CBSNEWS: Two days remain for U.S. to strike nuclear deal with Iran

There are only two days remaining until the deadline for nuclear talks between Iran and other world powers. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna for the talks, where he extended a face-to-face meeting with his Iranian counterpart. Margaret Brennan reports from Vienna.

Sanctions Relief Could be Biggest Obstacle to Iran Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Russia Standoff Unlikely to Undermine Iran Nuclear Talks

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Washington, DC – “If you look at the range of common interests between the U.S. and Iran, it is a long and important list,” observed Representative Earl Blumenauer, speaking at a National Iranian American Council briefing for Congressional staff last week. “That’s why I’ve been so pleased that we’ve had this glimmer of opportunity for a diplomatic alternative,” Blumenauer remarked, calling the opening with Iran, “one of the key foreign policy issues of our time.”

Speaking on the event’s panel were Iran analyst Bijan Khajehpour and former Italian Ambassador to Iran Roberto Toscano, who focused their remarkson  nuclear negotiations in the context of recent tensions between Russia and the West. The panelists agreed that the Russia standoff will have a minimal impact on Iran’s core calculations given that the Rouhani’s administration’s success is largely contingent on securing a nuclear deal that deescalates tensions with the U.S.

“Iran knows very well that the chance for normalization with world doesn’t go through Moscow,” said Toscano. “President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif and the people with them have staked just about everything on the nuclear negotiations,” he said. “They cannot afford for it to fail.”

Khajehpour agreed, arguing that drawing closer to Russia had always been, at best, a contingency plan for Iran. While Rouhani’s camp wants a deal involving the U.S., the broader view in Iran is to also have a “plan B” based on the assumption by hardliners that the U.S. will ultimately refuse to accept a deal or deliver on sanctions relief. In that case,Khajehpour said, their plan is leverage such a failure to convince the EU that the U.S. is the intransigent party and economic relations with Iran should be reestablished.

Khajehpour said that Iran had only planned to focus on Russia as a plan C “if everything else fails,” but given Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the perception now is that “you can’t trust the Russians.” Instead, he said, “you have to make sure plan A or plan B actually works.”

Given Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, Toscano said the standoff with Russia may enable Iran to offer its significant gas reserves in an effort to rekindle relations with Europe if a U.S.-led nuclear deal does not materialize. However, Toscano said, in the immediate term the tensions with Russia may actually benefit nuclear negotiations by defusing political pressure on Western countries to strike a tough pose. It could “give the American side and the European side more flexibility in addressing [Iran’s] concerns” and provide more flexibility because “there are more pressing tasks.”

Khajehpour argued that, for Rouhani and Zarif, engaging the U.S. and West has been their agenda for over a decade—dismissing claims that recent sanctions were the chief driver of the administration’s negotiation posture. And, building on Blumenauer’s remarks, the panelists said that productive engagement will advance important issues beyond just the nuclear file. “Internally in Iran, these issues are linked because the same people who want to negotiate – they would like to move gradually towards a better situation in human rights,” said Toscano. “They cannot make it very explicit either, but everyone knows that. Especially the radicals know it.”

“The radicals want to kill this nuclear deal,” Toscano continued, “because they are afraid that the general atmosphere that is created once the nuclear confrontation is scaled down is a better chance for more pluralism and more human rights.”

Foreign Policy: It’s a Sabotage

Negotiations between Iran and the world powers will determine not just the future of Iran’s nuclear program, but also whether moderate forces can consolidate their tentative hold on power and shape the country’s direction for years to come. If Iranian President Hassan Rouhani secures a nuclear deal that delivers sanctions relief and boosts the economy, he will validate his argument that reconciliation with the outside world benefits Iran and unlock the possibility of far-reaching domestic reform. If the talks fail, however, hard-liners will have the ammunition they need to undercut the new president and shift the political pendulum back in their favor.
With so much at stake, Iran’s hard-liners are determined to sabotage Rouhani at every turn. Their latest effort appears aimed at spoiling the international community’s appetite for diplomacy: In adeeply troubling turn, Iran’s judiciary — which is not under the control of the Rouhaniadministration — has dramatically increased the number of executions in the country. At least 500 people were executed last year, according to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while at least another 176 have been hanged so far in 2014.
Rouhani has thus far insulated himself from criticism on nuclear negotiations by gaining the backing of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. While Khamenei is more closely aligned with the hard-liners and is skeptical of diplomacy, his shift can be partially attributed to the need to shore up political legitimacy in the wake of the stolen 2009 presidential election and subsequent crackdown on Green Movement activists. If Khamenei openly denied the Iranian people’s will yet again, he would risk deepening political fissures that could threaten the survival of the regime. Instead, the supreme leader has gone along with Rouhani’s diplomacy, gambling that he will either be credited with helping secure a nuclear deal, or that the negotiations will collapse and the West will impose new sanctions, giving him an excuse to rein in Rouhani and his moderate allies.
Rather than directly challenge Rouhani — and by extension Khamenei — on the nuclear issue, the hard-liners have instead worked to stymie domestic reform. Overcoming their obstruction will likely depend on striking a nuclear deal that strengthens moderate forces and vindicates the new president’s leadership. If the threat of war remains, hard-liners will be able to further perpetuateIran’s security-dominated political atmosphere in order to hinder domestic reform. Similarly, if sanctions continue, middle-class Iranians that could form the core of a democratic movement will continue to bear the brunt of the country’s economic plight.
Iran’s hard-liners have bet their political future on the hope that the international community will fall into their trap. The spike in executions — which frequently target alleged drug offenders, as well as political opponents and religious minorities — has been overseen by the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani. The Larijani family represents a formidable political bloc in Iran: Sadeq and his four brothers all hold prominent positions in Iran’s political establishment. Sadeq’s brother Ali currently heads Iran’s parliament, which is also dominated by hard-liners, ensuring that the Larijanis exert a powerful influence over two very powerful institutions.
But if Rouhani is successful and fulfills many of his campaign promises, moderates have a strong shot at winning the parliamentary elections in 2016 and booting Ali Larijani from his speakership. Hence, the Larijanis and their hard-line allies have added motivation to ensure thatRouhani fails. The Iranian people, unfortunately, are suffering the consequences.
If Rouhani openly takes on the conservatives over human rights abuses, he will have opened a new front in this political war — but one in which he does not enjoy Khamenei’s support. This in turncould overextend his political capital and limit his ability to get a nuclear deal. If he chooses to deprioritize human rights and stay silent in the face of these abuses — which appears to be the case — the situation is likely to deteriorate even further, and the Green Movement veterans and reformist-oriented voters, who make up an important portion of his base, will be jeopardized.
The rising number of executions also presents the world community with a dilemma. If the United States and Europe use the human rights violations as a justification to punish Iran with sanctions, the hard-liners will get their excuse to end nuclear negotiations. But if the world ignores the abuses, the hard-liners may further intensify the violations to beget a response.
This balancing act will be difficult for both the Rouhani government and the international community. Ignoring the human rights abuses cannot be an option, nor can cancellation of diplomacy. In the near term, diplomats can shine a spotlight on these abuses and push for them to stop — if the international community specifically calls out the conservative-controlled judiciary as the responsible party, the hard-liners will be put on the defensive. Their effort to pass the responsibility for their abuses to the moderates will have failed.
In this process, dialogue is a far more effective method of pressure than threats. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton’s recent trip to Iran serves as a prominent example. While nuclear negotiations were the primary purpose of her trip, Ashton pressed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on human rights and was able to meet with Iranian women’s rights activists at the Austrian Embassy. The world also has other avenues of  highlighting abuses and pressing for change: U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Ahmed Shaheed just issued a new report outlining concerns with the human rights situation in Iran, and should continue his important work.
This balancing act also shows the importance of reaching a nuclear accord — and doing so quickly. The sooner a nuclear deal is struck, the sooner the hard-liners’ trap will fall apart.
This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

 

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.

 

In Vienna, U.S. and Iran Inch Toward a Better Future

As nuclear talks commence here in Vienna, much of the discussion has rightly focused on the various technical details that a final nuclear deal must address. Indeed, the devil is in the details. However, the bigger picture is no less important, and it provides an important backdrop to the negotiations that will be taking place here over the next few days.

While we are not yet in the clear, we are most certainly in uncharted waters. Successful nuclear diplomacy in Geneva strengthened relationships between all relevant parties and provided valuable insights into their perspectives. Looking ahead, four big picture issues will go a long way toward making or breaking the peace.

1) Handling the Spoilers

The very real presence of spoilers on all sides is widely acknowledged. Before the interim deal in Geneva was struck, efforts to break the impasse by forward-thinking officials in Washington and Tehran reaffirmed the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Elements seeking to score political points at home or benefit from the continuation of conflict have repeatedly torpedoed attempts at resolving tensions.

The most recent diplomatic efforts have already faced similar challenges. Congress has pushed for more hard-hitting sanctions. Iranian hardliners are seeking ways to narrow the window of opportunity that President Rouhani’s team has to negotiate with Washington. As the seriousness of talks increases, so too does the risk of spoilers lashing out. The only way to neutralize them is to build confidence through tangible deliverables that both sides can use to push back against hardliners at home. In turn, this will ensure that the commitment to finding peaceful solutions will be stronger than the spoilers’ commitment to confrontation.

2) Keeping Support At The Top

No less important are the forces for moderation that do not believe the political systems in Washington and Tehran must be entrenched in permanent confrontation. The enormity of the task at hand sometimes overshadows the historic backdrop of the Vienna talks: efforts to build confidence and resolve conflict have been openly supported President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. By backing the interim nuclear deal in Geneva, they provided an unprecedented foundation from which a final deal can grow.

If these negotiations are to successfully avoid falling prey to fractious domestic politics in both capitals, it will be necessary to provide a degree of political cover for both leaders. To that end, securing a final nuclear deal will require a bit of Public Diplomacy 101: Washington and Tehran will need to lower expectations publicly while raising them privately though compromise and verifiable follow-through on their respective commitments.

Rhetoric from both sides downplaying the odds for success should come as no surprise. But words should not overshadow facts: diplomacy would not be taking place without Obama and Khamenei’s direct involvement in the process. Support at the top has helped create a trickle-down effect, producing a greater (though by no means comprehensive) number of officials in both capitals that are protecting and nurturing diplomacy. Foreign Minister Zarif, Secretary Kerry and members of their respective negotiating teams have repeatedly emphasized that win-win solutions and a window to work the diplomatic channel are in the interest of both sides.

3) Pursuing Interests Over Ideology

A degree of skepticism surrounding the diplomatic process is understandable. However, an overemphasis on this skepticism risks overlooking the theoretical bedrock upon which this entire process rests, reaffirmed for all to see when the interim deal was reached in Geneva: It is in the interest of both sides to develop a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse.

Unlike years past, senior officials on both sides now openly acknowledge that alleged alternatives to diplomacy — such as an escalation of sanctions, or an escalation in the technical aspects of Iran’s nuclear program — have not only caused the drumbeat of war to intensify, but also narrowed the remaining escalatory options that both sides have at their disposal. This sharpened focus among American and Iranian decision-makers has presented a unique window of opportunity to continue de-escalating tensions and reach a final nuclear deal.

Building confidence at the negotiating table has been the only pathway to date that has turned mistrust into cooperation. If past is prologue, opponents of diplomacy will continue portraying it as weakness, appeasement, or selling out to the enemy. Both sides will in turn need to absorb these ideological criticisms and keep their sights firmly focused on their actual interests. As a senior Western official told me upon arriving in Vienna: “We’re not in the business of doing favors. We’re in the business of pursuing our interests.”

4) Dialogue Among Equals — But Not Equally Powerful

For the first time in recent memory, the U.S. has demonstrated through word and deed that it is willing to have a real “dialogue among equals” with the Iranian government. Washington deserves credit for abandoning the failed approach of the past and instead working toward a strategic, mutually agreed upon endgame with the current political set-up in Tehran. The results have been clear, but they should not be surprising: A slowly reinvigorated diplomatic process, and empowered moderates in Washington and Tehran who prefer to solve conflict peacefully.

A dialogue among equals is critical for success, but it should not be confused with a dialogue between two equal powers. The reality is that we face a huge imbalance in power. In light of the way Iran is portrayed by some policymakers and pundits, one would think that it rivals the former Soviet Union in terms of threatening Western interests. Simply put: It doesn’t. Iran is a regional power, not a superpower. Acknowledging this power imbalance helps explain a concern that Iranian hardliners stress: dealing with a stronger interlocutor might not only lead to sacrificing national interests, but also might threaten regime survival. Emasculating this argument will be critical to success at the negotiating table. It should be made clear to Iran in word and deed that they are being challenged for what they do, not for what they are.

So, now the hard part begins. It is fair to point out that the gap between technical solutions and political solutions may be too wide to bridge. However, the likely alternative — war — is a stark reminder for both sides that the status quo is neither in their interests nor sustainable. Iranian and American officials are seemingly prepared to make the requisite political investment for diplomacy to succeed. At this point, only one thing is for sure: it won’t be easy.

Ambassador John Limbert beautifully described to me the challenge that lies ahead: “Diplomacy is like remodeling a house: it’s probably going to be more complicated, take longer, and cost more than you think.” Both sides have long known this to be true — but for the first time in over three decades, they are simultaneously demonstrating a willingness to spend their (political) capital on peace.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post

Policy Memo: New Iran Sanctions Bill is a Vote for War Over Diplomacy

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NIAC strongly opposes legislation introduced by Senators Menendez, Schumer, and Kirk – S.1881, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 – that would implement new Iran sanctions in violation of the recently brokered Geneva accord. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 (S.1881) would:

  • Violate the terms of the first phase nuclear agreement by imposing new sanctions on Iran. The bill would impose new sanctions but provide the President with the authority to delay implementation for 6 to 8 months. White House officials say that a delayed implementation would at a minimum violate the spirit of the deal. Iran would interpret this as a violation of the deal, according to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
  • Block a final deal by dictating insurmountable demands, including zero-enrichment. The bill stipulates that Iran must agree to dismantle its “nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities” as part of any final deal in order to prevent the imposition of future sanctions. Insisting on zero enrichment–which is not necessary, not attainable, and goes beyond any UN resolutions on Iran–would block a final deal.
  • Remove the President’s authority to lift sanctions. The sanctions in this legislation cannot be lifted. At best, the President would be authorized to issue a temporary one-year waiver that would need to be renewed on an annual basis. Worse, this waiver would only be available if the unrealistic and unnecessary requirements listed above were part of a final deal.
  • Weaken Presidential waiver authority for U.S. allies and risk unraveling multilateral sanctions. The sanctions in the bill would place new restrictions on the President’s authority to issue “cooperating country” waiver for countries reducing their Iranian oil imports. The bill would not allow the President to issue such a waiver unless countries reduced their oil imports by 30% in the first year and ended their imports in the second year. U.S. allies like China, South Korea, India, and Turkey are unlikely to be able to make such reductions.
  • Pledge U.S. military support for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. This would be a dangerous signal that the U.S. condones and would support an unnecessary Israeli attack on Iran, increasingly the likelihood that the U.S. is dragged into a messy and counterproductive war that would backfire and increase the odds of a nuclear-armed Iran. Coming while negotiations are beginning to bear fruit, this kind of dangerous saber-rattling will play right into the hands of hardliners in Iran who believe the U.S. is bent on regime change.
  • Empower Iranian hardliners committed to blocking a nuclear deal and any progress on Iranian human rights. While hardliners were sidelined in the recent election, new sanctions would give them sufficient ammunition to undercut Rouhani’s diplomatic outreach and return to a position of influence in Iran’s political system. Either we deal with Rouhani’s flexibility now, or we deal with the inflexibility of the hardliners that dominated the Ahmadinejad-era.

 

 

 

The Wrong Path to Peace with Iran

As American and Iranian negotiators prepare to implement their historic interim nuclear deal, a handful of hawkish legislators are on the cusp of destroying the last remaining pathway to peace.

This month, Sens. Robert Menendez, Charles Schumer and Mark Kirk introduced ill-timed legislation — the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 — that would implement new Iran sanctions in clear violation of the recently brokered Geneva agreement.

Calling such actions in Washington “a major setback,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif used the opportunity to send a clear message to his Western audience: “It shows a lack of understanding of how to proceed in order to resolve the nuclear issue. Some people are wedded to the idea that pressure will produce results. They are wrong. Pressure has produced 18,000 centrifuges in Iran. So if they want to continue that road — it is open to them, but it doesn’t produce any results.”

Zarif has a point. The problem with new sanctions legislation goes beyond the fact that it will kill the diplomatic process. Perhaps more important, this destructive behavior does the opposite of what we really should be doing: empowering those in Iran who want to unclench their fist and meet the extended hand of the United States.

Supporters of sanctions legislation in Congress say their actions do not violate the Geneva deal. Instead, they are needed to retain the infrastructure of sanctions, because it was the sanctions that created this opening for diplomacy in the first place.

This is a deep misread of how we got here and a very effective way of making sure this opportunity is lost.

In a new report, “Extending Hands and Unclenching Fists” (PDF) — which relies on in-depth interviews with senior Iranian political officials, intellectuals and members of business community — the National Iranian American Council shows that absent evidence, it is difficult to argue that Iran’s shift to more moderate policies was a result of external sanctions.

It is more plausible that this shift reflected the continued desire of the Iranian people to put an end to the mismanagement and failed policies that had endured under the Ahmadinejad government. The Iranian people had pushed for the same shift in 2009, before the imposition of “crippling sanctions,” but the hardliners resorted to fraud and repression to prevent their votes from being counted.

In 2013, circumstances on the ground in Iran bubbled over: Seventy-three percent voter turnout propelled Hassan Rouhani to a landslide first-round presidential victory at the polls with 50.7% of the vote. Precisely because the wounds of 2009 were still open, divisions within the political elite remained unsettled, and the intense internal rifts suggested that the system simply could not survive the delegitimizing effects of another election scandal. These internal dynamics are a far more powerful — and far less understood — dynamic than any sanctions imposed from abroad.

The same analysis that incorrectly predicted victory by hardliner and former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili at the polls subsequently attributed Rouhani’s victory to sanctions despite no concrete evidence in support of that assertion.

On the contrary, a poll conducted by Tehran University and the University of Maryland (PDF) immediately after the election revealed that only 2% of Rouhani’s supporters listed the lifting of sanctions as a reason for supporting him. Twice as many — 4% — voted for him because he was a clergyman. Seven percent cited his ability to fix the economy.

The poll also revealed that a key factor behind Rouhani’s election was strategic voting by supporters of his rival, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Since most voters expected the election to go to a runoff, many saw voting for their preferred candidate in the first round as a waste if they expected their top choice to be a shoo-in for the runoff. Thus, some voters cast their ballots for their second choice in the first round to secure a runoff between two of their most preferred candidates.

According to the poll, 24% of Rouhani voters preferred Ghalibaf but were certain he would make it to the runoff and instead voted for Rouhani to ensure a runoff between these two candidates. Thanks in part to this miscalculation, Rouhani managed to reach just above the 50% threshold and evade a runoff.

A more recent poll by Zogby Research Services (PDF) conducted 1,200 face-to-face interviews in Iran, and the results were equally telling. A whopping 96% said that maintaining the right to advance their nuclear program is worth the price being paid in economic sanctions and international isolation.

In contrast, a paltry 7% prioritized resolving the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program so that economic sanctions can be lifted. Perhaps more important, the Zogby poll makes clear what intellectually honest Iran observers have long asserted: All top-tier priorities listed by Iranian respondents were political or governmental reform issues, such as employment, advancing democracy, protecting personal and civil rights, increasing women’s rights and ending corruption.

Iranian voters know better than anyone that Rouhani’s victory at the polls is fragile. Boxing in their hardliners is not the same as eliminating them. What the outside world — particularly the West — does or does not do can help determine whether the win-win approach of Rouhani and Zarif will define Iran or whether it will once again be relegated to the sidelines. Thanks to the elections, not sanctions, the win-win narrative of the Iranian moderates is now dominant. But it won’t be for long if their corresponding policies do not prove successful.

Simply put: Proponents of sanctions can deal with the flexibility of Rouhani’s team now, or they can deal with the inflexibility of Iranian hardliners in six months. Knowing this, their choices in the days and weeks ahead will be telling.

Originally published on CNN.

 

 

 

Mirrored Politics and the Iran Deal

Both were never given a chance to win in the face of other establishment candidates, both were catapulted by the youth vote, both were welcomed to an economy in tatters, both were replacing presidents that were unpopular at home and abroad, and perhaps most importantly, both gave their respective populations an unprecedented sense of hope.

This theme of “mirrored politics” has yet to finish. Rouhani and Obama find themselves in similar situations trying to balance the political force of their respective domestic hardliners as they attempt to secure an historic nuclear deal after 34 years of hostility. For their mission to succeed, both Presidents will need to force each respective opposition to align, for just long enough that Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s signatures have dried at the bottom of a comprehensive deal. Calling this process “extremely delicate” is putting it nicely.

In the past several weeks, since the interim “framework agreement” was signed by Iran and the world powers, the delicate balance has been on full display in both Washington and Tehran. On the American side, hardliners in congress have been pushing for additional sanctions that would invalidate the deal and kill the progress that has been made. In order to prevent this diplomatic suicide, the Obama administration has gone all-out, including dispatching Kerry and other top officials last week to testify before congress to convince them to stop their deal-killing proposals.

While the White House managed to delay consideration of new sanctions this year, their efforts did not stop Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (D-IL) from introducing a brand new sanctions bill this week, along with fifteen members of the President’s party, in clear defiance of the White House. The President immediately issued a rare veto threat against the bill, which risk scuttling a deal and perhaps what the president views as his legacy.

President Obama had already tried to entice congress to avoid introducing additional diplomacy killing deals by adding 19 companies and individuals to the current sanctions blacklist- a first of such designations since Rouhani has been in office. In response, Iran temporarily stepped away from the talks after they said the move violated the spirit of the talks. The concern now is that these political maneuvers from both sides will eventually come back to haunt us if the United States and Iran return to a state of constant escalations that could truly impact the talks to the point of no return.

This is exactly the type of environment the hardliners on the Iranian side are looking for. Although Supreme Leader Khamenei has given Rouhani the green light to continue his diplomatic dealings with the west, the temporary cover has been far from absolute. Just the other week, Rouhani gave a speech at Shahid Behesht University, only to be welcomed by not only students demanding that he make good on his campaign promises to release political prisoners, but also the chants of hardline Basiji studentsasserting Iran’s nuclear rights. From the well-documented “death to America” chants to chants denouncing the other students as green movement “hypocrites,” Rouhani was forced to call for national unity and indirectly denounced the Basijis by declaring “calm” and “reason” as the recipe for problem solving success. Rouhani, however, was not the only one of his moderate cabinet facing the heat of the opposition.

Earlier this month, Zarif faced the wrath of Chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari, after Zarif admitted that the US could paralyze Iran’s current defensive system “with one bomb.” Cleverly repurposing Rouhani’s comments that the revolutionary guards should stay out of politics, Jafari told the Foreign Minister to stay out of military affairs. Members of the Iranian Majles, or parliament, quickly began to question whether Zarif, who received a hero’s welcome in Tehran after securing the interim deal, should remain in his post. The predicament of a moderate Presidential cabinet trying to balance diplomacy abroad with political interests at home is not limited to just the American side.

(This article originally appeared in International Policy Digest)

 

 

 

New Iran Sanctions Bill is a Vote for War over Diplomacy


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi

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

Washington, DC – NIAC strongly opposes legislation introduced by Senators Menendez, Schumer, and Kirk – the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 – that would implement new Iran sanctions in violation of the recently brokered Geneva accord.  

“This is bill is a vote for war over diplomacy that will kill negotiations. It is the ultimate gift from hardliners in the U.S. to hardliners in Iran who oppose a negotiated solution,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “There is no better way to undercut American diplomats and Iranian moderates than to introduce a bill that violates the terms of the nuclear agreement, sets prohibitive preconditions for any final deal, and pledges support Israeli military strikes.”
 
 
The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 would:

  • Violate the terms of the first phase nuclear agreement by imposing new sanctions on Iran. The bill would impose new sanctions but provide the President with the authority to delay implementation for 6 to 8 months. White House officials say that a delayed implementation would at a minimum violate the spirit of the deal. Iran would interpret this as a violation of the deal, according to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. 
  • Block a final deal by dictating insurmountable demands, including zero-enrichment.The bill stipulates that Iran must agree to dismantle its “nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities” as part of any final deal in order to prevent the imposition of future sanctions. Insisting on zero enrichment–which is not necessary, not attainable, and goes beyond any UN resolutions on Iran–would block a final deal.
  • Remove the President’s authority to lift sanctions.The sanctions in this legislation cannot be lifted. At best, the President would be authorized to issue a temporary one-year waiver that would need to be renewed on an annual basis. Worse, this waiver would only be available if the unrealistic and unnecessary requirements listed above were part of a final deal.
  • Weaken Presidential waiver authority for U.S. allies and risk unraveling multilateral sanctions. The sanctions in the bill would place new restrictions on the President’s authority to issue “cooperating country” waiver for countries reducing their Iranian oil imports. The bill would not allow the President to issue such a waiver unless countries reduced their oil imports by 30% in the first year and ended their imports in the second year. U.S. allies like China, South Korea, India, and Turkey are unlikely to be able to make such reductions.
  • Pledge U.S. military support for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. This would be a dangerous signal that the U.S. condones and would support an unnecessary Israeli attack on Iran, increasingly the likelihood that the U.S. is dragged into a messy and counterproductive war that would backfire and increase the odds of a nuclear-armed Iran. Coming while negotiations are beginning to bear fruit, this kind of dangerous saber-rattling will play right into the hands of hardliners in Iran who believe the U.S. is bent on regime change.
  • Empower Iranian hardliners committed to blocking a nuclear deal and any progress on Iranian human rights. While hardliners were sidelined in the recent election, new sanctions would give them sufficient ammunition to undercut Rouhani’s diplomatic outreach and return to a position of influence in Iran’s political system. Either we deal with Rouhani’s flexibility now, or we deal with the inflexibility of the hardliners that dominated the Ahmadinejad-era.

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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.

 

 

 

Policy Memo: New Sanctions Would Kill the Interim Iran Nuclear Deal

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With the U.S. and partners having secured an
interim deal that would freeze and rollback Iran’s nuclear program in exchange
for modest sanctions relief, some are urging for additional sanctions that
would violate the deal. Legislating such a move–even with a six month
delay–would kill the interim deal, unravel the international coalition and
begin to collapse existing sanctions.

As David Ignatius recently pointed out, “diplomatic
history is full of interim agreements that never get into second gear. Indeed,
they often set the stage for a bloody new round of confrontation as each side
jockeys for leverage in the final negotiation.
” Congress must not
break with the agreement and restart the process of escalation that would put
the U.S. back on a path to war. Instead, Congress should ensure the President
has full authority to excercise U.S. leverage and convert existing sanctions
into a final deal that takes war and an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table.

New Sanctions Would Kill the Interim Iran Nuclear Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says
if Congress adopts new sanctions, even with a six-month delay, “the entire deal
is dead”:

Q: What happens if Congress imposes new
sanctions, even if they don’t go into effect for six months?

Zarif: The entire deal is dead. We do not like
to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of
seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the
United States. I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the
United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My
parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if
negotiations fail. But if we start doing that, I don’t think that we will be getting
anywhere. Now we have tried to ask our members of parliament to avoid that. We
may not succeed. The U.S. government may not succeed. If we don’t try, then we
can’t expect the other side to accept that we are serious about the process. (TIME interview,
12/9/13)

President Obama says new sanctions
would unravel existing sanctions regime:

“…the reason they’ve been effective is because
other countries had confidence that we were not imposing sanctions just for the
sake of sanctions, but we were imposing sanctions for the sake of trying to
actually get Iran to the table and resolve the issue. And if the perception
internationally was that we were not in good faith trying to resolve the issue
diplomatically, that, more than anything, would actually begin to fray the
edges of the sanctions regime.” (Saban Forum interview, 12/7/13)

White House Spokesman Jay Carney says
new sanctions, even with a 6 month delay, will undermine talks and alienate
international partners:

“If we pass sanctions now, even with a
deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely our
international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith. …We
believe that Congress should hold in reserve … the option of passing new
sanctions if the moment arises when Iran has failed to comply with its
agreement, and that taking that action would have a positive result.”

Senior Administration Official says
new sanctions would violate the interim deal, divide international coalition,
and give Iranian hardliners the upperhand:

“New sanctions not only would violate the terms
of the interim agreement — which temporarily freezes Iran’s nuclear programs
and modestly eases existing sanctions — but also could divide the U.S. from its
international negotiating partners across the table from Iran and give the
upper hand to Iranian hard-liners in upcoming talks.”

Americans
Support the Deal, Oppose Congressional Efforts That Could Undermine It

  • 68% of Americans oppose new sanctions according to a Hart Research/Americans United for Change poll,
    saying “Congress should closely monitor how the agreement is being implemented,
    but it should NOT take any action that would block the agreement or jeopardize
    the negotiations for a permanent settlement.
  • By a 67% to 25% margin, Americans favor
    legislators who would give the agreement and negotiators time to work before
    deciding on new sanctions
    , according to the Hart/AUC
    poll.

Current and
Former National Security Officials Support the Deal

Senate Banking Committee Chairman
Johnson, Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Feinstein, and Senate Armed Services
Chairman Levin:

“If the extensive inspection and verification
system provided for in the agreement is executed faithfully, this will help to
build confidence that, at least in the short term, Iran will be unable to
pose a credible military threat to its neighbors in the region, including
Israel.”

Former Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright:

“An accord by which Iran would curb its nuclear
ambitions under strict and intrusive inspections program would greatly improve
the long-term security of the United States and our closest allies in the
Middle East.”

Nine former
Ambassadors to Israel and Deputy Secretaries of State:

“We are persuaded that this agreement
arrests Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade and opens
the possibility of ultimately stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapons
capability. More than any other option, a diplomatic breakthrough on this issue
will help ensure Israel’s security and remove the threat that a nuclear-armed
Iran would pose to the region generally and Israel specifically.”

Former National
Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft:

“Additional sanctions now
against Iran with the view to extracting even more concessions in the
negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations. More
sanctions now as these unprecedented negotiations are just getting underway
would reconfirm Iranians in their belief that the US is not prepared to make
any agreement with the current government of Iran. We call on all
Americans and the US Congress to stand firmly with the President in the
difficult but historic negotiations with Iran.”

 

 

 

Washington Post: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Delivers Optimistic 100-Day Progress Report

 

“A positive next step would be freeing political prisoners.” Marashi pointed out that when Iran’s foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, returned from Geneva earlier this week, crowds that came to meet him chanted the names of Mousavi and Karroubi.