom, French and German parliaments recently warned in an unprecedented letter to the U.S. Congress, “if the deal breaks down, it will well-nigh be impossible to assemble another grand coalition built around sanctions against Iran. We must preserve what took us a decade to achieve and has proven to be effective.” Absent the leverage provided by close cooperation with our allies, there is no chance for a “better deal,” and serious risks that there would be no deal after the JCPOA whatsoever.

If Trump follows through and terminates the JCPOA, the U.S. will be put in the difficult position of threatening sanctions on the foremost companies of many friendly countries – including those in Europe, South Korea, India and beyond. This could result in a trade war if those countries take actions to protect their companies from U.S. sanctions enforcement. Moreover, as former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned in 2016, “if foreign jurisdictions and companies feel that we will deploy sanctions without sufficient justification or for inappropriate reasons—secondary sanctions in particular—we should not be surprised if they look for ways to avoid doing business in the United States or in U.S. dollars.”

Another War of Choice    

The elevation of John Bolton to National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State ensures that at least two individuals who prefer an Iran war to Iran diplomacy will be advising Trump on the JCPOA and broader Iran policy. Moreover, Trump himself has previewed his hawkish inclinations, warning that if Iran restarts their nuclear program “they will have bigger problems than they ever had before” and “if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.” In unraveling the nuclear accord and freeing Iran to resume their nuclear activities, Trump would be triggering the very situation where he strongly hinted that he would use military force.

Amid an already ruinous regional proxy war in the Middle East, a war against Iran could be even more disastrous for global security than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iran is nearly four times the size of Iraq, with influence in military conflicts from Syria to Yemen and with missiles capable of striking U.S. ships and bases in the region. Bombing cannot erase Iran’s nuclear know-how and would only empower those in Iran eager to obtain a nuclear deterrent. Moreover, it would set the region aflame and draw the U.S. into a prolonged quagmire that would cost American blood and treasure and set U.S. security back decades.

Congress can intervene to check Trump, including by clarifying that the administration does not have authorization to launch a war against Iran. Yet, the clock is quickly running out to save the JCPOA and prevent an escalation to war.


Will Iranian Americans Get Sanctions Relief?

Despite the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. trade embargo with Iran will not be among the sanctions to be lifted.  This means that Iranian Americans will continue to be prohibited from engaging in most trade-related transactions with Iran or Iranian parties. 

On April 14, 2015, the United States agreed to and endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), which limits and rolls-back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive relief from all nuclear-related sanctions.  Sanctions relief, which will be delayed until the IAEA verifies that Iran has met its key nuclear-related commitments under the deal, includes those sanctions targeting Iran’s energy, financial, and trade-related sectors.

As an organization that has long viewed sanctions as counterproductive to the objectives of diplomacy and unduly harmful towards the Iranian people, we at NIAC are encouraged by these developments.  However, we must offer an important cautionary note: Contrary to popular belief and barring certain limited exceptions, the nuclear deal with Iran leaves in place most of the current restrictions on the activities of U.S. persons, including Iranian Americans, vis-à-vis Iran. Iranian Americans will still not be allowed to trade with Iran or Iranian parties, invest in Iran, or facilitate the activities of non-U.S. persons entering Iran.  Sanctions on each of these activities (and more) remain in place.

However, certain limited parts of the U.S. trade embargo will be relieved under the nuclear deal.  These include:

  • Imports of Iranian-origin carpets and foods into the U.S.
  • Transactions related to the sale or transfer of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran

It’s important to remember that the U.S. will not implement sanctions relief until Iran has taken key nuclear-related steps to constrain its nuclear program.  That may not take place until Spring 2016.  Therefore, the current restrictions remain in place until that time.

Moreover, because of the lifting of restrictions on banking transfers between Iran and Europe, U.S. persons may find it easier to transfer funds between the U.S. and Iran, as intermediary (third-country) banks become more widely available.

Nonetheless, it is important to reiterate that – outside of the two changes listed above and the possible relaxation of certain banking restrictions – the U.S. trade embargo with Iran will remain firmly in place under a nuclear deal.  U.S. persons cannot trade with, invest in, or facilitate trade with Iran.  Any violations of these sanctions prohibitions could lead to civil and criminal penalties. 

We will continue to press on this issue.  We believe that ending the trade embargo with Iran will enable Iranian Americans to bridge the divide between their two countries.  At a time in which foreign parties are being permitted to enter Iran, we fail to see the sense of maintaining trade restrictions on U.S. persons with Iran.  However, until the trade embargo is lifted, we believe it necessary to inform the Iranian-American community as to restrictions that will remain to temper expectations and ensure full compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.       

Summary of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, as Amended by Committee

Under the amended version of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, S.615, most fundamental elements of the original Corker-Menendez bill remain intact. This includes the most problematic elements of the original legislation. As amended, S.615:

  • Delays the implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal reached with Iran by revoking the President’s authority to relieve sanctions on Iran during a “review period” that could last anywhere from 30-82 days in length (the original bill had a 60-day review period); and
  • Enables Congress to block a final deal by enacting a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, which would prohibit the President from relieving sanctions on Iran and thus force the U.S. to renege on its commitments.

The only major substantive fix under the compromise is that the President would no longer be required to certify that Iran had not supported an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. persons, which would have triggered expedited legislation to re-impose sanctions on Iran had the President failed to make such certification. 

Delaying Implementation of a Deal

The amended bill would provide for a Congressional review period of at least 30 calendar days, during which time the President would be unable to relieve sanctions on Iran. If Congress passes a Joint Resolution of Disapproval regarding a nuclear deal, that timeline would extend an additional 12 days; and if the President vetoed such a Joint Resolution, then the timeline could extend a further 10 days. During these extended periods, the President would likewise be barred from providing sanctions relief to Iran pursuant to the agreement.

Moreover, if a nuclear deal is not submitted to the Congress as provided in the legislation by July 10th, then the Congressional review period would be extended to 60 calendar days to account for the Congressional recess in August. During this time the President would also be unable to relieve sanctions on Iran. Together, these provisions maintain the central concern about the bill – i.e., that it unreasonably delays the implementation of a nuclear deal by not just the United States, but Iran as well (as Iran will likely wait to see the disposition of the Congressional review period before undertaking its own nuclear-related obligations).

Joint Resolution of Disapproval

By retaining a provision for Congress to enact a Joint Resolution of Disapproval – the effect of which would be to remove from the President his ability to provide Iran the necessary sanctions relief – the legislation threatens to impede the U.S.’s ability to honor its commitments. As a result, U.S. negotiating leverage is severely undermined in the months ahead, as U.S. negotiators will likely need to compensate the Iranians for the risk they are incurring from entering an agreement with a divided U.S. government.

Full Summary of Changes in Amended Version of S.615

  • President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees (which now also includes the Intelligence Committees in each House) and leadership a comprehensive nuclear deal
  • In regards to the Verification Assessment Report that the Secretary of State is obligated to prepare with respect to a comprehensive nuclear deal, that report will need to assess “the capacity and capability of the IAEA to effectively implement the verification regime required by or related to the agreement, including whether the IAEA will have sufficient access to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of covert nuclear-related activities.”
  • Neither a Verification Assessment Report nor certification as to the comprehensive nuclear deal is required for the “EU-Iran Joint Statement” or any materially identical extension of the JPOA
    • Any agreement meeting the definition in subsection (h)(1), whether concluded before or after enactment of this act, would not be subject to this exception
  • The Congressional period of review of a nuclear agreement with Iran is 30 calendar days
    • However, if the agreement is transmitted to Congress between July 10 and September 7, 2015, the period of Congressional review shall be 60 calendar days
  • Prior to and during the review period for transmission of an agreement and during the Congressional period itself, the President may not suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to an agreement
    • If a Joint Resolution of Disapproval passes the Congress, the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of statutory sanctions with respect to Iran under any provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to an agreement, for a period of 12 calendar days from the date of passage of the Joint Resolution of Disapproval
    • If a Joint Resolution of Disapproval passes the Congress and the President vetoes such Joint Resolution of Disapproval, the President is prohibited from relieving sanctions on Iran pursuant to the agreement for a period of 10 calendar days following the date of the President’s veto
    • Exception is kept intact for sanctions relief granted pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action if both consistent with the law in effect on the date of enactment of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and made not later than 45 calendar days before the transmission by the President of an agreement
  • Sense of Congress language added, including:
    • That this legislation does not require a vote by Congress for the agreement to commence
    • That this legislation provides for Congressional review, including for approval, disapproval, or no action on statutory sanctions relief under an agreement
    • Only Congress can permanently modify or eliminate the sanctions regime imposed on Iran
    • The fair and appropriate compensation for Americans who were held as hostages by Iran in 1979 and their families, the human rights abuses of the Government of Iran against its own people, and the continued support of terrorism worldwide by Iran are matters critical to the national security of the United States and should be expeditiously addressed
    • Sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under an agreement
    • Agreement should not compromise the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, nor its support for Israel’s right to exist
  • Provision was added that the President shall keep the appropriate Congressional committees and leadership fully and currently informed of all aspects of Iranian compliance with respect to agreement
  • Time period during which President shall make a determination as to whether a potentially significant breach or compliance issue constitutes a material breach has been extended from 10 calendar days to 30 calendar days
  • Additional items to the President’s reporting requirements include:
    • Any procurement by Iran of materials in violation of the agreement or which could otherwise significantly advance Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon
    • Any centrifuge research and development conducted by Iran that may substantially enhance the breakout time of acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran, if deployed
    • Any covert nuclear activities undertaken by Iran, including any covert nuclear weapons-related or covert fissile material activities or research and development
    • Iran’s advances in its ballistic missile program, including development related to its long-range and inter-continental ballistic missile programs
    • An assessment of:
      • Whether Iran directly supported, financed, planned, or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world;
      • Whether, and the extent to which, Iran supported acts of terrorism, including acts of terrorism against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world;
      • All actions, including in international fora, being taken by the United States to stop, counter, and condemn acts by Iran to directly or indirectly carry out acts of terrorism against the United States and United States persons;
      • The impact on the national security of the United States and the safety of American citizens as a result of any Iranian actions reported under this paragraph; and
      • All of the sanctions relief provided to Iran, pursuant to the agreement, and a description of the relationship between each sanction waived, suspended, or deferred and Iran’s nuclear weapons program
    • An assessment of whether violations of internationally recognized human rights in Iran have changed, increased, or decreased, as compared to the prior 180-day period
  • Certification requirements as to whether Iran has carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or a United States person are removed
  • An agreement subject to this legislation is defined as an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran that includes the United States, commits the United States to take action, or pursuant to which the United States commits or otherwise agrees to take action, regardless of the form it takes, whether a political commitment or otherwise, and regardless of whether it is legally binding or not, including any joint comprehensive plan of action entered into or made between Iran and any other parties
  • Material breach is also defined, in the case of non-binding commitments, to any failure to perform those commitments

Following Outcry at UMass Amherst, Another U.S. University Revises Policy on Iranian Students

Washington, DC – In response to outreach from the National Iranian American Council, one more university is taking steps to ensure that its enforcement of sanctions and other restrictions against Iran do not unduly discriminate against Iranian students.

Following up on a successful campaign to help press the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass-Amherst) to reverse an exclusionary policy towards students of Iranian descent, NIAC contacted Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) regarding a policy that appeared to block Iranians from certain programs. VCU has responded and demonstrated that it is taking action to correct the issue.

NIAC wrote to VCU President Michael Rao to express concern with language on VCU’s Graduate Admissions webpage stating that the university barred Iranian citizens from admission “in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or in programs that have nuclear content.” NIAC’s letter questioned whether the adoption of this policy was based on a flawed understanding of relevant U.S. law and urged VCU to overturn the unnecessarily discriminatory policy. NIAC urged that the issue be examined and offered its support in addressing the policy.

VCU’s President Rao responded to NIAC’s letter, indicating that the university would work to resolve the issue. President Rao wrote that the school decided to remove policy language suggesting it would deny Iranian citizens entry into certain graduate programs and would now link directly to the State Department’s visa information homepage. Moreover, President Rao suggested that the university is working with outside legal counsel “to develop appropriate guidance for [VCU] so that the opportunities for students from countries under State Department restrictions are maximized to the fullest extent.” President Rao also emphasized that VCU has “many valued and successful Iranian students…, including many in [VCU’s] School of Engineering.”

Under current law, persons from Iran on a student visa are authorized “to carry out in the United States those activities for which such a visa has been granted by the U.S. State Department…” However, a sanctions bill passed in 2012 requires the State Department to deny student visas to an Iranians pursuing studies for a “career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.” The provision has been a major source of confusion for universities, some of whom have unnecessarily read this provision as an obligation imposed upon the schools themselves and have thus restricted their educational offerings to Iranian students. NIAC will continue to provide clarification as to the applicable law to these schools, but issues like this are likely to arise until such time as sanctions on Iran are lifted.

Nonetheless, VCU’s decision is testament to the tremendous work of all groups, including students on campus at UMass-Amherst who successfully fought back against the discriminatory policy there. The outcry over UMass Amherst’s decision to bar Iranian citizens from certain programs had the effect of warning off other universities from adopting similar policies and certainly played a significant role in VCU’s decision to resolve concerns about its own policy. The episode is further evidence of the enormous value of Iranian Americans engaging in civic life and playing a role in shaping the policies that affect them.  NIAC will continue to follow-up with and assist VCU in narrowly tailoring its policies regarding non-U.S. Iranian citizens to meet the demands of relevant U.S. law.

Memo: Congress Considers Its Options on an Iran Deal

With growing confidence that a framework nuclear deal with Iran will be sealed before the March 31 deadline, Congress is turning its attention to oversight of any nuclear agreement. Two recently introduced Senate bills offer a lesson in contrasts as to how Congress may approach its oversight role and serve as a reminder that Congressional interference still poses a considerable hurdle to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute.

The Corker-Menendez Bill

S. 615, the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act’, goes well beyond additional oversight and risks scuttling a nuclear deal. Introduced by Senators Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, this legislation makes less — rather than more — likely our ability to peacefully secure a nuclear deal with Iran.

S.615 would delay the implementation of a nuclear deal for 60 days – restricting the President’s authority to suspend sanctions. It provides Congress a mechanism to vote down a deal, which would revoke the President’s sanctions waiver authorities and prevent a deal from being implemented. The effect would be to force the U.S. to violate its commitments, likely isolating itself from its international partners while freeing Iran from the tough constraints of a nuclear deal as well as any multilateral sanctions.

The Corker-Menendez bill would also require the President to provide certification on not just Iran’s adherence to a nuclear deal, but that Iran had not committed an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. nationals. Failure to do so would enable Congress to consider expedited legislation to reimpose nuclear sanctions–and violate a nuclear deal. The United States should contest Iranian support for acts of terrorism, but not at the cost of reneging on a nuclear deal and freeing Iran from constraints on its nuclear program.

The Boxer Alternative

The second of these bills – S.669, the ‘Iran Congressional Oversight Act’ – takes a more balanced approach to Congressional oversight. Introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, this bill would require the President to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with a nuclear deal. If the President determines Iran has violated the agreement, then Congress can expedite legislation re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

Additionally, the Boxer bill clarifies the role Congress will play in lifting sanctions if and when it is required to do so under a nuclear deal. In doing this, this legislation proves a more appropriate vehicle for Congressional oversight. It does not insert Congress into the negotiations at the 11th-hour and does not stymie our chance to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran in a peaceful manner.

The Helsinki Approach

As Congress debates its role following a nuclear deal, it is important to recall historical precedent. In cases where the President has entered into non-binding political commitments with other countries, Congress has tended to keep its distance and not interfere with the negotiations.

Where Congress has claimed a more assertive role, it has done so in ways that do not threaten either the negotiations or an agreement itself. For instance, following the Helsinki Accords, Congress passed a statute creating an independent agency whose task was to measure signatories’ compliance with the Helsinki Final Act. Congress did not threaten to kill the Accords nor to expedite legislation should a violation be found. It did not predetermine the outcome in either of these ways. Instead, it formed a more deliberate body, which continues to exist today, to soberly assess the compliance of all parties to the agreement.

In the weeks and months ahead, Congress will seek to claim institutional prerogatives to oversee a nuclear deal with Iran and to do so in ways that threaten an agreement itself. It is critical, however, that lawmakers consider past precedent and figure out how to exercise their oversight authorities in ways that strengthen the U.S.’s position in negotiations, help secure a strong nuclear deal, and sustain that nuclear deal over the long-term.

Senate Committee Undermines US Diplomacy with Sanctions Vote

Press Release - For Immediate Release



Washington, DC – NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi released the following statement after Iran sanctions legislation (S. 269) was advanced out of the Senate Banking Committee:

“This legislation is a trojan horse aimed at killing the negotiations and starting a war with Iran. Many who voted for the bill may not have done so with this scenario in mind, but it is clear from those who are most aggressively driving the process–such as Senator Tom Cotton–that collapsing the talks is very much the intent. In the end, the consequences will be the same regardless of the intent.

“Thankfully, the sanctions bill is unlikely to receive a final vote for at least another two months–but that doesn’t mean damage hasn’t already being done.

“This bill is not a new threat to Iranian officials, it is a threat to our own negotiators. Many in Iran’s government would be delighted if Congress were to pass new sanctions that force the U.S. to violate the interim agreement. This would only help Iran blame the U.S. and unravel the sanctions without having to make a single nuclear concession. Some in Congress are so infatuated with the all stick, no carrot, approach that they are turning the sticks against our own negotiators. They are attacking the home team and undercutting U.S. negotiating leverage.

“It is hard to understand the point of this bill, if taken at face value. The entire world, including Tehran, knows that if Iran violates the deal or no agreement is reached, more sanctions are coming. But they also now know that Congress is going to make it extremely difficult for the U.S. to grant any sanctions relief if there is a deal. Today’s action casts further doubt on whether the U.S. can trade in our sanctions in the face of an obstructionist Congress, and only helps convince Iran not to make the tough concessions necessary for a deal because they may get nothing for it. 

“Some undoubtedly agreed to advance the sanctions out of committee under the assumption that the bill will not receive a full vote until at least the end of March, in line with a letter signed this week by ten Democrats. But while these Democrats can pledge to not vote for a bill until then, they do not control the process. We can only hope that some reckless Senator who does not want to give the President more time does not try to force a sanctions vote before March. Furthermore, even if the Senate delays until March, this is not the deadline for a deal. Any sanctions before June 30 will violate the interim deal and invite significant consequences.

“We commend those who voted against advancing this bill: Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) deserve tremendous credit for standing with the President, American negotiators, and the international community in support of diplomacy instead of another war of choice.”



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. 


Policy Memo: New Senate Bills Concerning Iran Nuclear Negotiations

In the last week of July, three separate pieces of legislation were introduced in the Senate that, if passed, would have a significant impact on nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Each of the bills was introduced and co-sponsored exclusively by Republicans, and there is little expectation the partisan bills will move forward in their current form. However, each bill hints at possible future efforts in September to add Iran-related amendments to other legislation, as well as future legislative measures should a deal be reached in the P5+1 and Iran negotiations. Moreover, shifts in the Senate — thanks to the upcoming November elections — could make these bills more viable down the road. 

The prime motive of these legislative proposals is to erode the President’s authority to carry out US obligations to Iran under either the current framework agreement or under a final nuclear deal. Each of these bills would limit, remove, or override the President’s authority to waive specific sanctions on Iran. Below, the major provisions of each bill are enumerated.

S.2650: Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014 – Sen. Corker (R-TN)

The “Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014” would require that any nuclear agreement between the US and Iran be presented within three days to Congress, where consideration of a Joint Resolution of Disapproval would enjoy expedited procedures. If the resolution was then passed or if the deal was not presented to Congress within the required time frame, any funding for the State Department to implement the agreement would be prohibited. Moreover, if no nuclear agreement is secured by November 24 or if Iran violates a final agreement, any sanctions waived by the President to implement the agreement would be automatically reinstated.

The bill:

  • Requires the President to submit to Congress the text of an agreement relating to Iran’s nuclear program within a 3-calendar day period after entering into the agreement
    • Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee could then hold hearings or briefings related to the agreement for a 15-day period starting when the President submits the agreement to Congress
    • Following this 15-day period, a Joint Resolution of Disapproval may be introduced in the Senate and House under expedited procedures
  • Prohibits authorized State Department funds to be expended to implement an agreement relating to Iran’s nuclear program, if:
    • President fails to submit an agreement relating to Iran’s nuclear program within 3-days, or
    • Joint Resolution of Disapproval is enacted into law
  • Provides that if U.S. intelligence community receives information from any person, including foreign governments and foreign intelligence services, that Iran has failed to comply with any agreement relating to Iran’s nuclear program, or has refused to cooperate with the IAEA, then Director of National Intelligence shall determine whether information is credible and accurate within 10 calendar days and submit determination to appropriate congressional committees
    • If information is deemed credible and accurate, then any sanctions that have been waived, suspended, or otherwise relieved shall be reinstated 5 days after the determination
  • Provides that any sanctions that have been waived, suspended, or otherwise relieved shall be reinstated on November 28, 2014, unless the President:
    • Submits to Congress an agreement relating to Iran’s nuclear program, and
    • Certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the agreement is comprehensive and long-term (i.e., significantly longer than any previous nuclear-related agreement between US and Iran)

S. 2667: Iranian Sanctions Relief Certification Act of 2014 – Sen. Kirk (R-IL)

Under the current framework agreement, which has been extended to last until November 24, 2014, certain sanctions have been temporarily waived by the President in exchange for Iran’s freezing and rolling back of its nuclear program. The “Iranian Sanctions Relief Certification Act of 2014” would prevent the President from continuing to waive those sanctions unless the President certifies that Iran will not use any resultant funds to advance a nuclear weapons program, support terrorism, or commit human rights abuses.

The bill:

  • Prohibits the President from exercising sanctions waivers in connection with the Extended Joint Plan of Action as to specific provisions, unless the President certifies to Congress on a specified schedule that any funds made available to Iran as a result of sanctions relief will not be used to:
    • Provide support for persons or entities designated under Executive Order for international terrorism, any designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, or any other terrorist organization;
    • Advance the efforts of Iran or any other country to develop nuclear weapons of ballistic missiles overtly or covertly; or
    • Commit any violation of the human rights of the Iranian people

S. 2672: Sanction Iran, Secure America – Sen. Cruz (R-TX)

The “Sanction Iran, Secure America” bill seeks to limit the President’s ability to implement any sanctions relief under a final deal by terminating existing legal authorities for the President to waive certain sanctions and codifying sanctions previously imposed by Executive Order.

The bill:

  • Terminates all sanctions waivers granted Iran under the Joint Plan of Action and the Extended Joint Plan of Action (as well as Section 104 of CISADA), and eliminates the President’s waiver authorities for future use
  • Codifies financial sanctions on persons that facilitate a significant financial transaction for the purchase of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran or petrochemical products from Iran, and imposes sanctions on persons who engage in a significant transaction for such
  • Codifies IEEPA-based sanctions on persons that provide financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company, or Iran’s Central Bank
  • Codifies IEEPA-based sanctions on persons that provide financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the purchase or acquisition of US bank notes or precious metals by the Government of Iran
  • Codifies IEEPA-based sanctions on persons that provide financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, any:
    • Iranian person included on SDN List (excluding Iranian depositary institutions blocked solely pursuant to EO 13599), and
    • Any person included on SDN list whose property is blocked pursuant to above or EO 13599 (excluding Iranian depositary institutions blocked solely pursuant to EO 13599),
      • Fails to provide waiver authorities for the President as to the provision (EO 13645)
  • Codifies sanctions on persons that engaged in a significant financial transaction for the sale or transfer to Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with Iran’s automotive sector, and imposes financial sanctions on foreign financial institutions that facilitate a significant financial transaction for the sale or transfer to Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with Iran’s automotive sector, and fails to provide waiver authorities for the President as to both provisions
  • Revises the Federal Acquisition Regulation by requiring certifications from each person that is part of a foreign country’s automotive sector and is a prospective contractor, showing that the person has neither conducted a transaction with an Iranian person or entity within the previous 90 days nor has a business relationship with the Government of Iran
    • If person is found to have submitted a false certification, head of an executive agency shall terminate contract with person and suspend them from eligibility for federal contracts for at least 2 years
  • Revises Section 1245 of 2012 NDAA so that it no longer permits countries to import unlimited amounts or Iranian condensates if they have been granted an exception to import limited amounts of Iranian crude oil
  • Imposes IEEPA-based sanctions on persons that provide financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of:
    • Any activity or transaction which would contribute to or pose a risk of contributing to WMD proliferation or the means of delivery of such weapons by any person or country the President identifies as being of proliferation concern
    • Any person who has been designated for sanctions pursuant to EO 13382
  • Prohibits authorized funds from being expended to participate in negotiations with Iran until Congress enacts a joint resolution certifying a host of things, including:
    • Iran has freed all US prisoners of conscience held in Iranian jails
    • Treasury no longer finds Iran’s Central Bank to be a primary money laundering concern
    • Iran has dismantled its entire nuclear program, including all centrifuges, and does not have ballistic missiles with a range over 300 km and a payload of more than 500 kg; and
    • Iran has renounced state-sponsored terrorism and acknowledges its role and accepts legal responsibility for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, and the bombing of the Khobar Tower

Report: Iran Sanctions Cost US Economy up to $175 Billion

New report details massive lost US job opportunities due to Iran sanctions

Losing Billions ReportWashington, DC – U.S. sanctions on Iran have carried a significant cost to the U.S. economy, a new report published by the National Iranian American Council today finds. Losing Billions – The Cost of Iran Sanctions to the U.S. Economy reveals that between 1995 and 2012, the U.S. sacrificed at least $135 billion and as much as $175 billion in potential export revenue to Iran.

These estimates reflect the loss solely from export industries, and do not include the detrimental economic effects of other externalities of Iran-targeted sanctions, such as higher global oil prices. Consequently, the full cost to the U.S. economy is likely even higher.

There is also a human element, measured in terms of jobs needed to support higher export levels. On average, the lost export revenues translate into between 50,000 and 66,000 lost job opportunities each year. In 2008, the number reaches as high as 279,000 lost job opportunities.

“Texas and California are likely the biggest losers in terms of lost employment, due to their size as well as the attractiveness of their industries to Iran’s economy,” said Jonathan Leslie, one of the co-authors of the report.

Between 2010 and 2012, sanctions cost the EU states more than twice as much as the United States in terms of lost trade revenue. Germany was hit the hardest, losing between $23.1 and $73.0 billion between 2010-2012, with Italy and France following at $13.6-$42.8 billion and $10.9-$34.2 billion respectively.

“Understanding the cost of sanctions to the U.S. is critical since any debate over whether to exchange sanctions relief for limitations to Iran’s nuclear program would be incomplete at best and misleading at worst if it did not address this cost,” said Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and one of the report’s three authors. “In these economic times, one simply cannot ignore $175 billion in lost export revenue or 200,000 lost jobs in one year.”

The report can be downloaded at /losingbillions

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NIAC is a Washington, DC-based 501 c(3) non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC is funded through donations from the Iranian-American community as well as grants from the Ploughshares Fund, ARCA Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, among others. For more information about the organization, please visit, or email us at