NIAC Petitions U.S. Treasury for General License Update to Support Iranians’ Access to Internet

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

Washington DC – As the Iranian government implements a near total shutdown of the internet in the midst of a crackdown against widespread protests, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) called on the U.S. Treasury Department to take necessary steps to ensure U.S. sanctions are not contributing to the Iranian government’s ability to disconnect Iranians. Iranian Americans have been unable to communicate with family members during the shutdown and the isolation of Iran due to certain sanctions has unfortunately contributed to the Iranian government’s ability to separate its population from the rest of the world. 

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement further explaining the rule range request: 

“NIAC is petitioning the Treasury Department for a formal rule change request to expand General License D-1, which has not been updated in more than five years. Over the past several months, Apple, Amazon, Google and many other tech companies have begun blocking Iranians from accessing key software and services as a result of limitations and ambiguities in General License D-1 and escalating U.S. sanctions on Iran. 

“This has forced Iranian developers to rely on Iran’s state-operated internal Internet, which has aided the Iranian government in building this infrastructure and reduced the costs of cutting off outside connections. This also undermines Iranian developers’ ability to work with the global developer community and makes it far more difficult for ordinary Iranians to access and operate virtual private networks and other important communication tools that allow them to communicate freely in spite of government censorship.

“Unfortunately, while General License D-1 was a welcome step to reduce the consequences of sanctions on Internet communications when it was first implemented in 2014, it is in need of clarification and expansion. As indicated by tech companies blocking Iranians from accessing their services, the exemptions contained in General License D-1 have not kept up with the pace of technology or the increasingly complex sanctions regime.

“NIAC strongly supported General License D-1 and has advocated in support of measures to prevent censorship technology from being acquired by Iran’s government and to ensure Iranians have access to communication technology. The formal rule change request is included below, and we look forward to working for its timely adoption.”

NIAC Statement on Protests across Iran over Gas Price Hike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Saturday, November 16, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Yesterday, protests erupted across Iran as the government announced an unexpected increase in and rationing of gasoline. Reports suggest that authorities have violently cracked down on the protests. 

In response to these developments, NIAC Senior Research Analyst Sina Toossi issued the following statement:

“NIAC is closely tracking reports of protests in many Iranian cities after the government announced an increase in the price of gasoline. NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s use of force used to disperse protestors, as seen in videos showing the deployment of riot police and tear gas in parts of Iran, as well as efforts to stifle communication by limiting internet access. The Iranian people have an inalienable right to peacefully demonstrate and express their economic and political grievances. The Iranian government denies them this right at its own peril.

“Ordinary Iranians have borne immense economic hardship due to government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. Importantly, the Iranian political system is not monolithic and there are signs that more hardline elements seek to capitalize on public grievances to advance their own narrow aims. Rather than empower the Iranian people, the Trump administration’s fixation on ‘maximum pressure’ has served to embolden such forces. 

“The international community must push the Iranian government to abide by its human rights obligations, allow the Iranian people to peaceful demonstrate and air their grievances, and hold repressive forces to account for abuses. The protests are also occurring in the broader context of protests across the world and in the Middle East, as a consequence of government mismanagement and objections to price hikes on everyday commodities that hurt ordinary people. Under no circumstances should any government stifle the will of its people, and Iran arguably has a greater chasm of mistrust than most.

“NIAC also reiterates its call on the U.S. to end its policy of collectively punishing sanctions, which serve to impoverish ordinary Iranians and undermine hopes for democratic change. Starving the Iranian population only creates a destructive situation that eliminates avenues for the vital diplomacy necessary to secure a brighter future for the Iranian people.”

NIAC Statement on Iran’s Fourth Reduction in Nuclear Deal Compliance

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, November 5, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | (202) 386-6325 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement regarding Iran’s announcement that it will reduce compliance with its nuclear deal commitments for a fourth time after the U.S. violation of the deal in pursuit of maximum pressure:

“The announcement that Iran will soon feed gas into centrifuges at Fordow is unwelcome news to all those who have sought to resolve the nuclear standoff diplomatically. This is yet another completely predictable result of the failed ‘maximum pressure’ policy adopted by Donald Trump.

“International concerns regarding the Fordow facility stem from the fact that its construction was covert and, as it is deeply buried, would be less susceptible to military strikes against Iran. However, so long as the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to have access to the facility in order to verify Iranian activities, which appears to be the case, Iran’s move will be provocative but reversible and not a near-term proliferation risk. Iran continues to provide Trump with a way out of his self-inflicted crisis should he summon the wherewithal to bypass his hawkish advisors as well as his own ego and animus towards his predecessor to return to the nuclear agreement.

“This latest escalation underscores the urgency of returning to and restoring compliance with the nuclear deal in full – starting with the U.S. easing sanctions that it reimposed in violation of the accord a full year before Iran started reducing its own compliance with the deal. Failure to do so risks a more complete unraveling of the accord and a steady march toward military confrontation. Only by stepping away from maximum pressure can Donald Trump move off the path to war and reopen diplomatic channels that have been closed by his own strategy.”

Human Rights Watch Report on Impact of Sanctions on Iran

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), U.S. sanctions, reinstated after the United States pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal, have had a detrimental impact on the situation of human rights in Iran. The findings of this report are corroborated by the findings the United Nations Special Rapporteur, which also recently noted the negative impact of sanctions. Both reports indicate how sanctions have exacerbated economic hardship for Iranians, which in turn impede their access to vital resources such as medicines and food.

The report clearly shows how such impediments go against the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – ratified by Iran and signed by the United States – obliges states to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,’ as well as the right to an adequate “standard of living” that includes “adequate food.”

The HRW report notes that, despite stated exemptions for humanitarian goods by the United States, the nature of sanctions has prevented international banks from participating in any kind of financial transactions with Iran for fear of penalties due to secondary sanctions. The current sanctions system of the U.S. has thus made it nearly impossible for such humanitarian transactions to take place.

Contributing to this scenario is an atmosphere of hostile U.S. rhetoric, as the HRW report states, “US officials have indicated that the pain US sanctions are causing for ordinary Iranians is intentional, part of a strategy to compel Iranian citizens to demand their autocratic government to ‘change behavior’,” what HRW calls “a recipe for collective punishment that infringes on Iranians’ economic rights.” The aggressive language of some U.S. officials has created an environment of overcompliance, where companies and banks prefer not to risk U.S. punishment for facilitating even humanitarian transactions.

The HRW report discusses in detail the issue of medicine and medical supplies, a key human rights concern. While Iran manufactures 97% of its own medicines, critical life-saving medicines, especially for rare and complicated diseases are imported and now access to those medicines are affected by sanctions. In terms of medical supplies, 70% of supplies is reportedly imported, these imports are negatively impacted by sanctions and prevent the import of vital medical equipment such as MRI machines.

The full report from Human Rights Watch can be found here. While we continue to spotlight the issue of human rights in Iran and the reprehensible abuses of Iranian officials, we must also acknowledge abuses at the hands of foreign actors, especially when it is our government. It is incumbent upon us to call out these issues, particularly when we have the opportunity to make a real impact. As Americans, we can and must hold our government accountable when our policies violate human rights at home or abroad.

NIAC Statement on Increased U.S. Restrictions on Humanitarian Trade with Iran

NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement on the Treasury Department’s adding new burdens to humanitarian trade with Iran:

“The Trump administration has sounded the death knell for humanitarian trade with Iran. Through its action today, the administration has made clear that the Iranian people are in the cross-hairs of their ongoing economic war against Iran and that the deliberate targeting of food and medicine to the Iranian people is fair game. This is a shameful development—one that makes the United States the equivalent of human rights violators that similarly target humanitarian goods in order to achieve their political objectives. 

“By designating Iran a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Trump administration has severed what limited remaining ties Iran has to the global financial system. The consequences have long been clear. Foreign banks have warned the U.S. Treasury Department that Iran’s designation under Section 311 will force them to stop processing humanitarian-related transactions in the future. Yet, the Trump administration has accepted, if not deliberately encouraged, those consequences.  

“The Trump administration seeks to save public face for its devastating action by feigning the creation of a ‘humanitarian channel’ by which foreign banks can process transactions. But this humanitarian channel functions more like a sanctions wall, erecting stringent conditions on foreign bank participation in humanitarian trade with Iran. Let’s be clear: There is unlikely to be a single banker in the world that will accept these conditions and participate in the trade. The Trump administration is surely aware of this fact, and its humanitarian channel should be viewed as nothing more than farce. 

“The Trump administration has consistently undertaken action to choke off humanitarian trade with Iran, including by reimposing nuclear sanctions against Iran and designating financial entities vital to humanitarian trade – like Bank Parsian and the Central Bank of Iran – under terrorism authorities. Today’s announcement does nothing to alleviate the real challenges sanctions pose to humanitarian trade, and in fact add new burdens apparently intended to end the provision of life-saving medicine to Iran. Congress and the public need to step up to reverse this brazen and outrageous action.”

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.”