Rouhani & IRGC Differ on Negotiations

Week of August 12, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Rouhani Stresses Support for Negotiations

President Rouhani rejected the presence of foreign military forces in the Persian Gulf and called for the “coastal countries of this historic Gulf” to provide for its security. He further said that the U.S. call to form a military coalition in the Persian Gulf had not come to fruition: “All the slogans about creating a new coalition in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea are for show and are not able to be implemented.”

However, he added in this regard: “With a doubt, if any of these slogans are put into practice, it will not help the security of this region [the Persian Gulf].”

The Trump administration has called for a global coalition to police the waters of the Persian Gulf. According to the State Department, Washington invited 60 countries to join the would-be coalition. Germany, Japan, and Spain openly rejected the invitation. The UK said it would join, while Australia said it will review the matter. Israel said it is prepared to participate in the coalition.

Rouhani said that that Israel participating in such a coalition was an “absurd” suggestion. He stated that Israel was the “primary source for terrorism, war and killings in the region.”

Rouhani also defended negotiations in principle with other countries. He stated: “We will continue our path until the final victory sometimes with negotiations and sometimes with steadfastness and resistance.”

He again defended the JCPOA, saying the agreement removes arms sanctions against Iran next year and mandates the removal of all sanctions in three years. He said: “To make the obligations balanced, we have begun to reduce our compliance with the agreement while continuing negotiations. We are and always have been of the belief that we should never run away from [diplomatic] engagement and negotiations.”

Rouhani emphasized he supports negotiations if the environment is “conducive”, stating: “The environment should be conducive [for negotiations]. The other side should believe in negotiations and resolving the issues. In this case in which all the conditions are appropriate, we are always willing to engage with the world and negotiate with the other side to meet aims.”

Rouhani also stressed that he still advocates for diplomatic engagement, stating: “We are and have always been seeking engagement. This is the reason we have not left the JCPOA and are reducing our compliance in a planned, gradual way.”

Rouhani also stated that Iran was ready to further reduce its JCPOA compliance: “If at the end of the second 60-day period we don’t reach a result, we will definitely start the third stage. After this, we will give another 60 days for us to reach a logical, correct, and balanced path and to adhere to commitments in exchange for commitments.”

Last week, Rouhani suggested Iran would negotiate with the U.S. in exchange for sanctions relief: “We support negotiations. If America really wants to negotiate, it needs to remove all sanctions and cease its crimes and economic terrorism. The path for America is sincere repentance.”

Mahmoud Vaezi, President Rouhani’s chief of staff, has said that negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA are going well. He stated: “The negotiations with Europe have gotten more serious. Alongside these negotiations, there have been talks for us to reach a framework. We are hopeful that we will reach a position of getting the JCPOA’s benefits.”

However, Vaezi also said that if Europe and Iran do not reach a “conclusion,” there is “no doubt” Iran would take its third step to reduce its JCPOA compliance. Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

The third period will begin in early September, but Iranian officials have not specifically stated what action they will take with respect to reducing compliance with the JCPOA.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi stated Iran would not negotiate while under pressure. He proclaimed: “For a long time they [the U.S.] had this expectation from the Islamic Republic [that it would negotiate]. However, this expectation is in vain because Iran will never participate in negotiations that do not abide by international law and regulations.”

He added: “No wise person would negotiate when they are under pressure and a weapon is pointed at them.”

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IRGC Chief Describes Negotiations as “Destroyed Logic”

IRGC chief Hossein Salami has said that negotiations are a “destroyed logic” and a “deception” aimed at “defeating” the Islamic Republic. Salami declared: “Everyone knows that the enemy will not create the conditions for overcoming our difficulties. Whatever the enemy says is a prescription for our defeat. Negotiations were a deception and aren’t even a solution. Through negotiations, the enemy has increased its pressures and demands. They want our surrender, not honor.”

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Iran to Shutter “Nature Schools”

Isa Kalantari, the head Iran’s Environmental Department, has said that “nature schools” are now illegal and will be shut down. Kalantari said that religious clerics say the schools are “against Sharia law” and that the Intelligence Ministry says its founders belong to the communist Tudeh Party.

The Tudeh Party was founded in 1941 and was outlawed by the Islamic Republic in 1983. Many of its members were imprisoned, tortured, and killed both before and after the 1979 revolution.

The first of the “nature schools” was opened 2013 and they received a license to operate from Iran’s Environmental Department. Their stated goal is to teach children “life skills.”

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Dual British-Iranian Academic Arrested

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian academic, was arrested on August 11th in Tehran, according to his family. The charges against him have not been announced and it is unclear which institution arrested him. Last year, Ahmady won the World Peace Foundation’s Literature and Humanities Award at George Washington University.

Ahmady’s wife, Shafagh Ahmady, has said that security forces raided their house: “Security forces came with Mr. Ahmady to our house. They totally messed up the place and took documents like birth certificates.”

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Members of the Baha’i Faith Arrested

At least ten members of the Baha’i faith have been arrested throughout Iran in recent days. On August 10th, three Baha’i Iranians were arrested in Tehran and sent to Evin prison. Another was arrested in Shiraz and has been imprisoned. Other Baha’i Iranians have been arrested in Birjand and Tehran recently.

According to reports, security forces searched the homes of all these individuals and confiscated their personal belongings, including cell phones, identification documents, and computers. Security forces also interrogated and searched the home of Jamaloldin Khanjani, the leader of the Baha’i Society of Iran. Khanjani was imprisoned from 2008 to 2017.

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Khamenei Meets Houthi Representatives

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with a delegation from Yemen’s Houthi movement, including its spokesperson Mohammad Abdolsalam. Abdolsalam delivered a letter to Khamenei from the leader of Houthi movement, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi. The details of the letter have not been disclosed. Ayatollah Khamanei’s senior advisor on foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati, was present during the meeting.

Khamenei stated that Saudi Arabia and the UAE seek to partition Yemen and called for Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue to preserve a unified Yemen. He proclaimed: “They are seeking to disintegrate Yemen. This plot must be resisted strongly and a united Yemen with its full territorial integrity must be supported.”

Khamenei added:  “Preserving a unified Yemen, given the different religious beliefs and ethnic groups in this country, requires Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue.”

Khamenei condemned what he said was the West’s “indifference” to the Yemen war.  He stated: “What is happening in Yemen shows the realities of today’s world and those who claim to support human rights.”

He then defended the Islamic Republic’s stance against the United States: “This position is not based on prejudice, but on reality and the actions of American and Western officials. They portray themselves as humanitarian, civil, and moral, but commit the worst crimes while always talking about human rights.”

Khamenei also said that the Yemeni people will go on to form a “strong government.” He stated: “With their deep civilization and history and their spirit of striving for God and being steadfast that they have shown in the past five years, the Yemeni people have a good future ahead of them. They will form a strong government and within the framework of that government, will progress.”

Houthi spokesperson Abdolsalam said the group will fight for a unified Yemen “until total victory”. He stated: “The Yemeni people are facing extremely difficult conditions and are standing against aggressors from seventeen countries empty handed but with faith and perseverance. We promise you that the Yemeni nation will be united and one and will continue to be steadfast against the oppressor’s aggression until total victory.” 

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Iranian Officials React to U.S. Sanctioning Zarif

Week of July 29, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Officials React to U.S. Sanctioning Zarif

President Rouhani described the U.S. sanctioning of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as a “childish” act rooted in a “fear” of Zarif. He said the action showed that the “enemy” is “helpless.”

Rouhani said that the sanctions reflected the contradictions in U.S. policy towards Iran, stating: “On one hand they said they are ready for negotiations and on the other they sanction our foreign minister.”

Rouhani said that the sanctions on Zarif were preceded by “greater wrongs,” including “sanctioning the leader [Ayatollah Khamenei].”

Abbas Kadkhodaei, the spokesperson for Iran’s conservative-leaning Guardian Council, said the sanctions were “evidence” of Trump’s “lie of seeking negotiations.” He stated: “America is not only afraid of Iran’s missiles, but also of Iran’s words. Sanctioning Iran’s foreign minister means that all the words of Donald Trump and the other heads of that regime about seeking negotiations and dialogue with Iran are lies. It means that all America’s claims about freedom of speech are false. It means the collapse of the Statue of Liberty.”

Eshaq Jahingiri, Rouhani’s reformist first vice president, stated: “The sanctioning of Iran’s foreign minister by the Trump administration is a new sign of the irrationality, helplessness, and adventurism of a bullying power. Even the wise enemies know of Zarif’s unmatched skills and capabilities in dialogue and seizing opportunities to avoid war. Sanctioning Zarif is another reason reflecting the hypocrisy and lies of [the U.S.] seeking negotiations.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) condemned as “ridiculous” the sanctioning of Zarif, stating: “America adding the names of the officials and commanders of the holy Islamic Republic system to its so-called sanctions list is an inconsequential action that has precedent. However, the Americans sanctioning our respected foreign minister who is responsible for our country’s diplomatic institution, shows yet again their anger from the inspirational and anti-arrogance rhetoric of the Islamic Revolution and makes clear to everyone their enmity with the political system and people of Iran.”

Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs, said in response: “America doesn’t even have the ability to confront the precise and proven logic of the Islamic Republic.” 

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Three Anti-Compulsory Hijab Activists Given Long Prison Sentences

Three anti-compulsory hijab activists, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasamin Ariany, and Mojgan Keshavarz have been sentenced to a cumulative 55 years and six months in prison. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), if the sentences are upheld, each will have to serve 10 years in prison. Under Iranian law, the longest sentence against a defendant is the one enforced.

According to HRANA, the sentences were passed in court during a session in which the lawyers of the three women were not present. Their lawyers also said they were not allowed to represent their clients during their interrogation or trial. They said they will appeal the ruling.

The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Musa Ghazanfarabadi, has said that anyone sending videos or pictures to Masih Alinejad would face charges of between one and ten years in prison. Alinejad is a U.S.-based activist who campaigns against Iran’s compulsory hijab law and collects footage of Iranian women removing their hijabs.

According to Amnesty International, at least 39 people have been arrested in Iran during the past year for protesting against compulsory hijab.

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Rouhani Defends JCPOA & Says Agreement with Europe Possible

In a speech in the northwestern city of Tabriz, President Rouhani defended the negotiation of the JCPOA and argued for preserving the deal. Rouhani said that the JCPOA was an agreement that was accepted by “all” institutions in the Iranian government. This is in contrast to recent remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei seeking to distance himself from the deal and pin responsibility for it on Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif.

Rouhani stated that if the JCPOA lasts, next year Iran will be able to purchase weapons in the global arms market. He stated: “If this agreement lasts until next years, all the UN sanctions on armaments against Iran will be completely removed. This means that we can buy or sell any weapons.”

Rouhani also commented on ongoing negotiations with Europe to preserve the JCPOA and said it was possible an agreement would be reached. He stated: “It is possible that in the upcoming weeks we reached a positive solution in the negotiations. If we don’t, we will take our third step [to reduce compliance with the JCPOA].”

However, Rouhani stated that the European offers have not been “balanced” and that Iran does not “accept them.” He added that in its negotiations with the Europeans, Iran is “not acting on the basis” that it will have to take a “third step” in reducing its JCPOA compliance.

Iranian officials had previously announced that Iran will gradually reduce—in 60-day intervals—its implementation of the JCPOA unless other parties to the accord meet their obligations under the deal. During the first 60-day period, announced in early May, Iran surpassed the JCPOA’s limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. During the second period, Iran began to enrich uranium at the 4.5-percent level, beyond the JCPOA’s 3.67 percent limit.

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New INSTEX Chief Appointed

Former German Ambassador to Iran Bernd Erbel has been appointed the new head of INSTEX. Per Fischer, a former Commerzbank executive, is stepping down from the role. INSTEX is the financial mechanism set up by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to save the JCPOA and preserve some trade with Iran.

According to European officials, INSTEX began facilitating transactions with Iran roughly one month ago. However, Iranian officials say that unless Europe can facilitate its JCPOA-obligated sanctions relief, particularly in the areas of buying Iranian oil and normalizing banking relations, Iran will continue to reduce compliance with the JCPOA.

Erbel is a veteran diplomat who also served as Germany’s ambassador to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait. He is reportedly fluent in Persian, Arabic, and English.

In an interview conducted two weeks ago, Erbel discussed Iran’s political conditions and regional tensions. In the interview, Erbel said that if the JCPOA was implemented as President Obama envisioned and President Rouhani was able to improve Iran’s economy, Rouhani could have become Ayatollah Khamenei’s successor.

Erbel stated that the Trump administration’s policies have offset this scenario of Rouhani succeeding Khamenei.

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

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

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

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expert Letter on Deescalating with Iran

July 30, 2019

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

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

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

Iran Should Return to Full Compliance with the Nuclear Accord

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. and Iran Must Reestablish Communication Channels 

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

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

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

Pursue an Agreement to Avoid Confrontations in the Persian Gulf

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

U.S. Congress Should Pass Legislation to Prevent War

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

Signatories: 

Jamal Abdi, President, National Iranian Amerian Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rula Jebreal, Professor, American University of Rome

Peter Jenkins, Former UK Ambassador to the IAEA

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

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

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

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

Daniel Larison, Senior Editor, The American Conservative

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

François Nicoullaud, Former French Ambassador to Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIAC Statement on Trump’s Imposition of New Iran Sanctions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 25, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago President Donald Trump signed off on an executive order imposing a new wave of sanctions on Iran following increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran last week. The sanctions target Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei and senior commanders from the Revolutionary Guard’s Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces, and aim to block Iran top leadership’s from accessing the international financial system. 

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

“Sanctions are what got us into this mess, more sanctions will not get us out of it. Donald Trump needs to put his ego aside and abandon the ‘maximum pressure’ strategy that John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have foisted on the world. After coming within ten minutes of military strikes on Iran that could very well have triggered an all out regional conflagration, Trump should have fired Bolton and Pompeo on the spot. Instead, he is staying the course and driving us further towards the brink of a completely avoidable crisis of his administration’s making.

The strategy of maximum pressure is not designed to induce negotiations, but rather to push Iran away from the negotiating table while triggering further Iranian provocations that could serve as a pretext for war. We’ve already seen the fruit of this approach—a fraying nuclear accord, heightening tensions in the Persian Gulf, and a last second decision from Trump to put the brakes on a major war. Sanctions on the Supreme Leader may feel good, but they are purely symbolic. Yet, diplomacy is about signals and optics and today’s action seems intended to trample on any hopes for talks. 

“The Trump administration triggered this escalatory cycle by unilaterally exiting and violating the nuclear deal. Instead of getting caught up in what is the ‘proportionate’ response and perpetuating a deadly tit for tat, Trump needs to consider what is the right response to get us off the path of war through negotiations. Piling symbolic sanctions on Iran’s leadership isn’t it.

“This was Donald Trump’s chance for a do-over, he may not get another opportunity to take us off the war path. The Iranian government is keeping the door open to negotiating with Trump. And If Trump’s bottom line is truly to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, now is the time for him to pause the pressure campaign, bring on officials who can negotiate with the Iranians, and pursue negotiations based on mutual respect and realistic concessions.”

NIAC Statement on Bolton’s Latest Military Plans for Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 13, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, reports broke that John Bolton ordered updates to a military plan that detailed sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack U.S. forces or escalate its nuclear activities.

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

“John Bolton is methodically setting the stage for war with Iranforcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait. There are two ways Bolton can be stopped: either Trump can fire him or Congress can pass legislation to block a war before it starts. It’s time for our leaders to stop sleepwalking and the public to speak out as an unrestrained Iraq war architect repeats the playbook from that generational catastrophe with Iran.”

Why Talking to Trump is a Tricky Thing for Iran

US President Donald Trump’s offer of dialogue with Iran without preconditions – which was quickly walked back by his secretary of state – has put the ball in Iran’s court once more. Many believe this is a golden opportunity for Tehran to stroke Trump’s ego and divert him from his path of confrontation by simply giving him a symbolic victory.

But for Tehran – unlike Trump’s other bullying victims – making America look good is often the costliest concession that could be demanded of it.

Confusing requests

Talking to Trump is a tricky thing for Iran. Even prior to Trump’s public offer for unconditional talks last week, he had made no less than eight requests to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. At first Iran was confused. A senior Iranian official explained to me at the time that they didn’t know how to engage with the unpredictable Trump.

There was also the fear that Iran would look weak. Rouhani had rejected a meeting with his predecessor Barack Obama even after the nuclear deal had been struck. If he then agreed to meet with Trump – after the American reality TV star’s many insults against Iran and his refusal to respect America’s obligations under the Iran nuclear deal – he’d open himself up for scathing criticism from all sides.

Yet, Tehran also realised that if Trump truly wanted a new deal, Iran could get a better deal with him compared to Obama. Contrary to the accusations of the Congressional Republicans, Obama was a fierce negotiator while Trump clearly is more concerned with the appearance rather than the reality of a victory.

But that is exactly what is so challenging for Tehran. Most countries faced with Trump’s antics have had no difficulty playing to his ego by praising him, making him look good, and giving him a symbolic victory in order to secure substantive concessions in return.

In 2017, the EU was toughening its tone against Iran on regional issues while encouraging Trump to point to the EU’s “new” stance in order to declare victory, but refrain from killing the nuclear agreement. The EU even encouraged Trump to claim that his pressure on NATO powers had forced them to increase their defence spending (which they hadn’t).

Trump took the bait. For Europe, it was better to look as if they had been defeated by Trump rather than actually having succumbed to him on the substance of the matter.

Historical Explanations

Japanese diplomats told me earlier last year how they had ensured Trump’s recommitment to providing Japan with a nuclear umbrella without demanding an increase in Japanese defence spending. For three days, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played golf with Trump at Mar a Lago and spent most of that time praising his golf resort, wealth and business acumen.

Making Trump and America look good and superior came at little to no cost to the Japanese.

Demonstrators wave Iran’s flag and hold up a picture of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (REUTERS)

But this is where Iran differs dramatically: to Tehran, concessions that would make America – and Trump – look good and give the impression of Iran submitting itself to America, even if only symbolically, are the costliest.

Iran has long insisted that it would only negotiate with the US as an equal and with “mutual respect”.

These requirements have both cultural, historical and political explanations. From the US’ masterminding of the 1953 coup against Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq, to the 1964 Status of Forces Agreement that granted US military personnel stationed in Iran and their dependents full diplomatic immunity, to Washington’s backing of the Shah’s brutal rule, the Iranians have felt a deep sense of humiliation by the United States. Washington has treated Iran as an inferior power, in their view.

As a result, a central objective has been to only engage in talks that restore Iran’s dignity and force the US to treat Iran as an equal. Any concession to Trump that would hint of Iranian submission – even if only symbolic – would be treated as capitulation in Iran.

Which brings us to the political factors: Iran’s politics makes it very difficult for any politician to accept going to the negotiating table with Trump if that entails a risk of Trump pulling a publicity stunt that either would be treat Iran as an inferior or be perceived as him trampling on Iranian dignity. 

This would be political suicide for any Iranian politician. But because of Iran’s factionalised politics, rival politicians also have incentives to portray those who engage with the US as having submitted to Trump – even if they haven’t.

This, however, doesn’t mean Iran cannot show Washington respect. 

Potential risks

Throughout the nuclear talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeatedly referred to the United States as his partner. Speaking of Washington as a partner was a clear break from past Iranian rhetoric and signalled significant respect.

But partnership also connotes equality, meaning Iran was only ready to treat Washington with respect within a relationship defined by equality. 

And the preparatory work that preceded this language from Zarif was extensive, particularly the secret meetings Washington and Tehran held in Oman and New York throughout 2013 – not to mention Obama’s own efforts to speak about Iran with respect in public, even when Obama faced immense pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabi and members of Congress to be “tougher” against Iran.

These historic and political sensitivities may make a Trump-Rouhani handshake quite unlikely in the months and years ahead. But Tehran would be wise to avoid only focusing on the potential risks with Trump’s extended hand while neglecting its benefits.

Though any deal with Trump may have little value due to his unreliability, Tehran can also use that unreliability to its own advantage. The mere image of Trump and Rouhani shaking hands and speaking in private will spread panic in Riyadh and Tel Aviv – precisely because these allies of Trump know that they too cannot rely on him.

Their deep-seated fear of being betrayed by America in any US-Iran dialogue will reach a breaking point and likely cause a significant weakening of the concerted US-Israel-Gulf effort to break Iran. Ultimately, that would make Iran look good, not Trump.

Piece originally published in Middle East Eye.

Keith Olbermann discusses Cagan’s hateful remarks on Iranians

Washington DC – On the October 1 edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann – preceding a discussion segment with Sy Hersch about his New Yorker article spelling out the real possibility of a military conflict between the US and Iran – Mr. Olbermann discussed the bigoted comment made by Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs in the US Department of Defense: "I hate all Iranians" NIAC has called for Ms. Cagan to be removed from her post and has launched an ACTION ALERT for members of the community to voice their displeasure.

 

NIAC Calls for Firing of Official for “I hate all Iranians” Remark

Contact: Trevor Fitzgibbon
Fenton Communications

202-386 6325

Washington DC – The National Iranian American Council is demanding the immediate dismissal of Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs for a comment she made to a visiting foreign delegation: “I hate all Iranians.”

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Kyl-Lieberman War Amendment Passes with a Vote of 76 to 22

Washington DC – Senators Kyl and Lieberman's amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill passed a few minutes ago with a vote of 76 to 22. Senators who voted against the resolution included Senators Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Brown, Byrd, Cantwell, Dodd, Feingold, Hagel, Harkin, Inouye, Kerry, Klobuchar, Lincoln, Lugar, Sanders, Tester, Webb and Wyden. The primary opponent of the amendment was Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. A coalition of 25 organizations led a charge to defeat the amendment. The text of a letter circulated to all Senate offices yesterday can be found here. Though the effort failed to defeat the amendment, it managed to ensure that the most dangerous aspects of the amendment – Section 3 and 4 – were eliminated.

Coalition of 25 Organizations Lead Effort to Defeat Kyl-Lieberman War Amendment

Washington DC – A coalition of 25 organizations have been leading a charge to defeat the Lieberman-Kyl amendment. Several Senators believe that the amendment will bring the US one decisive step closer to war with Iran. The text of a letter circulated to all Senate offices yesterday is attached. Though the effort failed to defeat the amendment, it managed to ensure that the most dangerous aspects of the amendment – Section 3 and 4 – were eliminated.

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NIAC in the News: US cartoon no joke to Iranians

Washington DC – As the war of words between Western nations led by United States and Iran's hardline government over its nuclear program has escalated in the past few weeks, a cartoon published on the editorial page of the Columbus Dispatch on September 4 has created a furor among Iranians worldwide. The cartoon by Michael Ramirez portrays Iran as a sewer with the word "extremism" on its lid. Cockroaches are shown spreading out across the region and infecting Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan with "extremism". Read full story.