Why Trump’s Hawks Back the MEK Terrorist Cult

(Photo by Siavosh Hosseini/NurPhoto via Getty Images) MEK leader Maryam Rajavi presiding over a rally in memory of the group’s members killed in Iraq in 2013, Tirana, Albania, September 1, 2017

On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address an Iranian-American audience at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. The speech is part of a deliberate policy of escalating tensions with Iran, targeting its economy and supporting Iranian opposition groups—all for the purpose of pressuring and destabilizing Iran. At least one member of an Iranian terrorist group that has killed American citizens will also be in attendance. But it won’t be to disrupt Pompeo’s speech; rather, to support it. In fact, the member is on the invitation list.

Last month, the same terrorist group held an event in Paris, busing in thousands of young people from Eastern Europe to hear Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani call for regime change in Tehran. A similar event in Paris last year was addressed by John Bolton, who recently became President Trump’s national security adviser.

How an organization that was only delisted by the US Department of State as a terrorist group in 2012 could so soon after win influential friends at the heart of America’s current administration is the strange and sinister story of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known by its initials, MEK. Commonly called a cult by most observers, the MEK systematically abuses its members, most of whom are effectively captives of the organization, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Regardless of its delisting by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—a political calculation on her part since many senior Democrats, as well as Republicans, had been persuaded by the MEK’s lavish lobbying efforts—the group has never ceased terrorizing its members and has continued to conduct assassinations inside Iran.

In the 1980s, the MEK served as a private militia fighting for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Today, it has a different paymaster: the group is believed to be funded, in the millions of dollars, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Washington, D.C., as in Paris, France, the MEK pays tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to US officials. Bolton, in particular, is a long-time paid supporter of the MEK, reportedly receiving as much as $180,000 for his appearances at the group’s events.

The group is so awash with cash that it doesn’t just pay the speakers; it buys the audience, too. Those young Poles and Czechs who traveled to hear Giuliani’s speech on June 30 came not out of fascination with Trump’s lawyer but for the free weekend in Paris they were offered. The only thing the MEK’s money can’t buy is popular support among Iranians.

The MEK goes back a long way. Founded in the early 1960s, it was the first opposition group to take up arms against the repressive regime of the Shah. Its ideology was based on a blend of Marxism and Islamism, and the group enjoyed widespread support inside Iran in the 1970s. But a series of missteps saw its popularity dramatically dwindle. After the Shah was deposed, the group’s rivalry with Ayatollah Khomeini came to a head not long after the MEK opposed Khomeini’s decision to release the fifty-two American embassy staff held hostage by Iran, and instead, called for their execution. In fact, only a few years earlier, as part of a campaign targeting the Shah’s regime, the MEK assassinated three US Army colonels and three US contractors, in addition to bombing the facilities of several US companies.

Many of the MEK’s members fled to Iraq and established military bases with the blessing of Saddam Hussein. Siding with Saddam in that long and devastating war, which was estimated to have killed more than 300,000 Iranians, turned the MEK into traitors in the eyes of the Iranian public. Nothing has happened since then to change this view of the MEK inside Iran. But the more politically irrelevant the MEK became, the more extreme and cultish it got. After suffering a military defeat in 1988 in which it lost around 4,500 of its 7,000 fighters in a disastrous incursion into Iran, the MEK was in crisis. To prevent the organization’s collapse, its leader, Massoud Rajavi, intensified the cult-like character of the organization in order to prevent its members from defecting.

In 1990, all members of the organization were ordered to divorce and remain celibate. Their love and devotion should be directed only toward the leaders of the organization, Rajavi determined. To reinforce the leadership’s control, some eight hundred children of MEK members were sent abroad from their camp in Iraq to be adopted by exiled members of the group in Europe or North America. If the adult members tried to leave the MEK, they would completely lose touch with their children. To this day, there are scores of MEK members who dare not leave the terrorist group for this very reason. And there are countless children of MEK members who dream of one day being reunited with their parents. I know several of them.

The MEK’s human rights abuses have been well documented by human rights organizations. The MEK leadership has reportedly forced members to make taped confessions of sexual fantasies that are later used against them. In Iraq, disobedient members were routinely put in solitary confinement—in at least one case, for as long as eight years, according to HRW. Other members were tortured to death in front of their kin. As one US official quipped to me in 2011 when the organization was running its ultimately successful multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to be removed from the State Department’s terrorist list: “Al-Qaeda actually treats its members better than the MEK treats its.”

The MEK, of course, rejects all accusations of terrorism and abuse. The group is not a cult, its advocates insist, but Iran’s strongest democratic opposition group in exile, which seeks a free and democratic Iran. Its members were not forced to divorce, a senior MEK official told the BBC in 2010. Rather, they all divorced their spouses voluntarily. En masse. And anyone who raises these accusations against the group is immediately branded a partisan for the theocratic regime in Tehran.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani at an MEK memorial event, New York, 2013

Given the MEK’s long record of terrorism, human rights abuses, and murder of US citizens, one would think that senior American officials like Giuliani, Pompeo, and Bolton wouldn’t go near the MEK, let alone fraternize with its members or take its fees. But when it comes to Iran, the usual rules don’t apply.

 

Even when the MEK was on the terrorist list, the group operated freely in Washington. Its office was in the National Press Club building, its Norooz receptions on Capitol Hill were well attended by lawmakers and Hill staff alike, and plenty of congressmen and women from both parties spoke up regularly in the MEK’s favor. In the early 2000s, in a move that defied both logic and irony, Fox News even hired a senior MEK lobbyist as an on-air terrorism commentator.

Al-Qaeda may treat its members better, but rest assured, neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS has ever rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered US officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the US government’s terrorist list. The money that Maryam Rajavi (Massoud Rajavi’s wife, who has taken over leadership of the organization since Massoud’s mysterious disappearance in Iraq in 2003) offers to American politicians and the organization’s aggressive advocacy and lobbying only partly explain the group’s freedom of action at the heart of America’s political capital. Certainly, some politicians have likely been duped by the MEK’s shiny image, but Washington’s better-informed hawks are not duped; they simply like what they see, even at the risk of running afoul of federal ethics laws.

At the heart of this improbable-seeming affinity lies a sense of common interest between these anti-Iran fundamentalist, pro-war elements in Washington and Rajavi’s terrorist militia. The US hawks have no problem with the MEK’s terrorist capacities because the group’s utility is beyond dispute—after all, NBC reported that Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, relied on MEK operatives to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists during Iran and Israel’s secret dirty war between 2010 and 2012.

American officials, including the national security adviser, can have no illusions about the MEK’s disingenuous propaganda lines about seeking democracy or enjoying support inside Iran. They know very well how despised the MEK is in that country. Unlike other Iranian opposition groups, however, the MEK can mount military operations. Its members are experienced in sabotage, assassinations, and terrorism, as well as in guerrilla and conventional warfare. These are not qualities that lend themselves to any project of democratization, but are extremely useful if the strategic objective is to cause either regime change (by invasion) or regime collapse (by destabilization). In other words, for Washington’s anti-Iran hawks, the MEK doesn’t have to replace the theocracy in Tehran; it just needs to assist its collapse. The ensuing chaos would weaken Iran and shift the regional balance of power toward US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When my organization, the National Iranian American Council, campaigned against the delisting of the MEK in 2012, I gathered that some in Washington were uncomfortable with our position even though they had no sympathy for the group. They viewed the MEK as irrelevant and felt that resources should not be spent on fighting to keep the group on the list. Others feared the harassment that inevitably follows speaking up against the MEK. But we remained firm in our opposition and pointed out that if the MEK was taken off the list, the warmongers in Washington would be able to throw their full support behind the organization and use it to advance its policy of confrontation against Iran.

In 2012, my organization warned that the MEK was an Iranian version of the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition-in-exile to Saddam Hussein led by Ahmed Chalabi, which the neoconservatives in Washington tirelessly promoted in the early 2000s to provide grounds for going to war in Iraq. Sadly, it is now clear that our worries were warranted: the MEK’s greatest friends and allies in Washington—its paid advocates, in fact—now have the ear of a president who already tore up the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran.

On May 5, just two weeks after he joined Trump’s legal team, Giuliani told an audience at a D.C. convention organized by an MEK front group that Trump was “committed to regime change.” The war party in Washington has its Iranian version of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

This piece originally appeared in NYR Daily.

 

NIAC Statement on Passing of Maryam Mirzakhani

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Elham Khatami
Phone: 202 386 6325
Email: ekhatami@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Elham Khatami released this statement following the untimely death of Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics:

“We offer our sincerest condolences to the friends and family of Stanford Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, who was the first woman and first Iranian to win the prestigious Fields Medal. In her short 40 years, she left an indelible mark on the world.

“Professor Mirzakhani grew up in Iran, attended Harvard, and eventually made the United States her permanent home. While her achievements are extraordinary, her story is common. Thousands of Iranians have come to the US and made immense contributions to our society, especially in the sciences. Luckily for the nation, Professor Mirzakhani was one of those ambitious young people who was given the chance to realize her full potential in the US. The best way for the country to honor her legacy and contributions is to keep the door of opportunity open to others like her so that they may continue her life’s work.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps Iranians Can Take to Avoid Unwarranted Bank Account Closures

NIAC Banking Infographic

Click to view larger image

Recently, there have been increasing numbers of cases in which US banks, citing US sanctions on Iran, have either closed or restricted the accounts of both Iranians based in the US and Iranian Americans who travel to Iran. This is the result of either poor legal advice provided to banks regarding sanctions compliance or the result of the increased scrutiny of accounts held by Iranian nationals, combined with extreme caution on the part of banks.

NIAC has and will continue to work with banks and the US government to fully resolve this issue. In the meantime, we would like to provide some precautionary measures that Iranians and Iranian Americans can take to help ensure they do not run into this problem.

For Persian translation of this document, click here.

(1)  For Iranian nationals who are not US citizens, make sure your bank has timely, accurate information regarding your current place of residence, including any identification showing US residence.

Under US law, US banks are prohibited from providing services to “ordinary residents in Iran,” except when those “ordinary residents” are not in Iran. In other words, if you are an Iranian student who is a resident of Iran but presently based in the US, US banks can provide their services to you only as long as you are outside Iran.

However, when US banks have uncertainty as to whether an Iranian customer is still based in the US or if the customer may have returned to Iran, they have increasingly decided to close or restrict the customer’s bank account. That is why, for instance, Iranian students studying in the US who may not have a fixed US address or US identification on file with their bank have been most affected by banks’ cautious approach.

The best thing Iranian nationals who are not US citizens can do is to make sure that your bank has timely and accurate information of your current place of residence, so as to minimize the chances that they will pick up your account during their periodic screens. Providing identification that details your residence could be helpful to assuage bank concerns about your location at any given time.

(2)  Do not initiate a transaction or access your bank account when in Iran.

Under US law, US banks are prohibited from servicing your account when you are accessing your account or initiating a transaction from Iran. If you attempt to do either of these two things while in Iran, the transaction will be rejected and your bank will likely place a restriction on your account. That restriction will likely only be lifted when you provide information to the bank’s satisfaction that you are no longer in Iran and are not ordinarily resident in Iran.

You should not access your account or initiate a transaction from your account when in Iran. However, it is important for you to know that US banks should not restrict your account when you simply travel to Iran. As long as you are not ordinarily resident in Iran and you do not access your account while in Iran, you should be able to travel to and from Iran without any problems arising with your US bank account.

(3)  If your bank account is closed or restricted, you have options.

Having your bank account closed or restricted is a major inconvenience, and for some (including Iranian students studying in the US), much more than that. However, it is important for you to know that you have options if your account is restricted or closed by your bank.

Typically, your bank wants proof of US residence. If you can provide this to your bank, your bank will likely lift the restriction or reopen your account.

If not, though, it is important to remember that your account is not “blocked”. You can take all your funds in your bank and transfer them elsewhere.

NIAC Condemns Deadly Shootings at Jewish Center

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

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) sends its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of last night’s shootings outside of Jewish community centers in Kansas City that left three innocent people dead. It goes without saying that NIAC unequivocally condemns this heinous act of hate that was allegedly perpetrated by an individual who is an avowed white supremacist and anti-semite.

Our organization’s thoughts are with the Jewish community in Kansas City and throughout the United States and world, as well as the entire community impacted by this terrifying act of violence. We grieve not just as members of the Iranian American community–which includes many Jewish members and which has itself faced acts of hatred and discrimination–but also as members of a shared community. These hate crimes were not only an act of violence against the American Jewish community, but also an attack against the basic values and ideals that bind all of us.

This tragedy is yet another reminder that, whatever ethnic, cultural, religious, or other distinctions that may exist among the many diverse groups throughout our country and planet, we all must work together to stand against the hatred and radicalism that manifests itself through such heinous, inhumane acts. There is so much work to be done to build bridges, increase dialogue, and isolate hate and extremism; as we grieve today, we know we must continue and redouble our efforts together to help build a more peaceful future.

Congress Urges President to Ensure Sanctions Do Not Block Medicine for Iranians

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org
 
Jim Moran, Mark Warner, Gerald Connolly
 

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) commends Rep. James Moran (D-VA) and all twenty-one Members of Congress who sent a letter to President Obama today supporting necessary action to ensure medicine and humanitarian goods are not unintentionally blocked for the Iranian people. NIAC strongly supported the letter and has consistently worked to raise awareness regarding the impact of sanctions on the Iranian people.

“A large portion of the Iranian people are open to western ideas and the modern world. For the long run peace prospects, the U.S. is better served by balancing the need for sanctions with the humanitarian needs of the Iranian people,” said Rep. Moran. “The sanctions were not meant to block the Iranian people, who suffer under a repressive regime, access to food and medicine.  We ask President Obama to ensure that medicine and humanitarian related transactions are not affected by the ongoing sanctions.”

While humanitarian goods have been exempted from Iran sanctions by the White House and Congress, extensive financial sanctions have restricted banking channels necessary for humanitarian transactions, particularly pharmaceuticals solely produced in the United States and other Western countries.  This, in addition to extensive economic mismanagement by Iran’s government, has led to shortages of drugs that treat cancer, hemophilia and other life-threatening illnesses.

“Many Iranian Americans have family in Iran that are suffering as a direct result of sanctions and are hopeful that recent diplomatic progress will bring about change,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “In the meantime, it is critical that Congress and the Administration work to ensure sanctions do not continue blocking medicine and humanitarian goods for the Iranian people.”

The preliminary nuclear agreement brokered by the P5+1 and Iran included an agreement to establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade; however, medicine shortages have continued in part due to extensive financial sanctions on Iran and the reported unwillingness of banks to facilitate legal, humanitarian transactions.

View the letter…

Signers:

Rep. James P. Moran (D-VA)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN)
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO)
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA)
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ)
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)
Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-CA)
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)
Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY)
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY)
Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL)

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

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NIAC Applauds Protection of Persepolis Tablets in Chicago

Persepolis Tablets

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


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

Washington, DC – National Iranian American Council applauds the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois protecting the Persepolis Tablets and other ancient Iranian artifacts from being awarded as damages in a court proceeding.

“This is a victory that protects the culture and history of the Iranian people so that these antiquities can be appreciated by everyone,” said NIAC President Trita Parsi. “Iran’s heritage is owned by the people, it is not the property of Iran’s government and it cannot be treated as currency.”

The Persepolis Tablets provide the world’s only first-hand window into daily life in Persepolis 2,500 years ago. But these and thousands of ancient Persian artifacts in the United States were under the threat of seizure as part of a judgement against the Iranian government.

Since 2006, NIAC has been a leading voice in the Iranian-American community’s efforts to protect the Persepolis Tablets and other Persian antiquities in the United States.  NIAC filed an amicus brief in the case in 2008 and also advocated to the White House as well as in Congress to protect the tablets.

The items at University of Chicago and other universities and museums were under threat as part of civil suit in response to a 1997 Hamas attack. While the court found that Iran’s government was responsible for the attack by allegedly providing material support to the bombers, plaintiffs have been unable to collect the entirety of a $400 million judgment awarded in damages. Thus, lawyers attempted to seize Persian artifacts on display at various museums, including the Persepolis Tablets collection that has been at University of Chicago since the 1920s.

On Friday, the Judge presiding over the case in Illinois ruled that the Iranian government did not own the artifacts at the Chicago Field Museum and that the artifacts at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute were loaned for scholarship instead of commercial purposes so could not be seized. While the decision can now be appealed, NIAC hopes that this will definitively protect these items and will continue to ensure this is the case.

“The Iranian-American community supports justice for all victims of the Iranian government, and indeed nobody has suffered more than the Iranian people,” said Parsi. “But going after museums and seizing antiquities representing the history and identity of the Iranian people would have meant using one injustice to perpetuate another injustice that would have set a devastating precedent.”

In addition to the Persepolis Tablets at the University of Chicago, Persian artifacts at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art and Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Harvard University, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Previous decisions have been made in those cases to protect those items as well.

NIAC Announces New Additions to Board of Directors

The National Iranian American Council is pleased to announce the newest additions to its Board of Directors for the 2014-2016 term: Nobar Elmi, Ahmad Kiarostami, Kaveh Mirani and Ahmad Shams. Each of these individuals has demonstrated tremendous talent and leadership in various sectors including business, government, technology, and arts. Their strong track records of achievement and vision, combined with their shared consistent commitments to the Iranian-American community, makes them ideal additions to our team.

Head_Shot_Nobar_Elmi.jpgFormer NIAC Outreach Director Nobar Elmi will be rejoining the NIAC family in a new role on our Board. During her two year tenure on NIAC’s staff Elmi left a major mark, initiating several critical NIAC initiatives and traditions including theAnnual Leadership Conference, Ambassador Program, and National Day of Service. Elmi currently works as a Business Writer at the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), where she helps conduct new initiatives and programs. In addition to having made strides in the non-profit and private sectors, Elmi also has significant experience in government affairs. She formerly served as Legislative Liaison for the Texas General Land Office and worked at a leading public affairs and lobbying firm in Los Angeles. Speaking about her continued involvement with the Iranian-American community and interest in joining NIAC’s Board, Elmi stated, “What’s most exciting to me is simply the ability to galvanize the Iranian-American community to speak up, be heard, and take actions.”

Ahmad-Kiarostami3.jpgAhmad Kiarostami has had an impressive and varied career, having made extraordinary professional accomplishments in both arts and technology. As the founder of three companies, including two of the first multimedia and online production companies in Iran, he has consistently shown a talent for innovation and entrepreneurship. Kiarostami has also taken leadership roles at Microsoft Middle-East, developed full-text search technology for Persian content and served as a board member of the San Francisco Cinemathèque. In addition, Kiarostami has produced and directed numerous popular music videos for top Iranian artists including Googoosh127 and Hamed Nikpay.

Before joining NIAC’s Board, Kiarostami already demonstrated tremendous leadership as a NIAC volunteer. In his role as the Chair of NIAC’s Bay Area Executive Team’s Arts & Culture Subcommittee, Kiarostami initiated a program called Docunight. This monthly Iranian documentary series began in San Francisco and quickly grew to other cities such as Los Angeles, Vancouver, Dubai, and New York. Given his longstanding interest in arts and culture, Kiarostami explains that what motivates him most about next steps at NIAC is his hope “to bring some cultural aspects into our political activities.”

Kaveh-Mirani2.jpgKaveh Mirani is an entrepreneur with extensive experience in both the textile and hospitality industries. A well-known figure in the Chicago area for owning the popular French restaurant Mirani’s, Mirani also serves as president of Winnetka Foods Inc, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce. Before his current role, Mirani was a professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the School of Business at Miami University of Ohio.

When asked what motivated him to join NIAC’s Board of Directors, Mirani stated his recent trip to Iran heavily influenced his decision: “The economy was in shambles and extreme poverty was visible in all strata of the society. Iran was hurting, Iranians were suffering, helpless and in need of assistance from voices outside of Iran.” A longtime advocate for improving the lives of ordinary Iranians, Mirani co-founded the Iran Committee for Democratic Action and Human Rights and worked as a senior analyst for the Development and Investment Bank of Iran. By joining NIAC’s Board, he hopes to help improve the lives of ordinary Iranians by working to advance NIAC’s promotion of diplomacy and peace between the US and Iran.

Ahmad Shams2.jpgAhmad Shams is the founder and Chairman of Merex Inc., a major international logistics company that manufactures components for military aircrafts around the world. During his spare time Shams gives back to the community by playing an active leadership role in various local non-profits, such as the International Society for Children with Cancer (ISCC), the US arm of the Iranian NGO Mahak. Shams also serves as Vice Chairman of Regenerate, is a Paul Harris Fellow at the Rotary Club International, and manages the Shams Foundation as a means to fund various charitable and non-profit organizations.

Shams’ decision to join NIAC’s Board was shaped by his fundamental belief in NIAC’s main objectives of diplomacy and the improvement of human rights issues within Iran. In his new role, Shams hopes to further raise awareness of NIAC’s goals, objectives and community events: “I believe that my contacts, business skills, and reach into the Iranian community within the US — as well as in Iran — can help promote NIAC’s goals and objectives.”

We are thrilled to welcome such an accomplished, diverse, and engaged group of Iranian Americans to NIAC’s Board! We look forward to working together to progress and advance our community’s interests, and shaping a better future for Iranian Americans.

 

Bank of Hawaii Re-Opens Accounts for Iranians in U.S.

Waikiki_Exterior-4

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


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

Washington, DC – NIAC welcomes the decision by Bank of Hawaii to re-open bank accounts for Iranian customers. As NIAC Advisory Board member Dr. Farideh Farhi first reported, the bank had terminated the accounts of Iranian customers in the U.S. in an effort to comply with U.S. financial sanctions against Iran. NIAC called on the bank to reverse the decision and worked to help facilitate a solution with the bank and the Department of Treasury that meets sanctions compliance requirements while not punishing Iranians in the United States. NIAC applauds Bank of Hawaii for acting promptly and for satisfactorily addressing all concerns.

Bank of Hawaii issued the following statement:

“Bank of Hawaii, in consultation with its technology providers, regulators and advocacy groups such as the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), has developed a solution to allow it to once again make accounts available to Iranian residents.

“In recent months, we have had to take steps to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions regarding Iran, in particular those prohibiting access to U.S. bank accounts by persons in Iran.  Unfortunately, this placed burdens on customers whose primary residence was indicated as Iran but who reside in the United States. (Iranian customers whose primary residence is in the U.S. are not subject to the same restrictions). Bank of Hawaii strongly values its relationship with our Iranian customers and with the Iranian-American community, and we regret any inconvenience this has caused.

“We plan to contact the seventeen customers whose accounts were closed, and to provide them with information about restarting their banking relationships with Bank of Hawaii in the next week or so. As part of the solution, areas where access will need to be restricted are banking-by-mail and transactions over the telephone. Access through debit cards, checks, ATMs and over the internet will be available while the customers are in the U.S.

“Bank of Hawaii thanks NIAC for its outreach and efforts to help us craft a solution that meets the banking needs of Iranian residents while adhering to its obligations under the U.S. Government’s economic sanctions program.”

NIAC is pleased that this issue has been resolved. While broad sanctions have created significant compliance issues for banks and private companies, it is critical that these policies do not negate the basic rights and protections afforded to Iranian citizens in the United States.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

 

NIAC Commends EU High Representative Ashton for Landmark Iran Visit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


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

Jamal Abdi, the Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding EU High Representative Catherine Ashton’s landmark trip to Iran this weekend:

“Catherine Ashton’s trip to Iran is a welcome step towards resolving the tensions between Iran and the West through dialogue and diplomacy.  Institutionalized silence and pressure politics have only deepened distrust, which has played into the hands of hardliners, perpetuated the nuclear crisis and seen the human rights situation in Iran deteriorate.

“Lady Ashton deserves praise, particularly for her efforts to highlight the international community’s concerns regarding the human rights situation in Iran. Not only did Ashton raise concerns about human rights in Iran with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, she also met with several women’s rights activists at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran. While such visits do not in and of themselves provide systemic change to the human rights situation in Iran, they are necessary steps towards that goal. Indeed, carefully calibrated dialogue can put more pressure on human rights abusers than silence or empty condemnations.

“The Iranian people have created a critical opportunity for moderation of both Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.  Thus far, the international community and the Rouhani administration have focused primarily on the nuclear issue, and those efforts have yielded some success.  But progress in one area can build trust and open new opportunities for dialogue on other vital issues.  As negotiations proceed toward a final nuclear deal, other nations should follow the example of the EU and Lady Ashton by increasing contact and expanding the agenda of dialogue to include human rights.  Ultimately, no sustainable solution to the conflict can be found unless human rights are prominently included on the agenda.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

 

40 Organizations Urge Congress to Support Diplomacy, Uphold Iran Deal

Washington, DC – Forty national organizations,* including NIAC, FCNL, Win Without War, and J Street, have sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging that Congress uphold the preliminary nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran and support negotiations towards a final deal that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapon and averts an unnecessary war.

As Congress reportedly is considering new action regarding Iran, with the upcoming AIPAC conference and a Washington visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the letter urges that Congress observe three basic principles:

  1. Congress should ensure Iran is upholding the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and similarly should not consider any measures that cause the U.S. to violate the JPOA, such as by passing new sanctions.
  2. Congress should refrain from renegotiating the basic terms of a final agreement that are outlined in JPOA, such as by demanding “zero enrichment”.
  3. Congress and the Administration should work together to ensure necessary authorizations exist for the U.S. to lift nuclear-related sanctions if a final deal is secured.
The letter is below, a PDF of the letter is available here.

February 27, 2014

To: Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

As negotiations proceed between the P5+1 and Iran, the following organizations urge Congress to uphold the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and refrain from considering any measures that would violate the letter or spirit of the JPOA or renegotiate the basic terms for a final agreement outlined in the JPOA. We urge Congress and the Administration to work together to ensure diplomacy can succeed in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and averting an unnecessary and costly war.

The JPOA advances U.S. national security objectives by freezing and rolling back key elements of Iran’s nuclear program as negotiations towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement proceed. Congress has an important role to play to ensure the terms of the JPOA are upheld by Iran. At the same time, it is critical that Congress not cause the United States to violate our own terms under the deal. The Senate’s decision to abstain from considering new Iran sanctions has helped give diplomacy the best possible chance to succeed.  It is critical that Congress not legislate new sanctions while talks are proceeding, which would violate the JPOA and, according to a U.S. Intelligence Community assessment, “would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Furthermore, Congress should refrain from issuing ultimatums that would contradict the broad terms outlined in the JPOA for what may constitute a final deal. The JPOA is clear that a final agreement would “Involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs”, albeit one which in the words of Under Secretary Wendy Sherman would have to be “highly constrained, highly monitored, and verified on a quite regular basis.” The issuance of ultimatums through legislation or resolutions expressly or implicitly calling for zero enrichment and complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would only contradict the terms of the JPOA and jeopardize negotiations towards a final agreement. Any ultimatums beyond the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran can only serve to tie the hands of our negotiators, empower Iranian hardliners and prevent creative solutions to resolve the serious issues that remain.

Finally, the JPOA is also clear that, if Iran makes the necessary concessions to meet the terms required in a final comprehensive nuclear agreement, nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted. To ensure a final deal can be reached, Congress and the administration must work together to ensure that, in exchange for verifiable Iranian concessions that provide concrete assurances against nuclear weaponization, the necessary authorities exist to lift sanctions.

The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are an essential opportunity for the United States and its negotiating partners to secure an agreement that prevents an Iranian nuclear weapon and averts a war.  We are hopeful that Congress and the Administration will work together to ensure diplomacy can succeed so that these important national security goals can be achieved.

Signed,

Ameinu
American Friends Service Committee
Americans for Peace Now
Arab American Institute
Center for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University
Center for International Policy
CODEPINK
CREDO
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
HAND Foundation
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
GlobalSolutions.org
International Civil Society Action Network
Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project
Jewish Voice for Peace
J Street
Just Foreign Policy
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns
MoveOn.org
National Council of Churches
National Iranian American Council
Office of Public Witness, Church of the Brethren
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace
Peace Action
Peace Action West
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Progressive Democrats of America
Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence
The Shalom Center
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
USAction
Veterans for Peace
WarIsACrime.org
Win Without War
Women’s Action for New Directions

* This letter was initially sent to the Senate with 38 signers – two additional organizations requested to join and have been added.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

 

NIAC Applauds Sanctions Halt, Time to Focus on Diplomacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jamal Abdi

Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Policy Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding Senate Iran sanctions bill, S.1881:

“In the face of overwhelming support for diplomacy, Senator Menendez and AIPAC have halted their push for new sanctions that would torpedo negotiations. Congress has heard the message loud and clear that the American people, including Iranian Americans, do not want another war and instead support U.S.-Iran diplomacy.

“What happens in the next six months between the U.S. and Iran could define the Middle East for the next twenty years. Now is the time for everyone who sincerely supports a peaceful resolution rather than a war to focus on supporting diplomacy, securing a final deal, and lifting sanctions that punish ordinary Iranians.

“NIAC has consistently supported diplomacy and opposed broad sanctions and welcomes the historic developments underway. NIAC applauds its members and supporters who, in just the past month, sent thousands of letters, organized visits to 32 Senate offices across the country, and led over a dozen phone banks to ensure this bill would not move forward.

“NIAC commends President Obama, the twenty-five Senators who came out publicly in opposition to this bill, and the diverse coalition of organizations who have all been working intensely to advance U.S.-Iran diplomacy and secure a peaceful resolution to this decades-long standoff.”

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.