NIAC Statement on Trump’s Iran Deal Ultimatum

NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement after President Trump coupled a reissuance of sanctions waivers with new sanctions on Iran:

“President Trump’s statement today is little more than a temporary stay of execution. He has once again threatened to kill the Iran nuclear accord outright if Congress and the European Union do not go along with his demands to unilaterally change the terms of the deal in four months, including by expanding it to include Iran’s missile program and by eliminating sunsets on some of Iran’s nuclear activities. This is nothing more than a transparent attempt to seek political cover for his continuing, outrageous efforts to kill an accord that has succeeded in forestalling a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran. Trump’s demands are also illogical, as it threatens to expire all nuclear constraints immediately if they aren’t extended forever – a bluff that is likely to be called. Congress and our European partners should denounce Trump’s destabilizing declaration and hold firm in their refusal to negotiate on any legislation that violates the accord including through the unilateral alteration of the agreement’s terms.

“If Trump truly wanted alterations to the deal, he would recommit to the agreement as written and ensure the effective provision of sanctions relief, pledge to renew all sanctions waivers so long as Iran upholds its nuclear commitments and, lastly, engage in serious negotiations with the Iranians and other parties to the nuclear accord on the basis of ‘more for more.’ There has been no indication that Trump intends to do so. In fact, he continues to violate the accord’s commitment to implement the deal in good faith and has discouraged foreign countries from doing business with Iran.

“Targeted sanctioning of human rights violators is a positive step from a human rights standpoint. Yet, these steps  are complicated by Trump’s broader threat to re-impose sanctions in four months that would kill the deal and corresponding economic relief the Iranian people strongly desire as a means to improve their lives. Moreover, as Trump continues to ban the Iranian people from the United States, it is impossible to take Trump’s hollow expressions of support for the Iranian people seriously. You cannot simultaneously stand with the Iranian people while barring them from entering the country on the basis of their religion and national origin and sanctioning them as they protest for their economic dignity.

“Trump’s record is clear: he is no friend to the Iranian people, and he is actively violating the Iran nuclear deal while threatening to kill it outright. Congress and Europe should not provide him political cover by falling for his demands to alter the deal. If Trump wants to fix the deal, let him use the nation’s diplomats. If he wants to kill the deal, as seems likely, let him own the consequences. Congress’ attention would be better focused on demonstrating America’s true friendship for the people of Iran, including via the repeal of the unconscionable Muslim ban.”


NIAC Letter to Adobe on End User License Agreement

On December 27, 2017, the National Iranian American Council wrote Adobe Systems, Inc. expressing concern that its End User Licensing Agreement requires users of Adobe products to certify they “are not a national of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or any other country to which the United States embargoes goods.” As stated in the letter, NIAC is concerned that this requirement discriminates against Iranian nationals – including those in the United States – and is not required by U.S. sanctions laws.

NIAC hopes to work with Adobe to ameliorate the concerns of the Iranian-American community while adhering to existing sanctions obligations. You can see the letter as a PDF here or below:

December 27, 2017    

Mr. Jace Johnson

Adobe Systems Incorporated
345 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95110-2704

Dear Mr. Johnson:

We are 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 Adobe’s End User License Agreement, which appears to discriminate against nationals of Iran, including those persons who are lawfully resident in the United States. Specifically, Adobe’s End User License Agreement requires a person – prior to downloading or otherwise using an Adobe software product – to certify that they “are not a national of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or any other country to which the United States embargoes goods.”[1] It is our view that Adobe has a mistaken view as to the scope of current U.S. trade sanctions targeting Iran, and we hope to work with Adobe to ensure that its End User License Agreement(s) is consistent with U.S. sanctions laws and other trade restrictions and refrains from taking an overbroad view of U.S. law in a manner that discriminates against Iranian Americans.  

It is true that the United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran – the provisions of which are codified in the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560. Pursuant to the ITSR, U.S. persons – including Adobe – are generally prohibited from engaging in the export, re-export, sale, or supply of goods, services, or technology – including software – to Iran or the Government of Iran, absent an applicable exemption or a license authorization.[2] This includes situations where a U.S. person exports goods, services, or technology to third-country parties with knowledge or reason to know that the goods are specifically intended for re-export or transshipment to Iran. 

However, Adobe’s End User License Agreement appears to suggest that the export, re-export, sale, or supply of its software products to nationals of Iran – even if lawfully resident in the United States – is prohibited under U.S. law. That is not a correct statement of U.S. law, but instead risks discriminating against U.S. persons, particularly Iranian Americans, lawfully resident in the United States.[3] More appropriately, Adobe’s End User License Agreement should – subject to the condition outlined below – require persons downloading or otherwise using Adobe’s software products to certify that they are not downloading the product while based in Iran or intent on re-exporting or otherwise transferring the software product to parties based in Iran. 

In addition, we would also urge Adobe to consider the effect of the issuance of General License D-1, “General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications,” which authorized the export, re-export, sale, or supply of certain services, software, and hardware incident to personal communications to Iran.[4] It is our view that General License D-1 may render permissible the export, re-export, sale, or supply of many, if not all, Adobe software products to Iran and would negate the need for Iran to be included in Adobe’s End-User License Agreement at all. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with representatives from Adobe to ensure that Adobe acts consistent with current U.S. sanctions laws and trade restrictions without taking an overbroad reading of any potentially applicable sanctions prohibitions.

We look forward to working with Adobe to address the concerns of the Iranian-American community. We appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.

Most Respectfully,

Jamal Abdi

Policy Director, NIAC


[1] Adobe, End User License Agreement,

[2] 31 C.F.R. § 560.204.

[3] It is apparent that Adobe’s End User License Agreement is not only incorrect, but also out of date. For example, the United States no longer imposes trade embargoes on Iraq or Sudan – two of the countries identified in the End User License Agreement as embargoed countries. We would thus urge Adobe to revisit and accordingly revise its End User License Agreement to render it consistent with current U.S. sanctions laws and trade restrictions.   

[4] General License D-1, “General License with Respect to Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications,” U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, Feb, 7, 2014,  

FAQ on Iranian Earthquake Relief

As Iranian Americans, our hearts go out to all of those who were impacted by yesterday’s tragic earthquake that struck near the Iran-Iraq border. Initial reporting indicates that it is the deadliest earthquake of 2017, with hundreds dead and thousands injured, and many more who have lost everything. Like with prior earthquakes in Iran, the recovery and rebuilding is likely to be difficult.

Given the comprehensive trade embargo on Iran, Americans are likely to have questions regarding whether they will be able to assist in recovery efforts. While there are restrictions to navigate, the Treasury Department has licensed U.S. citizens to engage in certain activities to assist relief efforts in Iran following natural disasters. Below, we have detailed a brief Q&A, which we will update as the situation unfolds and we learn more about ongoing relief efforts.

The National Iranian American Council urges the Treasury Department to closely examine whether additional steps are needed to ensure that Americans can effectively contribute to relief efforts, and to issue any additional licenses necessary to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not stand in the way of urgent relief.

Frequently Asked Questions:

I am a resident of the United States and I want to help out with relief efforts in Iran, but don’t know if I can or how I can.  How can I help out with the earthquake relief?

While the United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, you can lawfully engage in certain activities to help out relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran. You can do the following:

  • You can donate food, clothing, or medicine to Iran, provided that the donations are meant to relieve human suffering and are not directed to the Government of Iran, an Iranian bank, or any other restricted parties.  
  • You can make donations to a U.S. non-governmental organization (“NGO”) engaged in the provision of humanitarian services in or related to Iran, including in relief and reconstruction efforts related to the earthquake. U.S. persons would not be permitted to send funds directly to non-U.S. charitable organizations specifically intending those funds to be used for relief efforts in Iran.
  • You can seek license authorization from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to engage in any other humanitarian-related activities related to the relief efforts in Iran.   

I want to help out, but am nervous about running afoul of U.S. sanctions laws.  Are there things that I definitely cannot do to support the relief efforts in Iran?

Yes. The United States imposes a comprehensive trade embargo with Iran, so most transactions between the two countries are prohibited absent an applicable exemption or license authorization. Those activities outlined above are either exempt from the trade embargo or are otherwise authorized. However, certain activities remain prohibited. For instance, the following activities remain prohibited under U.S. law:

  • You cannot send funds directly to Iranian charitable organizations absent prior license authorization from OFAC.  Such activity is currently prohibited under U.S. law and could expose you to civil or criminal liability as a result.
  • You cannot send goods or technologies to Iran to help out with relief efforts other than those that fall under the OFAC exemption or those that are licensed by OFAC.  The export of any prohibited goods or technologies to Iran is prohibited – even if such goods or technologies are intended for use in aiding relief efforts related to the earthquake in Iran.

Should I contact a lawyer before deciding to send funds or make a donation to Iran?

Because the U.S. trade embargo with Iran is exceptionally broad and prohibits most dealings between the two countries – including what would be regarded as innocuous – it is always a good idea to speak to legal counsel before engaging in a transaction in or related to Iran.  However, due to the obvious need to act expediently to help out with relief efforts in Iran at this time, it would not necessarily be unreasonable to rely on the representations of a U.S.-based NGO providing humanitarian-related services to Iran that they are acting in compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.   

I am an American and saw a fundraiser for earthquake relief efforts on social media. Should I donate?
This depends both on what the funds will be used for and the credibility of the campaign. If the fundraiser is seeking donations for an Iranian or non-U.S. charity, you should NOT donate. If the fundraiser is for a U.S. organization that is planning relief efforts in line with U.S. sanctions regulations, you can consider donating to the campaign. However, you should also consider giving to U.S.-based organizations directly rather than using a social media platform.

Which U.S. charitable organizations might be planning relief efforts in Iran?

The following U.S. organizations have responded to previous natural disasters in Iran and are planning relief efforts in response to the 2017 earthquake:

We will update this list as additional information becomes available.

European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

“This agreement is a success, “ asserted European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan in defense of the Iran nuclear deal on Monday. “[It] needs to be maintained, nurtured, needs to be strictly scrutinized to make sure that everyone, and that includes all the people who signed up to this agreement, deliver on their commitments in order to make sure that this global public good of nonproliferation in the Middle East region is maintained.”
With just three weeks before the Trump Administration’s decision whether to certify if Iran has been compliant with the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Atlantic Council hosted a panel of top European ambassadors to discuss their government’s views of the pending decision.
French Ambassador Gérard Araud called renegotiating the JCPOA “a nonstarter” and reaffirmed that France is willing to engage in further negotiations with Iran regarding their activities in the region, but would not reopen the nuclear deal. “We are willing to work with our allies here and in the region to be up to the Iranian challenge,” but “walking away from the deal would have serious consequences.”
Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador, cautioned those who are discussing withdrawing from the deal against undermining the West’s credibility in future diplomatic negotiations. “What kind of signal would this send to countries like North Korea? It would send the signal that diplomacy is not reliable, that you can’t trust diplomatic agreements,” he explained. “To those who advocate to walk away from this agreement, [you] have to come up with an alternative of how to prevent, in a peaceful way, resuming of Iranian nuclear and military capabilities,” something Germany does not believe is possible.
Sir Kim Darroch of the United Kingdom highlighted how the deal makes his country safer, and that “as long as the Iranians continue to comply with it, in the view of the IAEA, we will continue to support it.” He put a particular emphasis on the fact that representatives from the UK have been speaking avidly to members of Congress regarding this deal, trying to convince their counterparts to continue to comply with the deal by explaining how it is beneficial to the national security of the UK. Amb. Darroch also told the audience how May and Trump spent nearly half of a fifty-minute long meeting discussing ways to push back on Iran’s non-nuclear behavior, though still asserted that the deal should be maintained. According to Darroch, “In a sense, this administration has changed the climate on Iran…But let’s keep the JCPOA.”
Another important aspect of the deal, particularly for the Europeans, was the normalization of trade with Iran. Should Trump choose not to re-certify the deal, Congress will have the power to re-impose new sanctions on Iran under expedited procedure, which would risk breaking the already fragile business ties Iran has started to rebuild since the sanctions were lifted last year. When asked if this would affect European companies dealing with Iran, each ambassador reiterated their commitment to the deal, expounding on how the resuming of normalized trade with Iran has helped each of their economies. “I have no doubt that if this scenario materializes, which it’s not clear it will, the European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies with all the means at our disposal,” said Ambassador O’Sullivan.
Amb. Araud reminded the audience that when the US originally imposed sanctions on Iran and forced their European allies to comply, “the burden of the sanctions has been carried by the Europeans,” who, up to that point, had enjoyed a healthy trade relationship with Iran. Now that the sanctions have been lifted, he insisted that France was merely returning to the relationship they had before, a natural result of the deal. If the situation were to devolve into a crisis, Araud said that French companies would “[base] their decision on the basis of their own calculations of their interest.”

Amb. Wittig went a step further and explained the history of Iran and German relations, dating back to the Qajar dynasty. He voiced his support for the French Ambassador’s remarks regarding the normalization of trade with Iran, and described how German companies “have suffered billions and billions and billions of dollars because we imposed sanctions [on Iran].” He believes that through the normalization of economic ties with Iran and bringing them into the international economic fold, Western power can strengthen their political with the country to improve Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world over time. “Iran is a very vibrant civil society. It’s a very young society… It’s a country with a future, and we want this Iran to gradually move to our values, to our world view.”


NIAC Statement on Apple’s Decision to Restrict Iranian-Made Apps



Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after sending a letter to Apple Inc. raising concerns about its decisions to restrict mobile applications made by Iranian developers:

“Apple’s decision to restrict mobile apps made by Iranian developers may be an overly cautious approach to U.S. sanctions compliance that undermines U.S. interests by limiting the Iranian people’s access to technologies used for personal communication. Apple’s move has the effect of punishing the Iranian people, not Iran’s government, and only succeeds in discouraging Iran’s burgeoning tech entrepreneurs and forcing Iran’s youth back under the umbrella of government censors.

“NIAC calls on Apple and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to take all necessary steps to ensure that Iranians are able to once again make their mobile applications available on the Apple app store.

“Today, NIAC published a letter directed to Apple, seeking an explanation of the legal basis for its move and whether Apple has undertaken efforts to receive license authorization to host Iranian apps in its App Store.  In NIAC’s view, Apple’s current policy ‘risks undermining core U.S. foreign policy interests in ensuring Iranians are able to utilize the Internet for personal communications absent the censorship of their home government.’

“Apple’s decision to remove Iranian apps is yet another indication of the deleterious impact of broad U.S. sanctions targeting Iran and impacting the Iranian people. Apple, like many other U.S. companies, have to figure out how to navigate broad, often intentionally ambiguous, U.S. sanctions, and the conclusion for many has been to exercise undue caution in ways that may undermine U.S. interests. For instance, we have seen cases where U.S. banks close the accounts of Iranian students studying in the United States, despite there being no prohibition on U.S. banks maintaining such accounts. Ultimately, because such caution is likely to persist into the future, it is incumbent on the U.S. Treasury Department to provide sufficient guidance to companies so that they do not undertake actions counter to U.S. interests.

“We trust that Apple shares our interest in encouraging young Iranian tech entrepreneurs and promoting internet freedom around the world. We hope they will respond and look forward to discussing these matters with them.”

The full letter can be found here.

Iran’s May 19 Election: A Mandate for Moderation

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Iran’s overwhelming reelection of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani on May 19 delivered a stark message to the world. The Iranian people are pushing their country in a positive direction, demanding greater openness at home and engagement with the world. It is vital that the United States not stand in their way:

Mandate for Moderation

  • More than 41 million Iranians voted in Iran’s May 19th Presidentialelection, or nearly 75% of the electorate. That figure included tens of thousands of Iranians in the diaspora. Overall, voter turnout inside and outside Iran was remarkable given the obstacles imposed by Iran’s unelected institutions.
  • The election was a 57-38% landslide for incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, and a defeat for hardliners – including the leadership of Iran’s judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – which mobilized for the conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi. 
  • It was not just a defeat for hardliners at the Presidential level, but also in city council races throughout the country. Reformists swept all 21 seats in the capital Tehran, and are also poised to sweep council seats in other major cities, including Raisi’s conservative hometown of Mashhad.
  • For the first time in Iran’s history 6 women were elected to Tehran’s 21 member city council, and another 415 women won seats on councils in Iran’s conservative Sistan and Baluchistan provinces. In Mashhad, a woman won a seat on the city council with her campaign slogan “Let’s Vote for Women.”
  • The Iranian people sent an overwhelming message that they want to push their country in a positive direction through peaceful, indigenous change through the ballot box, not externally imposed regime change.

Implications for Policy

  • By building and maintaining the most robust political coalition in the 38-year history of the Islamic Republic, Rouhani has solidified a significant power base. Unlike past Presidents with a reformist agenda, he has been more pragmatic and may now be able to make good on his promises to reform human rights at home and broaden his international engagement, though ill-advised U.S. policies will almost certainly undercut his agenda.
  • Theelection was a referendum on the benefits of the Iran deal, further diplomacy with the West, social freedoms at home, and even the role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 
  • Critically, Rouhani floated the possibility of pursuing negotiations to lift all sanctions on Iran, which would necessitate further U.S.-Iran diplomacy on sensitive issues including state sponsorship of terrorism and the war in Syria.
  • Rouhani went so far as to publicly criticize the IRGC, which is overseen by Khamenei, for undermining Iran’s economic benefit under the nuclear deal by test-firing ballistic missiles with anti-Israel rhetoric.
  • Prior to theelection, Rouhani’s challenger Ebrahim Raisi was considered a top contender to replace the aging Khamenei as Supreme Leader. After defeating Raisi, Rouhani has burnished his credentials for the critical, and potentially transformational, role.

Will the U.S. miss this opportunity?

  • This could be a major turning point and opportunity. If the U.S. is serious about addressing Iran’s role in the region and curbing its missile program, it must work to engage rather than undercut Rouhani’s moderate coalition and the millions of Iranians who voted for greater openness and engagement.
  • It has not been lost on Iranian society that, in spite of mobilizing to vote for moderation, Donald Trump was in Saudi Arabia showing solidarity with unelected monarchs who have a history of ties to terrorism and spreading radical ideology throughout the Muslim world. 
  • Trump’s call to isolate Iran, as well as Tillerson’s unilateral demands in the wake of theelection, were a slap in the face to the Iranian people who voted for Rouhani as a way of extending Iran’s hand to the international community. Congress must not be so reckless as to assist Trump in wasting an opportunity to reduce mutual tensions with Iran and stand in the way of the Iranian people pushing their country in a positive direction.


NIAC Statement on Trump Administration’s Iran Sanctions Designations

Press Release



The National Iranian American Council issued the following statement on the Trump administration’s imposition of new sanctions on Iran following its ballistic missile test:

“The Trump administration is following a dangerous escalatory path with Iran without any diplomatic approach or exit strategy. It’s far easier to provoke crises on Twitter than to de-escalate them. A real diplomatic channel with Iran is needed to maximize U.S. national security.

“While the Trump administration’s designations are consistent with actions previously taken by the Obama administration in that they do not appear to violate the nuclear accord, the Obama administration had established channels for de-escalation and had conducted extensive relationship building with their Iranian counterparts. That enabled the previous administration to pressure Iran without risking a crisis that could spiral out of control. The Trump administration has not done so, and does not appear interested in doing so. Sooner or later, given the numerous tensions with Iran around the region, this escalatory dynamic risks spiraling into war.

“The Trump administration and Congress now need to hold their fire. No amount of sanctions designations will convince Iran to part with a missile program it believes  is vital to its defense doctrine, particularly when Iran is vastly outspent militarily by rivals like Saudi Arabia and is being threatened by a superpower in the United States.

“While the Trump administration seems to put a premium on the security of Saudi Arabia – a key source of funding for Jihadi terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda – it does not lie in the interest of the United States to be dragged into a war with Iran on behalf of the Saudi kingdom.

“Moreover, we have seen sanctions result in escalation previously, as well. After recent designations under the Obama administration, Iran directed its military to expand its missile development in defiance to the United States.

“If the Trump administration steps away from threats and hostile rhetoric, it could find Iran willing to discuss key security issues. However, by leading with bombast and threats, it is undercutting the vital work from the previous administration to build some trust and move away from a collision course toward war.”


The New Playbook to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

Under the Obama administration, Iran hawks have been free to attack the Iran nuclear deal without fear that they would actually succeed in violating U.S. commitments – and triggering consequences from an unfettered Iranian nuclear program to an all out war. No matter what they proposed – from “tearing the deal to shreds” to blocking promised sanctions relief, they knew Obama would block them from translating their rhetoric into policy. But with this dynamic set to end in January under the Trump administration, many of the fiercest critics of the nuclear deal are suddenly warning against killing it directly. Instead, they are leaning in favor of an indirect approach of escalating pressure on Iran, including through sanctions with a “non-nuclear” label, in hopes of driving Iran to quit the agreement. While this approach might appear more attractive at first glance, it in fact carries the same risks of the U.S. unilaterally violating the agreement.

If Trump moves to snap back sanctions in blatant violation of the accord while Iran is upholding it, the international coalition that has enforced sanctions against Iran would fracture, and Iran would be free to withdraw from its obligations and advance its nuclear program. With a divided international community, the U.S. would have little diplomatic leverage with its spurned partners – let alone Iran – leaving only dire military options. Hence, those critics suddenly cautioning about the dangers of backing out of the deal include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), who has stated “I don’t think [Trump] will tear it up and I don’t think that’s the way to start.” The President of the hawkish United Against Nuclear Iran, David Ibsen, has also warned “You don’t want all the blame for the deal falling apart to land on the U.S.”

Read the rest of this article on

Policy Memo: Understanding U.S. Sanctions-Related Obligations Under the JCPOA

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It is an elemental condition of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) –- the nuclear accord between the United States, other major world powers, and Iran – that the U.S. ensure that Iran receives the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear agreement. Most U.S. observers, however, have adopted a false belief that the U.S.’s JCPOA obligations begin and end with the formal lifting of sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA. Such a view misunderstands the scope of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and risks inhibiting the Obama administration from taking the steps required to faithfully implement the U.S.’s sanctions-related obligations. It undermines ongoing efforts to remedy problems related to the lifting of sanctions and threatens the ultimate sustainability of the nuclear accord.

This memo serves as a much-needed corrective at a time in which U.S. implementation of its JCPOA obligations has come under question. It is our view that a more appropriate reading of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA evidences a U.S. commitment to not just formally lift all nuclear-related sanctions, but also to prevent any interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting and to ensure that Iran has access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy. This is a much broader view of the U.S.’s JCPOA commitments than commonly understood in Washington, but it is one that is nonetheless faithful to the text of the JCPOA and central to the sustenance of the nuclear accord. Understanding the proper scope of U.S. sanctions-related obligations is thus key to cementing the decades-long restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.          

US Sanctions-Related Obligations

Most observers regard the U.S.’s primary commitment under the JCPOA to involve the formal lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA. While the lifting of such sanctions is indeed a fundamental commitment of the United States, it is far from the only U.S. sanctions-related obligation. The Main Text of the JCPOA and its preambular paragraphs, often ignored by proponents and opponents of the JCPOA alike, outline the full scope of U.S. sanctions-related obligations. These obligations can be broken down into three constituent (and equally valuable) parts:

1)    Lift all nuclear-related sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA;

  • Prevent any interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting and with the normalization of trade and economic relations consistent with JCPOA; and
  • Take affirmative steps to ensure Iran’s access to trade, finance, energy, and technology.

Each of these obligations merit reflection, particularly as observers have failed to appreciate the latter two elements of the U.S.’s sanctions-related commitments in ways detrimental to the administration’s efforts to resolve lingering concerns. An understanding of the full range of U.S. sanctions-related JCPOA obligations provides appropriate context for recent (and prospective) actions by the administration to ensure full implementation of the JCPOA.

Lifting the Sanctions

It is a fundamental commitment on the part of the United States to lift all of the sanctions outlined in Annex II of the JCPOA, including sanctions inhibiting Iran’s access to finance, energy, trade, and technology. Section 4 of Annex II spells out in specific detail the sanctions that are to be lifted under the nuclear accord – whether via use of the President’s waiver authorities; the termination of Executive orders; or the rescission of U.S. sanctions designations.[1]  , and to license both the import into the U.S. of Iranian-origin carpets and certain foodstuffs and transactions by U.S.-owned or –controlled foreign entities (i.e., foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies) involving Iran otherwise prohibited by 31 C.F.R. § 560.215.[2] Together, the lifting of such sanctions constitute the most elemental condition for which Iran agreed to decades-long restrictions on its nuclear program.  

The Obama administration has faithfully implemented these commitments in full. On Implementation Day, the day on which Iran fulfilled its initial nuclear-related obligations, President Obama waived the imposition and application of certain sanctions, revoked certain Executive orders, and rescinded the designations of hundreds of Iranian and non-Iranian entities and individuals, as required.[3] Moreover, the U.S. issued licenses for the import of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs and for U.S.-owned and –controlled foreign entities to re-engage in transactions involving Iran.[4] Currently, the U.S. Treasury Department is working with aircraft manufacturers to determine the license conditions for the sale and export of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran.

Preventing Interference with Iran’s Full Benefit 

Under the JCPOA, the United States is obligated to take certain affirmative steps and to refrain from taking other measures in order to ensure that Iran receives the full benefit of the lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions. Few observers, though, have taken adequate note of these commitments, which are central to the JCPOA and explain the Obama administration’s outreach to the global banking and business communities.

First, the United States is committed to refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions targeting Iran or re-imposing the sanctions lifted pursuant to Annex II of the JCPOA.[6] There has been some debate over the scope of this latter provision, particularly whether it would prohibit the U.S. from re-imposing the lifted sanctions on non-nuclear grounds. While the Obama administration has been less than clear as to how it interprets the relevant JCPOA commitment, the fairest reading of paragraph 26 of the JCPOA would indeed bar the United States from re-imposing the lifted sanctions on a pretext separate from Iran’s nuclear program. In other words, for example, the United States could not re-designate certain Iranian financial institutions under Executive Order 13382 – including its major state-owned banks –  , as that would constitute the effective re-imposition of the sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA. Evidencing this point, paragraph 26 of the JCPOA notes that Iran would view the re-imposition of sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord as an abridgment of U.S. obligations and would thus cease its own nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA as a result.

It is no secret that Congressional opponents of the nuclear accord are seeking to push the Obama administration to publicly adopt a narrow interpretation of this provision, so as to permit Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions on pretextual non-nuclear grounds. While the administration has not adopted a broader reading of this provision, it is clear that such a narrow reading would lead to the effective collapse of the JCPOA, as Iran’s benefit under the JCPOA would be nullified insofar as the same sanctions lifted would be re-imposed under a new pretext. This would fatally undermine Iran’s incentive to continue complying with the terms of the JCPOA.

Besides refraining from re-imposing the sanctions lifted under the JCPOA, the United States is also obligated to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent” with the nuclear accord.[7] It is due to this provision that high-level U.S. officials have stated that the United States will no longer stand in the way of legitimate business activities with Iran – a subtle but significant change in U.S. policy towards Iran. This provision obligates the U.S. to do more than to refrain from legislation aimed at undermining U.S. commitments, but also to ensure that no federal government policies are designed to undercut the benefit to Iran of its nuclear bargain. Pursuant to this provision, for instance, Iran has complained that passage of a new visa law subjecting business travelers to Iran to a heightened standard of review is intended to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations between Iran and the European Union – a complaint that made it into the United Nations Secretary General’s recent report on UNSCR 2231.  

In tandem with this, the United States also committed “to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting specified in Annex II.”[8] Effectively, the U.S. is obligated to ensure that no measures of its own are standing in the way of Iran reaping the full benefit of the sanctions-lifting under the JCPOA. For purposes of illustration, because the JCPOA lifted sanctions on correspondent banking relationships between non-U.S., non-Iranian financial institutions and certain Iranian financial institutions, the United States is committed to ensuring that neither U.S. law nor policy is standing in the way of non-U.S. banks resuming correspondent banking relations with their Iranian counterparts. If U.S. laws or policies are interfering with Iran realizing the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions, then the U.S. is required to take steps to ensure that those laws or policies no longer are running such interference. To do so could require additional changes to U.S. laws or policies governing the issue.

Taking Affirmative Steps to Ensure Iran’s Benefit 

Besides preventing interference with Iran receiving the full benefit from the JCPOA’s sanctions-lifting, the United States is also committed to take certain affirmative steps to ensure that Iran does receive practical value from the lifting of sanctions.

Most immediately, the United States is obligated to   Importantly, there is no time-limit under which this obligation ends, meaning that the U.S. is committed through the duration of the nuclear deal to ensure that parties interested in undertaking legitimate business activities involving Iran have a clear understanding as to the scope and application of the sanctions-lifting under the JCPOA. It is this commitment that explains in part the Obama administration’s robust efforts to engage with the international business community – including via a global roadshow – in order to respond to persistent questions and concerns regarding the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear accord.

Beyond the issuance of guidance, however, the U.S. is obligated to lift certain additional nuclear-related sanctions should such sanctions be “preventing the full implementation of the sanctions-lifting [under the JCPOA].”[12] This is an issue that arose during the recent controversy over whether the U.S. would license U-turn transactions – a transaction in which Iran would have limited but effective access to U.S. dollar-clearing facilities – due to the fact that global banking institutions have signaled their reluctance to re-engage their Iranian counterparts so long as Iran’s access to the U.S. dollar is effectively prohibited. While the common wisdom is that re-authorizing the U-turn license would be an unwarranted concession to Iran – above and beyond the express terms of the JCPOA – few understand that the U.S. does have an express obligation to consult with Iran in order to resolve outstanding banking issues and that such consultation could lead to the lifting of the prohibition on U-turn transactions. Far from being alien to the nuclear accord, the licensing of U-turn transactions would have been consistent with U.S. obligations to lift additional sanctions that stand in the way of the effective implementation of the JCPOA.

Even further, the U.S. is also committed to “agree on steps [with Iran] to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance, and energy.”[13] It is not enough for the U.S. to formally lift sanctions, to issue relevant regulatory guidelines to ensure effective implementation, or even to prevent interference with Iran receiving the full benefit of the lifting of sanctions: the United States also has an affirmative obligation to agree on steps with Iran that are designed to ensure Iran’s access to trade, technology, finance, and energy. This means that should Iran not be able to access the global financial system due to the reluctance of major global banks to re-engage their Iranian counterparts, the U.S. is obligated to take certain agreed-upon steps to ensure such access for Iran. This is a far-reaching obligation deliberately tailored to ensure that Iran receives practical value from the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.      


Despite the formal lifting of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, implementation of U.S. obligations under the JCPOA has not proceeded altogether smoothly. In order to safeguard the decades-long restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. must faithfully observe its JCPOA sanctions-related obligations in full. To do so, though, there must be a common understanding as to the full scope of those U.S. sanctions-related commitments. Failing this, the Obama administration (and its successors) will be inhibited from taking the action required to address ongoing problems related to the lifting of sanctions. This could endanger the long-term viability of the nuclear accord in a manner that puts at risk core U.S. national security interests.

[1] The scheme of Annex II of the JCPOA underscores the argument that U.S. obligations go beyond the mere formal lifting of sanctions. While § 4 of Annex II spells out the precise sanctions to be lifted pursuant to the JCPOA, § 7 of Annex II outlines the “effects of the lifting of U.S. economic and financial sanctions.” If the U.S.’s JCPOA obligations were indeed limited to the mere formal lifting of sanctions, then § 7 of Annex II would be a superfluity. Interpretive rules dictate that we not treat such provisions as superfluities.    

[2] JCPOA, Annex II, § 5.1.

[3] Implementation Day occurred on January 16, 2016.

[4] See, respectively, 31 C.F.R. §§ 560.534 and 560.535, as well as General License H.

[5] JCPOA, Annex V, § 21.

[6] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 26.

[7] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 29.

[8] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 26.

[9] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 27.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 24.

[13] JCPOA, Main Text, ¶ 33.

Congress Marks Iran Deal Anniversary with Sharp Disagreements

Washington, DC – Congress marked the one year anniversary of the nuclear deal with Iran with continued partisan attacks against the agreement, including House passage of three bills that would undermine or invalidate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

One of the agreement’s top supporters in the House, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), spoke at a NIAC briefing on the Hill just as the votes were called. “This is what the Republicans have decided to do in the last minutes before we break for seven weeks when we are leaving so much important work on the table,” she said. But she said the campaign to “reverse the JCPOA” would not succeed. “This is simply not going to happen, it’s not going to go anywhere at all.”

All three of the bills were opposed by most Democrats, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who warned her colleagues the bills are “nothing more than political ploys,” and urged her colleagues to “sustain the President’s veto and resist all initiatives that seek to undermine the JCPOA.” The White House warned that it would veto the measures if necessary, saying that they would “undermine the ability of the United States to meet our JCPOA commitments by reimposing certain secondary economic and financial sanctions lifted” under the JCPOA. Rep. David Price (D-NC) objected strongly, warning that the bills seek to undo the deal and would “deny Iran even the limited access to foreign investment and other meaningful incentives that encourage compliance with the JCPOA.” Price equated Republicans’ treatment of the accord to the partisan attacks on the Affordable Care Act, for which House Republicans have held over fifty votes to repeal.

Ultimately, the measures passed the House largely on party lines, with just a handful of Democrats who were nearly all opposed to the JCPOA crossing over to vote in support of the measures.

The legislation is not expected to be considered by the Senate but could be offered as amendments to must-pass legislation when Congress returns in September. The bills would undermine or outright violate the agreement in a number of ways. H.R. 5119, which received a vote Wednesday, would block future purchases of heavy water from Iran. In April, the U.S. purchased excess stocks of heavy water from Iran, which is required to keep the proliferation-sensitive material below a certain threshold as part of the agreement. H.R. 4992 would block Iran’s access to the dollar outside of the U.S. financial system – while Iran is still barred from the U.S. financial system, it’s access to dollars held by banks outside of the U.S. is not restricted, which this bill would reverse. Lastly, H.R. 5631 would sanction any sector of Iran’s economy that directly or indirectly has applications for Iran’s ballistic missile program – which would likely even result in sanctions on Iran’s academic sector. Both of the latter bills would directly violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.

While few expect the proposals to become law, the effort is more than a symbolic gesture against the Iran deal. Opponents of the agreement are reportedly playing a “long game” to unravel the deal by forcing so many votes that supporters of the agreement begin to fatigue and the Democratic firewall against violating the deal begins to soften. The hope among Republicans, according to one report, is that by the time Obama leaves office the center of the debate will have shifted and, without the Obama Administration to rally Democrats to vote against the measures, a new Congress will pass deal-killing sanctions under a new Administration.

The efforts have another aim – in lieu of passing sanctions, the votes may be warning shots aimed at giving pause to any companies or banks that may be considering entering Iran. By creating political uncertainty as to whether the agreement and sanctions relief will survive Congress beyond Obama’s tenure, much of the sanctions relief for Iran that was promised under the agreement has been stymied in the interim.

In the clearest demonstration of the strategy, opponents of the agreement in the House have rallied around efforts to impede the sale of Boeing passenger jets to Iran – sales which are permitted under the JCPOA. Last week, the House added amendments to a spending bill that would bar the Boeing sale. In somewhat redundant action this week, the House Financial Services Committee advanced two nearly identical versions of the Boeing deal amendments as standalone legislation–strongly indicating that the effort is aimed more at creating negative attention to dissuade other companies from entering Iran, rather than crafting legislation. While the amendments last week passed by a voice vote, providing little indication of whether they enjoyed bipartisan support, the bills that passed the committee were voted down by every Democrat – save outspoken Iran hawk Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).

In the meantime, the Senate held hearings on the JCPOA in the Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) highlighted a new Iran sanctions bill he was introducing along with Robert Menendez (D-NJ). However, Sen. Cardin – who is on the record in support of extending the Iran Sanctions Act – declined to support the legislation and argued that Congress needs to be more strategic about how it approaches new Iran sanctions legislation. Cardin is viewed as a key barometer for whether any Senate initiatives will gain sufficient Democratic support to become law. While Cardin voted against the JCPOA, he has stated that now that it is in force it would be extremely damaging for the U.S. to violate its commitments.

IAEA Report Shows Iranian Compliance with Nuclear Accord

IAEA DG Amano w/ Iran’s President Rouhani. Via BBC

Washington, DC – Iran has taken the first steps to implement the nuclear accord struck with the U.S. and world powers in July, according to the latest quarterly report by the nuclear monitoring agency, the IAEA. These steps move the parties a bit closer to “Implementation Day,” a to-be-determined date when nuclear sanctions on Iran will be relieved in conjunction with Iran’s completion of a number of key benchmarks in limiting its nuclear program.

If Iran continues at its present pace, some experts predict that Iran could finish its work by early to mid-January, enabling the relief of sanctions before February 26 elections for Iran’s next parliament and Assembly of Experts — the body that appoints the country’s Supreme Leader. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates will want to move quickly in order to point to the lifting of sanctions prior to the February elections, a key electoral promise that helped sweep Rouhani into office in 2013. Even if it takes the Iranian economy more time to reap the benefits of relief, such a key step would be an important symbolic victory that could provide a boost for moderates at the polls. However, Iranian hardliners are unlikely to sit still with moderates poised to gain an advantage in elections that will help determine the direction of Iran for years to come. Already, hardliners have overseen an internal crackdown and sought to throw up roadblocks to stall the lifting of sanctions until after the elections.

A number of technical and political obstacles remain for Iran to fully implement its obligations by January, though significant progress has been made. Since October 18, known as “Adoption Day,” Iran has dismantled 4,530 centrifuges, roughly one-third of the more than 13,000 centrifuges it is required to dismantle and place under IAEA monitoring under the terms of the accord. Additionally, Iran has notified the IAEA that it is prepared to implement enhanced monitoring measures under the nuclear agreement. Iran must undertake a number of additional steps before sanctions are relieved, including dismantling roughly 9,000 additional centrifuges, reducing its uranium stockpile to 300 kg or less, and removing and destroying the core of the Arak reactor.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has indicated that Iran will not implement many of its remaining obligations until after the IAEA issues a report resolving the agency’s investigation into past “possible military dimensions” (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program. A group of hardline parliamentarians issued a letter earlier this month citing Khamenei’s position while warning that the dismantlement of centrifuges was occurring too rapidly. The letter reportedly led to a slow-down in the process, but the IAEA report appears to indicate that Iran’s preparatory work continues.

On December 15, the IAEA Board of Governors will be briefed on the PMD report’s findings, and could move to effectively close the PMD investigation. The report is the product of a long investigation that had been stalled for years as the nuclear issue lingered. Now, the issue appears close to resolution following the successful nuclear negotiations and final nuclear agreement. Iran has implemented a road map to resolve the investigation, including by providing answers to the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues and by enabling environmental sampling at the Parchin military site. The report will shed additional light on the extent of Iran’s nuclear activities prior to 2003. However, the report is not expected to make a determination on whether Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and a broader determination that all nuclear activities in Iran remain peaceful is still years away.

After the finalization of the report in mid-December, Iran is likely to begin to fulfill its remaining obligations, but Iran’s pace could be dictated by internal domestic battles as well as the highly technical nature of their remaining obligations. 

Will Iranian Americans Get Sanctions Relief?

Despite the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. trade embargo with Iran will not be among the sanctions to be lifted.  This means that Iranian Americans will continue to be prohibited from engaging in most trade-related transactions with Iran or Iranian parties. 

On April 14, 2015, the United States agreed to and endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), which limits and rolls-back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive relief from all nuclear-related sanctions.  Sanctions relief, which will be delayed until the IAEA verifies that Iran has met its key nuclear-related commitments under the deal, includes those sanctions targeting Iran’s energy, financial, and trade-related sectors.

As an organization that has long viewed sanctions as counterproductive to the objectives of diplomacy and unduly harmful towards the Iranian people, we at NIAC are encouraged by these developments.  However, we must offer an important cautionary note: Contrary to popular belief and barring certain limited exceptions, the nuclear deal with Iran leaves in place most of the current restrictions on the activities of U.S. persons, including Iranian Americans, vis-à-vis Iran. Iranian Americans will still not be allowed to trade with Iran or Iranian parties, invest in Iran, or facilitate the activities of non-U.S. persons entering Iran.  Sanctions on each of these activities (and more) remain in place.

However, certain limited parts of the U.S. trade embargo will be relieved under the nuclear deal.  These include:

  • Imports of Iranian-origin carpets and foods into the U.S.
  • Transactions related to the sale or transfer of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran

It’s important to remember that the U.S. will not implement sanctions relief until Iran has taken key nuclear-related steps to constrain its nuclear program.  That may not take place until Spring 2016.  Therefore, the current restrictions remain in place until that time.

Moreover, because of the lifting of restrictions on banking transfers between Iran and Europe, U.S. persons may find it easier to transfer funds between the U.S. and Iran, as intermediary (third-country) banks become more widely available.

Nonetheless, it is important to reiterate that – outside of the two changes listed above and the possible relaxation of certain banking restrictions – the U.S. trade embargo with Iran will remain firmly in place under a nuclear deal.  U.S. persons cannot trade with, invest in, or facilitate trade with Iran.  Any violations of these sanctions prohibitions could lead to civil and criminal penalties. 

We will continue to press on this issue.  We believe that ending the trade embargo with Iran will enable Iranian Americans to bridge the divide between their two countries.  At a time in which foreign parties are being permitted to enter Iran, we fail to see the sense of maintaining trade restrictions on U.S. persons with Iran.  However, until the trade embargo is lifted, we believe it necessary to inform the Iranian-American community as to restrictions that will remain to temper expectations and ensure full compliance with U.S. sanctions laws.