NIAC Statement on Trump’s Address at the UN General Assembly

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 24, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington DC – Today, President Donald Trump delivered his third address to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) since taking the presidency. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran hit an all time high, Trump aggressively targeted Iran in his speech, calling the country one of the “greatest security threats” and insisting that sanctions on Iran would not be lifted, but only further “tightened.”

In response, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“President Trump doubled down on the insults and invectives against Iran that only raises the domestic political cost for Rouhani to engage with the U.S. By resorting to simplistic rhetoric that demonizes Iran and blames it for all regional ills, Trump risks dooming what may be his last best chance to pivot towards diplomacy and away from a pressure policy that has brought the Middle East to the brink. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine how any Iranian official will now be able to have a sit down with Trump and be able to survive the backlash back home. 

“Trump had been presented an opportunity to alter course on Iran, both by an innovative French proposal for sanctions relief and a recent overture from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for permanent nuclear inspections. He chose to not discuss any substantive diplomatic initiative or indicate any willingness to ease the reckless “maximum pressure” campaign. By vowing to instead “tighten sanctions,” Trump is entrenching himself on a collision course with Tehran that will inevitably expand the endless war that he claims to want to end. 

“The incoherence of President Trump’s Iran policy was also on full display. His welcome remarks that the U.S. does not seek “permanent enemies” were dovetailed with the blatant falsehood that Iran has a “fanatical quest” for nuclear weapons. Notably, Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coates last acknowledged concluded last year that Iran was not “undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Such distortions by the President echo the Bush administration’s stream of misinformation that led to the disastrous Iraq War that Trump claimed to oppose but risks repeating.”

NIAC Statement on Trump Administration’s Latest Sanctions on Iran

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

In response to the Trump administration’s announcement of new sanctions on Iran for its alleged role in attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Ryan Costello, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“President Trump’s recent sanctions designations appear duplicative at first glance, but in fact will likely eviscerate humanitarian trade with Iran that had already been sharply reduced following the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal. The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) had continued to play a major role in existing humanitarian trade with Iran, despite its prior designation, due to preexisting exemptions set down by Congress and the prior administration. 

“The new terrorism authorities (EO 13224) that the Central Bank of Iran has been designated under contains no similar exemption, nor has the Trump administration updated its guidance to add a new exemption. In fact, the Treasury guidance hints at this potential complication by noting that the U.S. ‘will continue to consider requests related to humanitarian trade with Iran as appropriate.’ Such actions were previously exempted by general license.

“The end result of this shift in policy – whether out of criminal negligence or willful vindictiveness – is likely to be pain for the Iranian people in the form of more medicine shortages for drugs produced in the West and sharply rising prices for food. 

“Congress and prior administrations understood the importance, and basic humanity, of exempting humanitarian goods from sanctions. The Trump administration has never updated its guidance related to humanitarian trade, creating a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and now appears to have deliberately removed one of the pillars allowing further humanitarian trade with the Iranian people. If the Trump administration does not immediately reverse its decision, Congress needs to legislate an exemption with haste. 

“After the crisis triggered by attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the President should be doing everything he can to undo his senseless actions that once again brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Instead, he is building a sanctions wall designed to lock both the Trump administration and a potential future administration into a playbook for war. There is no bigger loser of this policy than the Iranian people, who are crushed between their own government’s repression and inhumane sanctions that will now deliberately target humanitarian trade. This latest move – which could be illegal under international law – should be a wake-up call to all in the United States who claim support for the Iranian people. You can’t support maximum pressure and the Iranian people at the same time. It’s imperative that this dangerous step be reversed before the full impact is felt.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Intent to Reduce Compliance with Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, September 4, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran would reduce compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), this Friday. This is the third time Iran has taken such steps since the Trump Administration abrogated the agreement last year. The latest declaration comes ahead of the deadline set by Iran for Europe to uphold sanctions lifting obligations in exchange for Iran’s continued compliance with the nuclear accord. 

Simultaneously, French President Emmanuel Macron is leading an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for returning to full compliance with the deal. The proposal includes a $15 billion credit line to offset oil revenue lost under U.S. sanctions, but its payout requires a commitment from the U.S. not to block the funds.

In response to these latest developments, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement: 

“Iran’s announcement is a predictable consequence of the Trump administration seemingly closing off every opportunity to resolve the Iran standoff diplomatically. A U.S. failure to pivot from maximum pressure to the diplomatic opportunities initiated by France and other American allies ensures a continued cycle of escalation that could quickly spin out of control.

“Iran’s decision to stop abiding by further JCPOA restrictions risks playing into the escalation trap set by John Bolton and other diplomatic spoilers. While France and other mediators have sought to mitigate U.S.-Iran tensions and safeguard the JCPOA, Bolton and other administration hawks are furiously attempting to fuel the flames of hostility.

“Importantly, Iran’s actions on the JCPOA are reversible and it has indicated its readiness to return to full compliance with the deal if parties to the accord provide Iran with sanctions relief. The current French proposal to establish a $15 billion credit line for Iran stands to achieve this, but only if President Trump allows it to materialize. 

“The ball is in the President’s court. He has the option to de-escalate the dangerous tensions with Iran and move the two countries off the path to war. But only if he shifts away from counterproductive “maximum pressure” and towards practical actions that build the confidence necessary for successful diplomacy.”

NIAC Congratulates Sharif University Students on 2019 AIAA Win

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 29, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding travel and sanctions restrictions placed on Iranian students from Sharif University of Technology, who won the engine design competition at the 2019 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ (AIAA) Propulsion and Energy Forum:

“We would like to commend the group of Sharif students who defied the odds to win an engine design competition at a prestigious AIAA forum, as well as to extend our apologies on behalf of our elected government for the ridiculous and offensive hurdles placed in these students’ way.

“This group of engineering students from Sharif University entered the AIAA competition only to have their entry into the U.S. denied due to President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban that denies visas for all Iranians with few, apparently arbitrary, exceptions. Undeterred, the group participated by video conference and managed to win the competition only to learn that they could not receive the cash prize for their program due to U.S. sanctions.

“These students are among Iran’s best and brightest, and U.S. policies should seek to empower them and allow humanity to benefit from their ingenuity. However, instead of celebrating their successes, these extraordinary students have been met with hurdles and indignities. This is a microcosm of the self-defeating and nonsensical treatment of Iranians by U.S. government policies. The Iranian people already have to deal with their own government’s deplorable human rights record, corruption, and other failings. Unfortunately, our American government often chooses to makes the situation worse. 

“NIAC reiterates its condemnation of the Trump administration’s unjust and xenophobic Muslim ban and the broad sanctions policies that are punishing ordinary Iranians. NIAC calls for an end to these destructive measures and for a U.S. approach towards Iran that prioritizes peace and engagement. We will continue our work to press for change and remain determined to remove barriers and instead build bridges between the American and Iranian people.”

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

بانک‌ها در برابر ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها تبعیض قائل می‌شوند – این اقدامی است که ما در مورد آن انجام می‌دهیم

,دوست عزیز

سال‌هاست که بسیاری از ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها، تنها به دلیل تبارِ ایرانی‌شان، با بسته‌شدن حساب‌های بانکی خود مواجه می‌شوند. این نوعی تبعیضِ آزاردهنده است که می‌تواند فرد را در حالی که منتظر آزادشدن پس‌انداز و سرمایه‌ی زندگی‌اش است، با مشکلات مالی بسیاری روبه‌رو کند.

بانک‌ها در گفت‌وگو با ما توضیح می‌دهند که این کار، نوعی اقدام احتیاطی برای پیروی از تحریم‌های آمریکاست که اشخاص را از کار کردن با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران منع می‌کند. در حالی که قانون این اقدام را طلب نمی‌کند، بسیاری از بانک‌ها ریسک تبعیض علیه ایرانیان آمریکا را به ریسک نقض تحریم‌ها ترجیح می‌دهند.

به همین خاطر، امروز شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا (نایاک) تقاضانامه‌ای را تنظیم می‌کند که از وزارت خزانه‌داری می‌خواهد تا با تغییر رسمی قانون، به آمریکاییان اجازه دهد که بتوانند با حساب‌های بانکی در ایران کار کنند. این عمل، هزینه‌ای برای ایالات متحده ندارد و باید به کارکرد بانک‌ها در قبال بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها و شهروندان ایرانی ساکن آمریکا پایان دهد. علی‌رغم این‌که انتظار داریم بازبینی این روند طولانی و زمان‌بر باشد، اما بر این باوریم که در نهایت می‌توانیم این قانون را تغییر دهیم و به اقدام تبعیض‌آمیز بانک‌ها در قبال جامعه‌مان پایان بخشیم.

علاوه بر این، بیشترین شکایت‌هایی که تاکنون دریافت کرده‌ایم، به عملکرد بانک آمریکا باز می‌گردد. با وجود تلاش‌های متعدد از سال ۲۰۱۴ در جهت مجاب‌کردن بانک آمریکا برای تغییر سیاست‌هایش در قبال اشخاصی که عضو جامعه‌ی ما هستند، این بانک کماکان بدون هشدار یا با اطلاع رسانی کوتاه، به بستن حساب‌های ایرانی-آمریکایی‌ها ادامه می‌دهد.

به همین دلیل، ما بار دیگر نامه‌ای به بانک آمریکا فرستاده‌ایم تا برای این نهاد روشن کنیم که تحریم‌ها، آنان را به بستن حساب شهروندان معمولی مقیم آمریکا مجبور نمی‌کند و تصریح کرده‌ایم که برای حفاظت از منافع جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا، گزینه‌ی اقدام حقوقی را باز گذاشته‌ایم تا به رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز این بانک پایان دهیم.

اگر شما از جانب یک بانک با تبعیض مشابه روبه‌رو شده‌اید یا حساب‌تان مسدود شده، از شما می‌خواهیم که روایت‌تان را با ما در میان بگذارید تا بتوانیم پرونده مستندی تهیه کنیم برای اثبات این موضوع که این رفتار تبعیض‌آمیز باید خاتمه یابد. هر چه مثال‌های بیشتری داشته باشیم، پرونده‌هایمان برای تقاضای تغییر قانون در وزارت خزانه‌داری و پایان‌دادن به تبعیض‌های بانک آمریکا، محکم‌تر می‌شود.

داستان خود را این‌جا به اشتراک بگذارید

این را بدانید که ما از تلاش برای شما بازنخواهیم ایستاد؛ خواه در برابر وزارت خزانه‌داری دولت ترامپ باشد، خواه بانک آمریکا، یا هر کس دیگری که به جامعه ایرانی در آمریکا آسیب وارد کند.

با احترام،
جمال عبدی
رئیس شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا

گزینه کمک‌های مالی

NIAC Calls for Treasury to Protect Iranian Americans from Bank Account Closures

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Re:      Request for Rulemaking—Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations

            31 C.F.R. Parts 501 and 560

Dear Ms. Gacki:

The National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”)—the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans—respectfully petitions the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for the issuance of a rule providing license authorization for certain transactions prohibited pursuant to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. This request is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 555(b) and 31 C.F.R. § 501.804(b), the latter of which is applicable to the ITSR by virtue of 31 C.F.R. § 560.101.

NIAC requests that OFAC promulgate a rule providing license authorization for U.S. persons to operate accounts of persons in Iran consistent with license authorizations that have been promulgated with respect to other U.S.-embargoed countries and jurisdictions, including, for instance, Syria and the Crimea region of Ukraine. We believe that such a license authorization will help resolve a problem that has become endemic to the Iranian-American community—namely, the difficulties Iranian Americans have had opening and maintaining bank accounts at U.S. financial institutions. 

Over the past few years, NIAC has heard from countless Iranian-American citizens and Iranian nationals in the United States who have faced continuous harassing inquiries from their banking institutions regarding their legal status and physical presence in the United States and have had their banking accounts shuttered and their life savings mailed back to them via the postal service. Such actions cause tremendous disruptions in the lives of U.S. citizens and Iranian nationals present in the United States, impacting their finances and very well-being, for no reason other than their Iranian heritage. Some individuals who have had their bank accounts shuttered have never even traveled to Iran. 

Banks have justified their behavior with near-unanimous resort to the requirements of U.S. law under the ITSR, including, for instance, the prohibition on the provision of financial services to Iran. While NIAC has repeatedly pointed out to U.S. financial institutions that the ITSR does not require them to deny financial services to Iranian Americans who are neither ordinarily resident nor physically present in Iran, this has not mitigated banks’ practices. U.S. banks have made a ‘risk-based decision’ based on U.S. sanctions under which servicing the accounts of Iranian Americans is not worth the risk inherent in falling afoul of the law.  

We believe that it is OFAC’s responsibility to remedy this situation. We are herein proposing that OFAC adopt a rule similar in scope of that found in the Syrian Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 542, or the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589. For instance, § 542.515 of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations authorizes the operation of accounts in a U.S. financial institution for an individual in Syria other than a blocked individual, provided that transactions processed through the account (1) are of a personal nature; (2) do not involve transfers directly or indirectly to Syria or for the benefit of individuals ordinarily resident in Syria unless otherwise authorized; and (3) are not otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. We believe that such a general license authorization can mitigate the risk that U.S. banks believe to be associated with handling the accounts of Iranian Americans.  

We also believe that this proposed license authorization is an important starting point with which OFAC may consider a remedy to this ongoing problem. NIAC welcomes the opportunity to start a dialogue with OFAC regarding the best path forward to ensuring that Iranian Americans are not unduly harmed by the U.S.’s trade embargo with Iran. Being unable to procure basic banking services in the United States—a country in which Iranian Americans live (and for some, have only lived)—is understandably an issue of immediate concern, and we trust that OFAC will dedicate the necessary resources to working towards an imminent solution.   

As part of this request for rulemaking, NIAC also intends to provide supplementary materials to OFAC to underline the immediate nature of the problem and to provide additional proposals to resolve the issue. This may include testimony for members of the Iranian-American community who have been especially affected by the practices of U.S. banking institutions. NIAC is also prepared to respond to any inquiries or requests for clarification that OFAC may have regarding this matter.

We thank OFAC ahead of time for its consideration of this issue, and we look forward to being in touch with the agency regarding a mutually satisfactory path forward.  

Sincerely,  

Jamal Abdi

President, National Iranian American Council

NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

فارسی

For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

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.”