• 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Sahar Kian
  • Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Nuclear deal, Sanctions

Incentive and Investment in Iran

Having failed to block the Iran nuclear deal through Congressional review or other means, some critics of the agreement are now working to undermine its implementation. One of “backdoor” methods of countering the deal was recently laid out by panelists at a conference convened by the Washington Institute of Near East Peace. Despite the creativity in masking the true intentions of this approach, this effort is clearly yet another a disingenuous attempt to kill the deal.

Panelists at the conference discussed how to hinder sanctions relief required under the agreement by intimidating potential investors from doing business in Iran. They proposed a two-part plan designed to discourage foreign investment. First, they said investors must be convinced that doing legitimate business with Iran would be a liability from a public relations standpoint. In other words, they plan on diminishing foreign investment by making it a moral taboo to trade with Iran, and by threatening to damage the reputations of companies who consider investment. Second, they recommended that the non-nuclear sanctions that will remain in place under the deal should be expanded—which would then limit or negate the practical benefits of easing of nuclear-related sanctions.

This new effort is disconcerting and carries real risks. The nuclear deal is a good deal, and its terms – including resuming economic relations – must not be breached. The international community recognizes that the deal is based on reciprocation: if we want Iran to honor the deal, then we must also honor its terms as they were intended. If we reinterpret the terms of a deal that addresses the international community’s security concerns, we invite Iran to do the same and turn a good deal into a bad one. Moreover, it could cost us our partners’ cooperation going forward. Europe especially suffered economically as a result of the sanctions regime and is looking forward to recovering by setting the scene for serious investment in Iran. There will be little appetite for further cooperation to address other issues with Iran if the U.S. is viewed as renegotiating the agreed terms for sanctions relief and punishing our European allies in the process.

  • 16 October 2015
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, Updates, US-Iran War

The Iran Deal Moves to a New Phase


Photo via Washington Post.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral accord to roll back and ensure intrusive inspections over Iran’s nuclear program, has cleared significant hurdles this week that will enable the parties to begin to implement their obligations beginning on October 18, or “Adoption Day.” With Iranian hardliners and Congressional opponents’ failure to kill the deal over the past three months, the agreement’s new phase will enable the parties to begin to see the benefits of the accord.

On Tuesday, the Iranian parliament passed a bill giving the government permission to implement the agreement by a vote of 161-59. Despite the strong vote, the deal was not without controversy. As a sign of the fierce domestic opposition faced by the deal’s negotiators, one parliamentarian allegedly threatened to kill Iran’s atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, and bury him underneath the Arak reactor. Despite the fierce protestations of hardliners, the bill was passed and then upheld by Iran’s Guardian Council on Wednesday, effectively ending Iran’s internal review of the agreement.

On Thursday, the IAEA also announced the completion of a road map on a long-standing investigation into Iran’s prior, possible military dimensions to its nuclear activities. Over the past three months, the road map obligated Iran to provide information on a range of questions on its nuclear activities, largely prior to 2003, and to provide the IAEA with environmental sampling at a building on the Parchin military complex that was suspected of housing nuclear-related activities. The IAEA will issue a report summarizing its findings by December 2015. This progress, only possible following the striking of the JCPOA, should give the IAEA and international community greater insight into the extent of Iran’s past nuclear pursuits.

As a result, the JCPOA will reach “Adoption Day” by October 18, marking the point where the parties officially begin to undertake their obligations. Iran’s concessions are heavily front-loaded. In the months ahead, we should see Iran remove approximately 13,000 installed centrifuges, reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97%, limit the enrichment of uranium to one heavily-monitored facility, destroy the core of the Arak reactor, and expand inspector access across its nuclear program, among other steps. Had opponents succeeded in killing the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program would be moving forward in the months ahead, not taking significant steps backward.

Iran has indicated that they hope to complete these steps by December 2015. U.S. assessments are more conservative, and it is possible that the work will stretch into the spring of 2016. However, there is incentive for Iran to hurry. While the U.S. and Europe are obligated to issue sanctions waivers on Adoption Day, those will only go into effect on “Implementation Day” – after Iran has completed its aforementioned nuclear obligations. Thus, sanctions will remain in place and Iran will not begin to see the economic benefit of the JCPOA for months. With parliamentary elections and a selection for Iran’s Assembly of Experts coming in February 2016, Rouhani will want to point to evidence of sanctions relief to energize his base and ensure that moderates make significant gains in both critical bodies. Such a shift would almost certainly increase the President’s political capital, and could make it easier for him to take on hardliners intent on maintaining Iran’s harsh security environment.

However, while the JCPOA enters this new phase, we have already seen evidence of hardliners digging in. The test-firing of a ballistic missile earlier this week, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s warning against further negotiations and U.S. influence, and the continuation of escalated human rights abuses overseen by the Iranian judiciary all signal trepidation with shifting events while foreshadowing a continued struggle over Iran’s direction in the wake of the deal. This was far from unexpected, as many observers predicted an initial hardening as factions seek to balance against the success and popularity of Rouhani and his team. Whether the U.S. signals moderation or doubles down on hostility in this new phase could tilt the scales of these coming domestic battles, and also expand or limit any potential diplomatic dividend that follows the nuclear agreement’s implementation.

  • 17 September 2015
  • Posted By Alex Kneib
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Capitalize on the Iran Deal, Double Down on Diplomacy

At a recent House hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, the 30th since the accord was struck, Admiral William Fallon offered an important perspective that has been largely missing from much of the recent debate.

“The suspension of sanctions will increase economic activity and personal travel in the region, boosting interaction with the Iranian population, resulting in pressure to normalize state to state relationships,” said Fallon, who previously served as Commander of U.S. Central Command. “The potential for confidence building, and possibly even trust, between Iran and the international community as implementation proceeds, could initiate a more pragmatic political dynamic inside Iran to address the unrest and frustrations of the population, the majority under age 30.”

Admiral Fallon’s testimony stood apart not only due to its support of the deal—Congress has largely only invited opponents of the agreement to testify—but also because his optimism about the opportunities afforded by the JCPOA to engage Iran beyond the nuclear issue.

At a time when even some supporters of the agreement have couched their endorsement behind new calls for countering Iran militarily or with more sanctions, Fallon’s comments are a welcome movement towards doubling down on diplomacy. Although the JCPOA was a result of diplomacy that stemmed from necessity on both negotiating sides, it served and will hopefully continue to serve as a reminder to each side that cooperation is possible. As noted in one of Trita Parsi’s recent op-ed pieces, the conditions for strong cooperation are present. “Iranian society is overwhelmingly moderate, educated and forward-looking; despite the existence of a small but highly vocal element of religious radicals.” Furthermore, the coming reintegration of Iran into the global economy will increase the incentives for economic cooperation between Iran and the U.S. although for now the U.S. maintains a near total embargo.

To achieve and sustain cooperation, U.S. and Iran must seek a greater sense of mutual understanding, while setting reasonable aspirations for cooperation. For example, as noted by Professor Shireen T. Hunter, “the Middle East crisis cannot be resolved by a single country.” Upon further cooperation with Iran, the U.S. must understand that cooperation contributes to stability in the region but does not outright solve it. Moreover, to maintain cooperation, the U.S. must seek to understand Iran’s regional and geopolitical interests and concerns. As each country traded concessions in the JCPOA, they should mimic such action to pursue mutually beneficial solutions to the significant challenges that remain between the two countries, as well as within the broader region.

Unfortunately, most of the discussion of what comes after the nuclear has focused on how to contain and sanction Iran. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) even has legislation in the works to combat the success of the JCPOA.  The outline for his legislation, contained in a Washington Post op-ed, puts forth veiled threats and measures designed to kill the deal and return to a posture of containment towards Iran. In regards to veiled threats, he and others argue for further arming of Israel and putting a military option on the table. One of the many ineffective policies towards Iran during the George W. Bush administration was to keep all military options on the table and use military threats to garner leverage. Returning to this policy would put the U.S. back on a path of escalation towards conflict rather than a path towards diplomatic solutions. Rather than going back to the old policy tool kit, which hasn’t yielded U.S. foreign policy objectives, we should use what has worked: diplomatic engagement. In turn, building upon the JCPOA offers a route to address further bilateral issues such as Iran’s conventional weapons program, ballistic missile program, and terrorism support.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader has alluded to an openness for further engagement between Iran and the U.S. outside of the nuclear issue. “If the counterpart [the United States] stops its bad behavior, one could expand this experience to other issues,” he said of the diplomatic process, following the announcement of the framework nuclear agreement in April. However, the potential for further progress on this front seems to have deteriorated amidst the rhetorical back and forth that officials in Iran and the U.S. have engaged in as they have sought to sell the deal to their domestic audiences. Khamenei has since changed his public stance and announced that Iran will not hold further talks with the US outside of the nuclear issue. This is problematic if we want to see the deal as a gateway to a brighter future. Although implementation of the JCPOA will be a difficult process due to the complexity of the 159-page agreement and of the political environment, the sides should utilize the milestone of the JCPOA to capitalize on the positive momentum for Iran-US engagement and avoid a return to provocation.

Administration Seeks Support for Iran Deal in Contentious Hearing

Secretaries Kerry and Moniz testify. Photo courtesy of AP.

With only seven weeks left until the September 17th deadline for Congress to vote to approve or reject the Iran deal, it is increasingly looking like a deal will rest on the support of a handful of key Democrats. Last week, in a contentious hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that stretched into a fifth hour, senior Obama administration officials mounted a spirited defense of the Iran deal in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew all testified in their first public appearance before Congress since the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) set the tone for Republican attacks by accusing Sec. Kerry of being “fleeced” by the Iranians. He was later followed by his colleague Sen. James Risch (R-ID) who declared “you guys have been bamboozled.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Republican Presidential candidate, charged that the agreement was “fundamentally flawed” and left the hearing shortly thereafter. Other Republican members of the committee were equally, if not more combative, with the exception of Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

While Sen. Isakson was not as aggressive as his Republican colleagues, only inquiring as to why American nationals are not allowed to be part of the IAEA inspection teams, his previous statements have caused some to put him in the “No” camp.

Sen. Flake, on the other hand, is one of the lone Republicans in the Senate that is neither outright opposed nor leaning in opposition to the Iran deal. He reiterated his support for the negotiations and indicated he wasn’t looking to ask any “gotcha” questions. “I understand the problem of having 535 secretaries of state,” Flake said of the Congressional push to have a say on the Iran deal, but in order to have a lasting deal he added “it is best to have Congress involved.”

With Republicans largely united in opposition, the administration is forced to pin its hopes on convincing Congressional Democrats to block a possible vote of disapproval during the 60 day review period.

Outside of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a longtime opponent of the administration’s negotiations with Iran, the rest of the Democrats on the committee asked largely helpful questions about specific parts of the deal. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chastised her Republican colleagues for personal attacks on Sec. Kerry and the other witnesses, calling it “ridiculous and unfair and wrong” to say that they had been “bamboozled” or “fleeced.” The United Nations Security Council had earlier in the week unanimously passed a resolution approving the Iran Deal. Sen. Boxer alluded to this when she remarked “so my colleagues think you [Sec. Kerry] were fleeced and bamboozled, and that means everybody was fleeced and bamboozled, everybody, almost everybody in the world.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member of the committee and one of the key swing votes in the Senate, claimed “our negotiators got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front,” adding that many areas “have been strengthened since the April framework,” though he was noncommittal on how he would ultimately vote.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) did indicate that he was worried about what happens as the most intrusive elements of the agreement expire but he struck a supportive note when he said “this is a deal that produces a dramatically better position for 15 years than the status quo.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) was another supportive voice on the committee, adding that he trusted the expertise of the nuclear scientists at the national labs in New Mexico who helped craft the inspection and verification regime. On the question of ensuring timely access to suspicious non-nuclear sites under the deal, which has emerged as a key point of debate, Udall asked, “do you believe we have the technical capabilities to determine if enrichment is being done outside the JCPOA?” Sec. Moniz answered affirmatively, pointing to the example of an Iranian site in 2003 where traces of uranium were detected after six months, “despite major efforts to disguise it.”

In the coming weeks, the Obama administration will continue to defend the Iran deal during the Congressional review period while shoring up support among Democrats and any fence-sitting Republicans to stave off Congressional rejection. Sec. Kerry and Sec. Moniz will head to the House Foreign Relations Committee today in what is expected to be a similarly contentious hearing.

  • 9 July 2015
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

War is Only Alternative to Iran Deal, Warns Top Lawmaker

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Washington, DC – Congress must “come to grips” with the reality that failing to seal an Iran nuclear deal would mean war, according to the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As Secretary of State John Kerry announced that negotiations with Iran would continue past today’s deadline, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) put the prospect of diplomatic failure into stark context at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

“The alternative to a deal would surely mean some kind of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear plant,” said Engel, who has given the Obama administration room to negotiate but has also been skeptical of the negotiations and a strong supporter of Israel.

“We have to look at the choices that we have, and the way I see it right now, we have a choice to accept the deal that the administration negotiates, or we don’t,” Engel observed. “And if we don’t, then we need to look at the alternatives.”

His comments suggested that, despite some misgivings about the negotiations, some of the more hawkish Members of Congress acknowledge the imperative of reaching a deal as a matter of war and peace.

“It’s not just accepting the deal or nothing,” Engel said at the hearing. “There are things we’re going to have to come to grips with, and I believe one of them is bombing the nuclear reactor.”

Some in Congress have bristled at the notion that opposing a deal is the equivalent of pushing for war, but critics of the talks have largely avoided discussing what alternatives would look like if not military action. The public debate has thus regularly focused on areas of perceived weakness in the envisioned agreement, raising concerns that Congress may avoid debating the far greater costs of the alternatives.

“If we are able to sustain the sanctions regime and have a bombing of their plant that sets them back two years or three years, is that really a viable alternative?” Engel asked panelists at the hearing.

The willingness of the committee’s ranking Democrat to discuss the negotiations in such stark terms contrasted with the overall tone of the hearing which, like past hearings in the House and Senate on the Iran talks, featured witnesses that were almost exclusively opposed to a deal.

Three of the panelists served under the Bush Administration when the decision was made to invade Iraq and one–Stephen Rademaker–implored lawmakers to recognize that “any deal is a bad deal.”

Congress will now have 60 days to review a deal if an agreement is secured, and to decide whether to approve it or reject it. A rejection would almost certainly nullify the deal–freeing Iran from nuclear constraints under the agreement and likely unraveling international enforcement of the U.S.-led sanctions regime.

>> Take Action: Urge your lawmakers to support a deal and Vote For Peace

  • 2 July 2015
  • Posted By Ala Hasemi-Haeri
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

A Comedy of Errors

Senator Cotton Keeps Repeating the Same Erroneous Iran Arguments at Security Conference

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“With all due respect Senator,” said the Center for a New American Security’s (CNAS) Ilan Goldenberg addressing Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, “I don’t think the president’s objective is to give the Iranian regime nuclear weapons,” a retort which drew a huge applause from the capacity crowd present at the CNAS conference in downtown DC.

The conference titled A World in Turmoil: Charting America’s Course, evoked in the attendees a sense of the chaos around them by displaying pictures of war and blight everywhere from Ferguson to the Gaza Strip. However, amidst these images of havoc, a rational and pragmatic discussion about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a nuclear deal with Iran was taking place, ably moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.

Well, relatively rational.

While most of the panelists were discussing the deal in terms of US strategic goals and interests and negotiating tactics, Sen. Cotton kept repeating his talking points from the past two years with little regard for the actual facts.

When David Ignatius asked him about the appropriateness of the letter the Arkansas Senator and forty six of his Republican colleagues sent the Iranians, Cotton repeated his condescending assertion that he wrote his now infamous letter because the Iranian leadership “doesn’t understand our constitutional system.” This despite the fact that the Rouhani administration has more cabinet members with doctorates from American universities than any other government in the world.

The Senator also insisted his letter was meant to bolster the administration’s bargaining position, despite his many past acknowledgments that his efforts are intended to kill a deal. Senator Cotton finally said that our goal should be regime change, and not negotiation, something Amb. Burns, a fellow Republican vehemently disagreed with.

Cotton also stated that 70% of Americans oppose the deal when in reality surveys show consistent support for the negotiations, often by a 60-70% margin or a 2:1 ratio. He then went on to repeat his maximalist demand that the only acceptable deal is one where Iran dismantles its nuclear industry completely, an unrealistic stance to say the least that even our closest allies don’t support.

Senator Cotton chastised the Obama administration for not supporting the 2009 Green Movement in Iran even though the leaders of that movement did not want any outside interference because it would have given the regime an excuse to crack down even harder.  Or that regardless of political affiliation, Iranians view having a civilian nuclear industry as their right.

He said we shouldn’t trust Iran because it is run by “crazy Ayatollahs” (a comment that drew a derisive chuckle from the audience). However, even the most hardline elements of the Iranian regime have proven again and again that they are willing to act rationally to preserve and enhance its position in the region, even cutting deals with its worst enemies.

Citing Iran’s destabilizing activities, he said “you don’t cooperate with the world’s leading sponsor of State terrorism, you don’t cooperate with the government with the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands. You confront it in at every effort it makes to challenge the West.” But Goldenberg pointed out that we were more than willing to negotiate with the “Soviet Union which was sponsoring proxy wars which killed thousands of Americans at the time, was trying to subvert many of our allies” because it was in our national interest.

Quoting Yitzhak Rabin, Amb. Nicholas Burns said that “you don’t negotiate with your best friends, you negotiate with your worst enemy.” Ilan Goldenberg added that even though the Iranian regime is a “nasty regime” and we shouldn’t “bank on this agreement on changing that,” we should pursue the American interest of “preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon” by negotiating the same way we did with the Soviet Union.

Instead of focusing on the merits of an emerging deal, like the more reasonable critics of the Iran negotiations, Sen. Cotton keeps regurgitating his tired talking points about regime change. If a deal fails because of intransigence by the likes of Sen. Cotton, it would be very hard to keep the sanctions regime intact and Iran will have a free hand to pursue whatever nuclear technology it wants.

Cotton’s repetitive, almost robotic delivery of these fallacious talking points makes it difficult to tell if he actually believes what he is saying or if he is just trying to score political points. Either way, the fact that he might be able to derail a deal with Iran, and drag the US into another needless conflict, is a prospect more frightening than any of the horrifying pictures of war and devastation that were on display outside the conference hall.


  • 1 July 2015
  • Posted By Parsa Ghahramani
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Top Books to Read Before the July 7th Deadline for an Agreement with Iran

Top Books to Read Ahead of the July 7th Deadline for an Agreement with Iran

A day doesn’t go by that Iran is not mentioned in the news. But for the majority of Americans, U.S.-Iran relations remain a mystery. With the deadline on a nuclear deal fast approaching, I’ve compiled a list of books that I find most useful in explaining the major sticking points in relations, and point out opportunities in moving forward.


iran and  us

 Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the      Failed Past and the Road to Peace, by Seyed Hossein  Mousavian

There is no book that tells the troubled story of U.S.-Iran relations from the Iranian perspective better than this insightful  account by Seyyed Hossein Mousavian. An Iranian diplomat  with over 30 years of experience in U.S.-Iran relations,  Moussavian offers a thought-provoking account of missed  opportunities and mutual mistrust. His own experiences add a  rich and personal dimension, and Mousavian remains hopeful  that the two countries can bury the hatchet. Clearly outlining what each side stands to gain from an improvement of relations, Mousavian prescribes a way forward.


iran in world politics Iran in World Politics: The Question of the  Islamic  Republic, by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

If we are to understand the worldview of Iran’s leaders, the environment that informs their relationship with the west, and  their sense of Iran’s role in the world, Adib-Moghaddam’s book  is  a critically important one. This in-depth analysis warns the  reader against dangerous simplifications and caricatures of  Iran, and goes beyond the surface in explaining Iranian foreign policy. This book is central to any productive discussion of U.S.-Iran relations.



treacherous alliance Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of  Israel,  Iran, and the U.S., by Trita Parsi

The history of cooperation, alliances, and sabotage between  Iran,  Israel,  and the U.S. are exhaustively examined in this book by  Trita Parsi. In  order to understand  Washington’s antagonistic relationship  with Tehran,  it’s important to cut through to the important  Iran-Israeli rivalry for dominance in the region. Parsi argues  that antagonism between Iran and Israel is not ideological but a  practical one regarding dominance of the Middle East. This book is important in showing that cooperation between the two countries is not only eminently plausible, but to the benefit of both.


all the shahs men  All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots  of  Middle Eastern Terror, by Stephen Kinzer

The United States’ support for authoritarianism has landed it in  trouble across the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in  Iran. The U.S.-orchestrated coup that overthrew democratically  elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, and its  subsequent support for the Shah planted the seeds of mistrust between the two nations. The revolution that overthrew the Shah brought about a government that took as its rallying cry independence from foreign intervention. This episode haunts U.S.-Iran relations to this day, and contains the roots of current hostilities. America’s role in Iranian politics during the coup and its support for the Shah’s authoritarianism is critical in understanding the relationship between the two countries. Kinzer’s authoritative account illuminates this critical period of relations between the two countries.


manufactured crisis Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iranian  Nuclear Scare, by Gareth Porter

This book addresses the elephant in the room regarding U.S.-  Iran  relations: Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Porter  does an  important job in this book of examining the veracity of allegations that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon,  providing detailed documentation to the contrary. Anyone who advocates for war with Iran because of its nuclear program must read this book.


  • 1 July 2015
  • Posted By Behbod Negahban
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, Nuclear file

An Ideological Echo-Chamber in the House of Representatives

Photo via Miami Herald

Photo via Miami Herald

WASHINGTON, DC — The final round of the Iran nuclear negotiations is underway, and public opinion across the United States is emphatically favorable—with the latest polling, from NBC, showing that Americans support a deal by a 2 to 1 margin.

But sooner or later, it’s Congress that will have to decide whether to approve the agreement. The stakes are high, and what the Hill needs now is an edifying discussion to ensure that its members make an informed, prudential decision.

Yet that’s not the discussion they’ve been having, at least in the House. Over the past two months, the Committee on Foreign Affairs has held almost weekly hearings discussing Iran. Of the fifteen expert witnesses they’ve heard from, twelve have been ardent opponents of any negotiations— skewing debate decisively towards the hawks.

One witness, General Michael T. Flynn, actually plagiarized entire sections of his testimony from a report issued by the Washington Institute of Near-East Policy, a think-tank offshoot of the powerful anti-deal lobby AIPAC. Flynn actually argued that regime change, like we tried with Saddam, was the only way to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Another “expert” that has been featured was Maryam Rajavi—the “president-elect” of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, a “cult-like” Marxist organization that, until 2012, was actually considered a terrorist-group by the United States for its attacks against Iran; hardly an objective or reliable source for analysis.

And just like that, they’ve turned the hearings into tax-payer purchased stick to beat the agreement with— creating the appearance that supporters of an agreement are a radical minority, when in reality the opposite is true. No, this doesn’t mean that lawmakers should only hear from the deal’s supporters, but democratic discourse is only fruitful when it hears from both sides. By hearing only one side of the argument, the debate has taken place in a vacuum in which any potential flaw in a deal has been magnetized, the benefits have been disregarded, and the consequences of rejecting a deal have been completely ignored.

These are consequences that few lawmakers have bothered to raise in their questioning of witnesses, with one exception. Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) is one of the only committee members to defend the nuclear talks during the hearings—and also happens to be one of the only lawmakers from the Democratic minority who have decided to actually attend these events and confront the heavily slanted panels.

“What is the probability,” Connolly asked at one of the hearings, “that pulling the plug and imposing more sanctions will lead to Iranians concluding that it is not beneficial to negotiate with the West?”  Dissatisfied with the panel’s noncommittal response, Connolly suggested that doing so would blow up a deal, lift constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and push its rivals to respond with nuclear programs of their own. Connolly implored the panel, and his colleagues, “to examine whether your approach will lead precisely to the end result that you want to avoid, which is massive proliferation.”

Debating the deal on its actual merits, seriously addressing the viability of alternatives, digging into the most pressing issues— only when we hear more statements like Connolly’s will we have productive discussion on the Iran nuclear deal. Everything up to then will be exactly as it has been so far: nothing but sound and fury.

  • 1 July 2015
  • Posted By Behbod Negahban
  • Nuclear file, Sanctions

U.S. Companies Could Lose Out on Lucrative Business Opportunities in Iran, Report Finds

Iran stock exchange wsj

Photo via Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON, DC — In a recent piece for Politico, Chris Schroeder describes an exciting new generation of Iranian entrepreneurs who are ambitious, highly educated and already “see the world outside of Iran every day—often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups.” As the Iranian economy prepares to open up to the world as part of an anticipated nuclear agreement, US companies could profit tremendously from engaging with this staggering trove of human capital.

But in a report issued by the Center for a New American Security, former Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department, Elizabeth Rosenberg, suggests that U.S. companies may still miss out on these opportunities, even if nuclear-related sanctions are lifted with an agreement. They will remain bound by “a comprehensive trade and investment embargo, the architecture of which is not widely viewed as nuclear-related.”

Absent U.S. commercial competition, the report claims, European, Asian, and Middle-Eastern businesses, “less deterred by the prospect of violating sanctions,” will be poised to fill that void.

The report recommends that the Treasury department allow U.S. companies to bypass these non-nuclear restrictions, putting them “on an equal footing with global businesses” to compete for “lucrative business opportunities.”

It also notes that “creating opportunities for U.S. companies to engage in Iran” by easing these restrictions “would constitute a form of constructive, commercial diplomacy.” This, according to the report, would encourage “productive engagement between Iran and the United States on areas of continuing security concern.”

The report also emphasizes the need to keep “the incentives for Iran’s continued adherence in place” by intensifying the economic benefit Iran receives through compliance. Even without nuclear sanctions, the report explains, international businesses may avoid engagement with Iran to avoid unknowingly falling into the tangled nets of the U.S. sanctions regime. American and European officials should mitigate this confusion by offering “an unprecedented level of specific detail on the degree of continuing exposure to U.S. sanctions for non-U.S. banks and companies,” thereby minimizing confusion and maximizing clarity.

To address the “substantial new requirements associated with the removal of sanctions,” the report also recommends that the US Congress give both the State and Treasury Departments the resources they need to “create a robust group of officials” dedicated to “engaging the public and the private sector about the changes in Iran sanctions.” This work would also include enforcing remaining sanctions imposed on Iran and issuing license authorization for parties to trade with Iran when it fell within the U.S.’s foreign policy interest.

Preserving the deal is a matter of making the benefits of cooperation startlingly vivid, and the consequences of defiance even more so. With that in mind, the report concludes, “the lifting of sanctions may be the best insurance policy in nuclear diplomacy.”

  • 23 June 2015
  • Posted By Maria Hardman
  • Congress

Nuclear deal would alleviate, not exacerbate, Iranian threat

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

Last week, as lawmakers convened a hearing with top administration officials to discuss US strategy in the Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met in Tehran to discuss Iraq’s crumbling security. Rouhani pledged Iranian support for Iraq’s fight against ISIL, noting that Iraqi security is intertwined with that of Iran.

On the Hill, however, the message was one in which the US must simultaneously counter a dual threat from both ISIL and Iran. “Iranian malign influence in the region is the other major challenge in our strategy in the Middle East, besides ISIL,” according Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. The strategy outlined seemed to be one at cross purposes with itself: the US would counter ISIL while at the same time countering Iran–the one country that is, arguably, most committed to defeating ISIL.

Iran already has a palpable presence in Iraq. Not only can Tehran’s influence be felt in Baghdad’s political arena, but the US and others have known of Iran’s support for Shia militia in terms of ammunitions, training, aircraft, and leadership for quite some time. Though often seen as an insurmountable challenge, Iran’s presence in Iraq has been a detriment to ISIL, and many of their interests in the country overlap with our own. Though collaboration on issues important to both Iran and the US has been a non-starter, the imminent nuclear deal could pave the way towards cooperation on issues of mutual importance, and lead to the establishment of diplomatic channels to address areas of challenge.

The dominance of the Iran-backed Shia militia within the security apparatus of the Iraqi state has likely lead to a marginalization of the Sunni, in such a way that the US now feels that empowering Sunni tribesmen is the only way to win back Iraq’s security. “The reality is that some of our Sunni partners both within and outside of Iraq are more worried about the Shia and Iranian hegemony than they are about ISIL,” said General Dempsey. Secretary Carter and General Dempsey explained the advancements in current US plans to recruit Sunni tribesmen in Iraq at the new installation at Taqaddum in Anbar province, and stressed that fresh Sunni recruits would be “essential” and “vital” to the effort to ultimately eliminate ISIL. But Carter admitted that the US had fallen short in its recruitment efforts, having trained just 7,000 Sunni Iraqi tribesmen, as opposed to the 24,000 it had hoped for.

Regardless of whether this effort proves effective, merely attempting to prop up Sunni forces is not a sufficient strategy for long term stability. For that, Iran will need to be brought into discussions on a path forward. Dr. Paul Pillar, of Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic Studies, has outlined for Politico how engaging Iran on regional issues could lead to gains over ISIL territory in Iraq, increased security over sea trade in the Persian Gulf, and a decrease in the volatility of the region overall. Ambassadors Ryan Crocker, William Luers, and Thomas Pickering outlined in a piece last year for the Washington Post that a deal on the nuclear issue could open up “a new strategic relationship between the United States and Iran [that] may seem impossible and risky, yet it is also necessary and in the interests of both.” Continuing to ostracize Iran will limit strategic cooperation on regional issues that could be paramount to slowing the “deteriorating trend” in the region lamented by committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX).

While opponents of a nuclear deal in congress are many, a deal with Tehran would undoubtedly open diplomatic channels that could be leveraged to increase coordination on a host of geostrategic issues. Allowing a deal to go forward would improve diplomatic relations, open up avenues for further discussions on issues such as human rights, combating narcotics trafficking and extremism, as well as mediating Iran’s perceived destabilizing influence in the region. By including Iran in a solution to the region’s problems, the US can address any “long-term threat” posed by current Iranian posturing and work with Iran to counter ISIS, combat narcotics trafficking and organized crime, and secure a more stable Persian Gulf region. While some in Congress may be keen to focus only on opposing a nuclear deal, true strategic thinking suggests that a nuclear deal can be a gateway to actually beginning to resolve the challenges in the region.