NIAC Statement in Response to Reports of Downed U.S. Drone

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, June 20, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian forces reportedly shot down a U.S. military drone after it had allegedly entered into Iranian territory. U.S. officials maintain that the incident occurred in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

In response, Sina Toossi, Research Associate at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said:

“Reports that Iran has shot down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf are alarming and serve as yet another potential tripmine to all-out war erupting. As U.S.-Iran tensions have soared in recent weeks, the need for deconfliction channels between the two countries is more pronounced than ever. These vital channels of communication existed in the past, allowing both sides to delineate boundaries and avoid collisions between their respective militaries in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Syria and in other theaters. However, the Trump administration, in pursuit of a counterproductive and destabilizing so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, has eliminated all levels of communication between the two sides.

“If it is proven that Iran shot down the U.S. drone over international waters, it is provocative act that must be condemned by the international community. Regardless, there is a vital need for immediate U.S.-Iran deescalation. There are no military solutions to the U.S. disputes with Iran—only diplomatic ones. However, rather than pursue sincere diplomacy, President Trump has elected to pile on pressure with no strategic foresight at the behest of uber-hawkish advisors like John Bolton. If Trump wants to avoid a disastrous conflict at this critical juncture, he needs new advisors that would reopen channels of dialogue and enact policies that would bring Trump closer to a deal with Tehran, not war.”

Toossi continued:

“The fact is that the Trump White House’s policies have set the U.S. on a path to conflict with Iran. Actions such as designating as a foreign terrorist organization Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a state-run military force which operates in the Persian Gulf in close proximity to U.S. forces, were bound to lead to the dangerous scenarios unfolding today. Indeed, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies long warned against designating the IRGC for precisely this risk of escalation. They have since also held that Iran’s recent, more threatening activity is due to the Trump’s administration aggressive actions, including the IRGC designation and terminating sanction waivers for importers of Iranian oil.”

NIAC Statement on Trump’s Tweet Threat to “End” Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sunday, May 19, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, President Trump threatened to “end” Iran in a tweet on the heels of reports that rockets landed near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.

In response, President of the National Iranian American Council, Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement:

“President Trump’s saber-rattling about Iran has reached a dangerous new low with his threat to “end” Iran—a country of 83 million men, women, and children. Since the President reneged on the Iran nuclear deal last year, the administration’s policies have been geared towards provoking Iran into retaliation to give cover for a perilous escalation favored by administration hawks. There is no doubt that National Security Advisor John Bolton will use the slightest Iranian action—even bereft of reliable intelligence—as a pretext to push for the war he’s always wanted.

“Trump’s belligerent threat to destroy Iran comes on the heels of reports that a “low-grade” rocket landed in an empty lot near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. Last September, a similar incident led to Bolton asking the Pentagon for options to militarily strike Iran. At the time, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis shot down Bolton’s plans. With Mattis gone today, Bolton is well positioned to push Trump and the U.S. into a conflict that would be catastrophic for U.S. interests and regional and global stability.

“The fact is that the United States and the world should not be in this position where a war with Iran is even a possibility. America’s traditional allies in Europe, as well as the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, have repeatedly warned that the administration’s actions are leading to a dangerous tit-for-tat with Iran. Simply stated, the current state of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran is exclusively due to the policies of the Trump administration, which abandoned a nonproliferation agreement that was working in favor of a so-called “maximum pressure campaign.”

“President Trump has claimed that he doesn’t want war, but his bombastic rhetoric is ensuring that he walks into one. Threats of destruction, a la “fire and fury,” will not get him a deal with Iran, just as they haven’t with North Korea. Instead, if Trump is sincere about wanting diplomatic compromise, he should cease his policy of economic warfare that is strangling the Iranian people and pursue a tone of mutual respect with Tehran. Foremost, this would require him to fire John Bolton, who has made clear he opposes U.S.-Iran diplomacy in principle.”

Iran Hawk Accuses Lawmaker of Supporting Iranian Repression During Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blame Trump When Iran Races for the Bomb

The nuclear deal with Iran hangs by a thread. The appointment of John Bolton — an unapologetic proponent of war with Iran — as U.S. national security advisor has prompted celebrations among Iran deal detractors. The announcement that nuclear talks with North Korea will be held around the same time that U.S. President Donald Trump must decide whether to keep or kill the Iran deal has further complicated the picture. Yet few in Washington understand how Trump’s gamble with Pyongyang may impact Tehran’s nuclear calculations.

Conventional wisdom declares that Trump would be foolish to kill the Iran deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) if he genuinely seeks to reach an agreement with the North Koreans. If Trump shows that he does not honor America’s agreements, why would Pyongyang strike a deal with him?

But Trump is anything but conventional. His logic runs in the opposite direction, and Bolton will be more than happy to enable Trump’s worst instincts. By killing the JCPOA, Trump thinks he’ll signal to the North Koreans that they should have no doubt that he is ready to walk away from the talks if he doesn’t get what he wants. After all, walking away from ongoing negotiations is much easier than killing an existing deal.

Trump may know bluster, be he does not know diplomacy. Strong-arming subcontractors may work in the Manhattan real estate market, but it won’t work in international diplomacy. Sovereign states don’t react like jilted architects and electricians.

How will Iran react if Trump pursues this path? For Tehran, the JCPOA was never just about the nuclear issue. It was a test to see if the West could come to terms with the Islamic Republic and accept Iran as a regional power. By testing this proposition, the talks became a defining showdown between the two dominant schools of thought within the Iranian elite.

The first school, dominated by conservative elements in the government and military, argues that the United States — pressured by Israel and Saudi Arabia — is inherently hostile to Iran and will never recognize the country as a regional power or come to terms with its regime, regardless of Iran’s policies or the compromises it offers. The inclusion Tehran seeks can only be achieved by forcing the United States and its allies to accept the reality of Iran’s power. The hard-liners’ skepticism of diplomacy and resistance to compromise is partly rooted in their belief that no Iranian compromise can change Washington’s hostility to Tehran.

Iran’s second, more moderate group of policy-makers recognizes both that the country’s own actions have contributed to infectious conflict and that the United States has legitimate concerns about Iranian policies. An American acceptance of Iran’s inclusion in the regional security architecture can be obtained, they argue, through diplomacy and a genuine give-and-take. If Iran compromises, so will the West, the logic goes.

Up until the nuclear negotiations began in earnest, the debate between these two schools was theoretical. Though Tehran had made many diplomatic overtures in the past, America’s willingness to come to terms with Iran had never been tested through a mutual compromise that both sides had signed on to.

Until, that is, the JCPOA.

The Iran nuclear deal was the first time the United States and Iran had agreed to a significant exchange of concessions that not only eliminated Iran’s pathways to a bomb and lifted sanctions, but also put an end to almost four decades of American efforts to completely isolate Iran. It signaled that America, 36 years after the Iranian revolution, was coming to terms with Iran.

Both sides agreed to painful concessions, both faced fierce domestic political opposition, and both recognized that the agreement signaled a major break with past policies. America was coming to terms with Iran. And the Islamic Republic was speaking of the United States not as the Great Satan, but as a negotiation partner.

It was a major victory for the second school of thought in Iran — at least for the moment.

But increasingly, the JCPOA has become a victory for the hard-liners. Despite Iran’s concessions and its adherence to the deal (confirmed by 10 reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency), Trump, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have clearly rejected Iran’s regional integration under any circumstance. Changes in Iran’s policies proved insufficient, so nothing short of Iran’s complete capitulation can seemingly satisfy Trump’s allies.

This conclusion will be unavoidable in Tehran if Trump kills the JCPOA to make a deal with Pyongyang. It will strengthen the Iranian hard-line narrative that Tehran’s mistake was that it only obtained enrichment capabilities — but not a bomb — before it agreed to seriously negotiate. Had it built a bomb — like the North Koreans — then the United States would have no choice but to show Iran respect, strike a deal with it — and honor that deal. Trump will essentially incentivize Iran to go nuclear.

Ultimately, Trump’s bluster won’t work. He lacks a properly staffed State Department with the capacity to negotiate, and his new national security advisor ideologically opposes diplomacy. By killing the Iran deal to impress Pyongyang, Trump will destroy one functioning arms deal without securing a new one. And in the process, he will tilt the balance in favor of those in Tehran who have argued all along that America only understands the language of force.

Originally published in Foreign Policy

MEDIA AVAILABILITY: Experts Available to Discuss Choice of John Bolton as National Security Advisor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.2303, tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639, rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Vice President for Policy– 202.386.6408, jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media to offer analysis of President Trump’s decision to choose John Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor.

Donald Trump may have just effectively declared war on Iran. With the appointment of John Bolton, and nomination of Mike Pompeo at State, Trump is clearly putting together a war cabinet. As the world awaits Trump’s May 12 decision as to whether he will abandon the Iran nuclear deal, all of the signs now point to a decision to move to war footing.

NIAC analysts available in Washington, DC:

Trita Parsi, is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on civil rights and US-Iranian relations. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007) and A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press 2012). Parsi’s articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

Reza Marshi joined NIAC in 2010 as the organization’s first Research Director. He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk. Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic, among other publications. He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.

Jamal Abdi is the Vice President for Policy for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and the Executive Director of NIAC Action. He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education on civil rights and immigration issues, as well as diplomacy with Iran. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York Times, CNN, Foreign Policy, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributor in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, and BBC News. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi

Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:

Will the Israel-Iran Showdown Be in Syria–or New York?, Defense One, Feb 15, 2018

Five Myths About Iran, Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2018

How Trump Could Use the Iran Protests to Kill the Nuke Deal, The Nation, January 11, 2018

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage. NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit www.niacouncil.org.