• 31 July 2014
  • Posted By Wright Smith
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

The Best Protection Against “Sneak Out” is an Iran Nuclear Deal

As negotiations with Iran have continued, one issue that has been raised is the concern of an Iranian “sneak out” to a bomb. Skeptics of the diplomatic process have even claimed that, under a nuclear agreement that increases inspections and verification mechanisms over Iran’s nuclear program, Iran could still maintain undeclared nuclear facilities that would give it a secret pathway to weaponization. However, far from making the case against a nuclear deal, these concerns strengthen the case for diplomacy because the best way to protect against “sneak out” is through stringent inspections and monitoring mechanisms–which can only be achieved through a diplomatic agreement.

There are several measures that can be taken to drastically decrease the possibility of an undeclared Iranian nuclear site and its breakout potential. Already, under the current Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), measures have been taken to monitor Iran’s uranium procurement and prevent it from being used for covert activities. An important part of the Additional Protocol which was included in the JPOA is the ability of IAEA inspectors to visit Iran’s uranium mines and milling facilities. This is crucial because it allows inspectors access to Iran’s uranium holdings, allowing them to judge whether or not Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful or whether some amount of their uranium has been diverted to a covert facility. This is just one of the many types of inspections that Iran has agreed to under the JPOA, and can be increased under a final deal.

To start with, any final deal will require that Iran implement and ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol will allow IAEA inspectors to investigate all aspects of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle–from uranium mines, fabrication of fuel rods, enrichment sites, and waste dumps–and to access all declared nuclear sites without prior notification. Measures like these will not just enable the IAEA to ensure that declared nuclear sites are limited to exclusively peaceful purposes, but to detect attempts to divert any materials if there is an undeclared site.

Beyond the Additional Protocol, the P5+1 will likely push for further inspection measures to protect against undeclared nuclear activities. The IAEA could monitor the importation of nuclear related goods, and then compare this with the amount being used by the Iranian program to ensure that there are no discrepancies between what is being imported and what is being used at declared facilities. Measures such as these will drastically reduce the risk that Iran will pursue covert nuclear research through making such actions very difficult to achieve without detection by the international community.

Based on previous Iranian actions, the concern about protecting against undeclared nuclear facilities is not unreasonable. But these concerns demonstrate why a deal that is strong on inspections and monitoring mechanisms is so important. The alternative to a deal is less inspections, less verification, and less eyes and ears to detect and deter against “sneak out.” If negotiations break down, even the increased access granted to inspectors under the interim JPOA will disappear, leaving the IAEA with few options to verify that Iran no longer has covert sites and increasing the danger of military action. The bottom line: unless you want to put boots on the ground, you should support negotiations to put more inspectors on the ground.

  • 22 July 2014
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Strong Support for Iran Talk Extension

Extension

This weekend, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to extend the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement beyond July 20 to November 24, 2014. The new deadline, which falls on the one year anniversary of the P5+1 and Iran agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva, provides four more months for negotiators to bridge remaining gaps at the negotiating table.

Thus far, support for an extension has been strong among members of Congress, non-governmental organizations and editorial boards. Below, you can find a compilation of both positive and negative reactions to the extension.

Support for Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)“The P5+1 negotiations with Iran represent our best chance to peacefully ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, and I very much hope they are successful. While significant progress has been made, it is clear more time is needed to reach a final agreement. I strongly support an extension of these talks because a diplomatic agreement is far better than any alternative.”

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)“It’s unclear what the alternative is right now. And I think there has been small but important progress made in the first round of negotiations…Clearly the request for an extension is going to provide room for those that want a new round of sanctions. That was a bad idea six months ago and it’s just as bad an idea today.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – “I think we should, on Iranian sanctions, let the dust settle. I think we should all feel good that an agreement was reached to move further. Now, I don’t know if there’s going to be a final agreement. I certainly hope so, but I don’t know…But before we start talking about additional sanctions, let’s just let the dust settle for a little while.”

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) – “The temporary agreement reached last year has yielded real benefits for the US and the broader world. The choice is whether we continue to build on this success or return to mutually destructive confrontation. Americans know that we must give diplomacy a full opportunity to succeed so we can direct our limited resources towards urgently-needed rebuilding here at home.”

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) – “With continued careful monitoring and more tough negotiating, this extension offers an opportunity to advance our security objectives by finalizing a solid alternative to war. Congress must not impede the progress.”

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) - “We are on the edge of a significant moment in the history of diplomacy. If negotiators need more time to reach a comprehensive agreement, we should support them, not make it harder for them to do their jobs by passing more sanctions. It is in America’s best interest to continue on the path of diplomacy.”

Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) – “I believe that the Joint Plan of Action up until now has worked. Iran is adhering to its commitments. And the sanctions architecture continues to pressure the regime. And that’s why I’m prepared to support an extension if the negotiators need more time because the 20th is just this weekend.”

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) – “It means peaceful and normalized relations are well within the scope of possibility. I am encouraged to see all parties involved continue the momentum towards that goal, and encourage them to take the time, space, and steps needed to succeed where others have failed.”

Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) -“Today’s agreement to keep negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will permit the Administration to continue its two-track approach to dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and ensuring robust and aggressive verification of any agreement.”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) “This extension will continue to restrict Iran’s nuclear capability while creating the diplomatic space and time for a long-term deal that supports U.S. national security interests and a more peaceful and secure world.”

Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) – “It is critical that Congress take no action that undermines the Administration’s diplomatic efforts during this extension which was provided for under the Joint Plan of Action.”

Support for Extension: Organizations

National Iranian American Council (NIAC) – “It is clear that major progress has been made, creative solutions exist and a final agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran and averts war is within reach.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC) – “A limited extension of the negotiations makes sense. The preferred option to relieve the Middle East and the world of the threat of Iranian nuclear capability is a diplomatic one.”

American Security Project - [Former Senator Gary Hart, Lieutenant General Norman Seip, USAF (Retired), Brigadier General John Adams, USA (Retired), Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Retired)] – “The P5+1 negotiations with Iran have made significant progress…We should make every effort to make sure it is successful for the sake of our national security and the security of our friends in the Middle East.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – “We support the U.S. effort, along with the other nations of the P5+1, to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A negotiated agreement is the best solution for all parties and is worth the significant effort the U.S. and its partners are investing. Progress has been made…”

Arms Control Association – “It is our assessment that a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful is still within reach if both sides remain focused and if both sides engage in creative, innovative, and smart diplomacy.”

Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation – “You don’t leave the game during overtime. We may not yet have this issue resolved, but negotiators are working hard to ensure that we will. And as it stands we’re far better off than we were six months ago.”

CREDO - “Extending negotiations with Iran is the right thing to do. CREDO applauds President Obama for standing up to the reckless saber-rattlers in both parties and continuing to pursue the path of diplomacy.”

The Iran Project -“We are encouraged by the sense of optimism implicit in the agreement to continue these talks. Success would represent a victory of America’s 35-year bipartisan policy toward Iran, be a triumph of America’s commitment to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and eliminate one of most serious potential threats to the security of our friends in the region.”

J Street – “It’s far better to give our negotiators the time they need to secure a good deal than to let the interim agreement expire and allow Iran to unfreeze its nuclear program.”

MoveOn.org – “President Obama made the right call: continue diplomacy to secure a final deal with Iran and keep America off the path to war. Diplomacy must be given every opportunity to work, so while negotiations continue, Congress needs to avoid any new sanctions or other measures that would undermine President Obama’s diplomacy.”

National Security Network – “This will allow negotiators to continue to build on the progress that has been made toward a comprehensive agreement that could ensure Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful. The extension is a good deal, and those who have voiced opposition to it fail to understand the issues at hand.”

Ploughshares Fund – “Diplomatic efforts have made more progress on Iran’s nuclear program in the last six months than we have in the past 35 years. The finish line is within our sights. It’s time to let diplomacy work.”

Truman National Security Project – “Today’s announcement is a win for American security. Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen for six months and today’s extension keeps us on the path to a deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and prevents another war in the Middle East. The only good outcome will be won at the negotiating table.”

Win Without War - “Negotiations between the international community and Iran have already made more progress in six months than a decade of sanctions and the threat of military action. We are pleased to see that negotiators are going to stay at the table and finish the job of peacefully solving one of America’s most pressing national security threats.”

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “After decades of hostility between Iran and the West, the first step agreement and nuclear negotiations have been welcome developments. While the initial six-month deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement was a laudable goal, it was also an arbitrary time frame. All parties to these talks understand the implications of getting them wrong – without diplomacy, a path to war becomes much more likely.”

Support for Extension: Editorial Boards

The Baltimore Sun – “It is essential that they [extend current talks] and that hard-line voices on both sides continue to give negotiators the space they need to find a mutually acceptable deal that offers long-term assurances that Iran will not and cannot develop nuclear weapons…The risks of continued negotiations are minimal, but the potential benefits — both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and opening the door for cooperation on other issues — are tremendous.”

Bloomberg – “So, are the negotiations worth extending? That’s an easy call. Even though the two sides remain far apart, its valuable to keep the talks going for a few more months to keep working toward a deal.”

Los Angeles Times – “An extension of the arrangement past Sunday is amply justified both by the progress that has been made in the negotiations and by Iran’s adherence to the terms of the interim deal.”

New York Times – “The whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. That goal is within reach, and it would be irresponsible not to make the maximum effort to bridge the final gaps…There are risks in any deal. But there are many more if there is no deal, Iran’s nuclear program resumes unchecked and an opportunity to work with Iran on other regional challenges slips away.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – “It was not an ideal outcome that the two sides had been unable during the five months they had been talking to reach an agreement. On the other hand, throwing in the towel on efforts to reach accord would have been a very bad outcome and extending talks by four months, to seek to mend a rift that has existed for 35 years, was certainly not a bad thing to do.”

USA Today – “Diplomats working for a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear program say they need a little more time. We should give it to them. Talking longer to close the remaining gaps and secure a lasting deal is certainly better than letting the talks collapse.”

The Washington Post – “In our view, prolonging the negotiations is better than declaring a breakdown, which could lead to a military conflict at a time when the United States is already juggling multiple crises in the region and beyond.”

Neutral on Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) – “Every diplomatic effort should be pursued vigorously to reach an acceptable conclusion and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) – “If the nuclear talks are to be extended, I would have a difficult time accepting this as progress because Iran continues to unjustly imprison my constituent, Amir Hekmati.”

Opposed to Extension: Members of Congress

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – “The Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapon, not peaceful nuclear power. The last thing the world needs is an agreement with Iran that allows them to maintain their nuclear breakout capability. This agreement should be sent to the Congress for review and Congress should have the ability to vote it down.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)  – “We should immediately reinstate the full sanctions — and consider additional sanctions — and I have supported legislation to do just that.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) – “We can’t let Iran buy more time to make a nuclear bomb…It’s time for expanded non-military pressure to back up our diplomatic outreach to Iran. It’s time to support the Menendez-Kirk bill for more non-military pressure on Iran.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – “We need to increase pressure on Iran on all fronts. This means increasing, not halting, sanctions, including those related to terrorism and human-rights abuses.”

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA)- “I don’t see an extension of funding to Iran as progress.  It looks like the Iranians won extra time with a good cop-bad cop routine, backing off the Supreme Leader’s absurd claim for 190,000 centrifuges. This tells me Iran, with centrifuges spinning, thinks time is on its side.”

Opposed to Extension: Organizations

American Israel Public Affairs Committee – “We are concerned that rather than coming into compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran will try to use the recently announced extension of talks to break the international coalition and advance its nuclear weapons program.”

The Foreign Policy Initiative – “As the July 20 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is delayed four months, the United States should expand non-military pressure on Iran to boost the chances of a breakthrough…With Iran unwilling to make significant nuclear concessions, the Obama administration has decided to put more time on the clock for a deal. But if that’s all it does, it’s almost certain to fail.”

United Against A Nuclear Iran – “The course of the negotiations has revealed a clear gap on the most important issue – the number and type of centrifuges.”

Opposed to Extension: Editorial Boards

Chicago Tribune – “Iran’s nuclear negotiators, skilled at stalling for time, seem only too happy to talk and talk…while their nuclear program gains momentum and their march to the bomb acquires an aura of inevitability. The U.S. and its partners should make it clear: This extension won’t be open-ended, and it will come with a price: tougher economic sanctions.”

The Post and Courier – “So now the tough question for the Obama administration is how much longer Iran can be allowed to benefit from relaxed economic sanctions while playing the West for time. Because as long as Iran’s stall game keeps working, it can keep advancing toward its longtime goal of a nuclear arsenal.”

The Wall Street Journal – “Negotiating with Tehran is often compared to haggling in a Mideast bazaar, and after Friday’s decision to extend talks over the country’s nuclear program we’re reminded why…the administration was right in January when it said that six months was more than enough time to test Iran’s sincerity. The main point of the extension seems to be to give the U.S. and Europe more time to dress up the concessions that Iran is demanding to continue its program while claiming it isn’t.”

  • 16 July 2014
  • Posted By Nishaat Shaik
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions

New Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Iran Nuclear Deal

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A wide majority of Americans favor a nuclear deal with Iran that limits Iran’s nuclear enrichment in return for phased sanctions relief, according to a new poll conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International & Security Studies at the University of Maryland.

Following extensive briefing on the arguments for and against a nuclear deal with Iran, 61% of those polled – including 62% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats – signaled “support [for] a U.S. decision to reach a long-term [nuclear] deal” with Iran.” Such a deal would include limits to Iran’s uranium enrichment; an intrusive inspections regime of Iran’s nuclear program; and the gradual easement of U.S. sanctions on Iran. The United States and Iran are in the midst of marathon talks to reach such a nuclear deal right now.

Far fewer Americans – 35% — favored the imposition of “additional sanctions” at this time and an end to negotiations that would permit limited enrichment in Iran. This position is endorsed by hawks in Congress, who have long favored to cut off the present negotiations and impose new sanctions on Iran. The White House has so far been successful in blocking the push for new sanctions.

Beyond the nuclear issue, the poll also highlighted how Americans favor greater outreach and increased ties to Iran. Asked whether they would support the “U.S. government engag[ing] in direct talks with Iran on issues of mutual concern,” 82% of those polled favored such engagement. Moreover, 61% of Americans favored increased cooperation with Iran in Iraq, especially to fight back against the gains of the Islamic extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams.

According to the poll, Americans also support increased trade and cultural ties with Iran. Despite a two-decade-old trade embargo with Iran, 55% of Americans favored “greater trade” between the two countries, and 71% of Americans supported “greater cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges” with Iran. Increasing trade and expanding cultural and educational ties have long been contemplated as a means to bridge the divide that has separated the US and Iran these past three-plus decades.

The poll comes at a timely moment in US-Iran relations. As the July 20 deadline for P5+1 and Iran talks rapidly approaches, the White House will need to sell any prospect nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress. Based on this polling data, that sell might be a lot easier than imagined.

  • 30 April 2014
  • Posted By Kaveh Eslampour
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2013

International Response to Abuse in Evin Prison

On April 17th, over 30 inmates in the 350 Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison were subjected to physical abuse and forcible head shavings, according to human rights groups outside of Iran. Victims included political prisoner Hossein Ronaghi Maleki and human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, both of whom were imprisoned following the uprisings of the disputed 2009 presidential election. With no public response from President Rouhani, campaigns professing solidarity with the prisoners have led the international outcry to investigate the incident and improve human rights in Iran.

The crackdown was conducted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Intelligence Ministry officers, and prison guards who claim to have been conducting a routine search for elicit items such as cell phones. Following the incident, 32 prisoners were put into solitary confinement with some yet to be released. Gholam Hossein Esmaili was removed from his post as head of Iran Prisons Organization following the incident. However, in a move to defy critics, he was elevated to director general of the Justice Department in Tehran Province. This assault is the latest in a series of egregious human rights violations committed by the conservative dominated judiciary and the IRGC, possibly aimed at undermining President Rouhani in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the West.

421 activists inside of Iran have written a public letter to President Rouhani calling for him to investigate the assault and protect citizen’s rights. Rouhani has not responded publically to the incident, although he has met privately with several prisoners’ family members. One day after protests outside of the President’s office, Rouhani administration spokesperson Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said that a team had been put together to investigate the attack. No new details about the team or their findings have emerged since the announcement a week ago. The constitutional powers of the president of Iran do not grant the authority to free political prisoners, although during his campaign Rouhani pledged to “improve the situation” of many prominent prisoners.

Rather than trying to appeal to President Rouhani, others have focused on supporting the victims of the assault. Thousands have viewed a group on Facebook (which is technically blocked inside Iran) dedicated to supporting those kept in Ward 350, with hundreds posting pictures of themselves with shaved heads to symbolize solidarity with the prisoners. More than 30 prisoners from inside of Evin Prison and six from the Rajaa Shar Prison have launched a hunger strike to call attention to their unlawful imprisonment and brutal treatment, according to human rights groups outside of Iran. In his latest report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed reported at least 895 ‘prisoners of conscience’ and ‘political prisoners’ inside of Iran. Shaheed has still not been granted access to the country.

There has been increasing frustration with Rouhani for not pursuing campaign promises to improve human rights in Iran. Rouhani’s administration has appeared to focus instead on first resolving the nuclear issue with the West, under the belief that doing so can empower moderates and generate momentum on improving human rights in Iran. Former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, has called for the release of political prisoners, including 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. On the opposite side, hardliners continue to criticize Rouhani for negotiating with the West. A new hour long documentary titled “I Am Rouhani”, reportedly funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is critical of Rouhani’s dealing with Iran’s “enemies.”

  • 28 April 2014
  • Posted By Kaveh Eslampour
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, UN

Iran and Women’s Rights

On Wednesday, Iran was elected to a second four-year term on the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a body charged with advancing gender equality and the rights of women around the world. The move was strongly criticized by the Obama administration, who denounced Iran’s long record of repressing women’s rights.

Iran’s ascension to such a body, given its poor human rights record, warrants concern from the international community. At the same time, this may an important opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issue of women’s right’s inside of Iran. It should also be viewed as an opportunity to further press Iran to operate within the framework of the UN and to allow the Special Rappateur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, to visit Iran.

On the first count, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shined a spotlight on women’s rights this week on the occasion of Women’s Day, saying “I, as the head of the government, confess there are still so many deficiencies with regards to the vindication of women’s rights.” He described “gender injustice” in Iran and lamented that “there are still women who are suffering from and even afraid of men’s unjust behavior – and this era must end.”

United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed released a report in March that documented the numerous violations of women’s rights and the imprisonment of many prominent women’s rights journalists, lawyers, and activists. His report describes the institutionalized discrimination of women that prevents fair court procedures, discourages women to come forward with rape charges, and many other forms that impact women’s everyday life. President Rouhani’s comments acknowledging some of these issues represents a small signal towards an effort to address gender inequality.

Rouhani’s election was based on a platform of not only improving relations with the West and negotiating an end to the nuclear standoff, but also improving human rights and building an inclusive government. Nearly ten months into his presidency, many analysts have criticized his short comings in regard to improving human rights – especially the rights of women. At the same time, women in Iran represent the majority of university students, even in the sciences that are traditionally dominated by males. Family planning laws are considered liberal in the region, and women have seen an increasing role in political and economic affairs over the last decade.

While Iran’s election to the Commission on the Status of Women should raise concerns if it confers legitimacy to Iran’s human rights and women’s rights record, multilateral engagement on these issues should remain a top priority. Cooperating and working with the international community can provide a path to establishing greater accountability of what is happening inside of Iran and addressing the urgent need to address women’s rights.

  • 25 April 2014
  • Posted By Tyler Cullis
  • 1 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Don’t Let Congress’ Inaction Kill a Peaceful Iran Deal

Obama-CongressTo get a final deal with Iran, Washington is going to have to be ready to trade in nuclear-related sanctions in exchange for Iranian nuclear concessions. But unless Congress gives the President the authority to lift sanctions, the President will be limited to extending temporary waivers for the sanctions for successive four-to-six month periods ad infinitum.

To see why this is a problem, just read this piece in the New York Times this morning showing just what happens in negotiations when the President does not have the appropriate authority from Congress. The Times discusses President Obama’s failed attempt to procure a trade deal with Japan on his recent trip there because he does not have necessary authorities from Congress to conclude an agreement:

“…analysts faulted Mr. Obama, saying his decision not to fight for the legislative authority at home to pass major trade deals had robbed him of leverage with the Japanese, who are reluctant to make concessions for a deal that may not survive Congress.

“‘Their strategy was to get the Japanese to do the deal, then go to Congress and say, ‘Look what a great deal we got, now give us the authority,’’ said Michael J. Green, an Asia adviser to President George W. Bush. ‘He made a decision to go into this with one hand tied behind his back.’”

In other words, President Obama entered trade negotiations with Japan hobbled by a Congress reluctant to delegate to him the requisite trade authorities. And instead of pushing Congress to grant him such powers, the President figured to reverse the order and first get a good deal with Japan and then leverage that deal to get a similar one with Congress.

Regardless of the merits of a trade deal, this is a priority for Obama. And the problem is this: Without authority from Congress, the President lacked leverage to get an agreement with Japan to deliver on this priority. As soon as Japan’s negotiators understood the limits of the President’s ability to make good on promises he offered during negotiations, they chose not to show their hand in trade talks absent a more concrete indication that America would follow-thru on its promises. Thus, no deal.

Here, the parallel to another major priority for Obama–getting a strong nuclear deal with Iran– should be obvious. Just as the President entered talks with Japan hamstrung, so he has entered negotiations with Iran lacking the authorities to provide Iran the kind of sanctions relief that they will expect should a final deal be reached. Unless there is confidence that the President will get the necessary authorities from Congress to implement sanctions relief as promised, the US side has far less leverage to put sanctions on the table to get strong concessions from Iran.

This is not the position in which the United States should find itself, especially on the eve of a potential historic diplomatic win over Iran’s nuclear program.

While it is likely infeasible for the President to get Congress to provide him the requisite authorities to lift sanctions before an Iran deal is struck, there must to be a viable plan in place to get Congress to do so once a deal is agreed. That plan must also be signalled at the negotiating table, so as to inject confidence between the negotiating parties and to bolster the US hand in the talks.

Instead of playing the perpetual “bad cop” and threatening to scuttle any final deal, Congress could improve the position of US negotiators dramatically if it signals its preparedness to give the President the power to relieve sanctions in order to implement a strong nuclear agreement. And the President can strengthen his negotiators’ hands by ensuring that the groundwork to get a deal is laid now, rather than waiting until we get a deal with Iran only to see it blocked by Congress.

  • 21 April 2014
  • Posted By Kaveh Eslampour
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Iran talks hit Cruz control

Ted Cruz

The P5+1 and Iran have reportedly agreed to hold the next round of expert-level nuclear negotiations May 5th through 9th on the sidelines of an upcoming NPT conference in New York.

Although the news has received scant attention from the media and public, the fact these talks will take place in New York is quite interesting considering the recent friction over Hamid Aboutalebi, who was blocked by the White House and Congress from representing Iran at the UN. That these negotiations are proceeding unencumbered–and in New York no less–shows an unprecedented level of determination by both sides to not allow nuclear negotiations fall victim to political distractions.

The controversy drummed up over the UN rep was less about visas than it was about hardliners on both sides attempting to undermine the talks. Senator Ted Cruz, who rushed to take ownership of the controversy and authored the legislation to block Aboutalebi’s visa, called the passage of his bill a mere “first step“. He went on to explain, “This action should be followed by the President suspending the Geneva negotiations unless and until Iran not only ceases this behavior but also ceases all enrichment activities and dismantles their nuclear program in its entirety.”

But against the odds, the Obama and Rouhani administrations have managed to insulate the nuclear talks from separate issues that could derail the negotiation process. Even as controversies get drummed up and exploited, these administrations have kept their eyes on the prize. They are not willing to let perceived provocations distract from or disrupt the hard work of nuclear negotiations.

The current nuclear negotiations are just that – negotiations focused on resolving the nuclear issue. The two sides have made the strategic decision to focus these negotiations on resolving the nuclear issue, understanding that their success can open the possibilities to address other important issues.

The technical meetings in New York will be the last  before the P5+1 and Iran begin drafting a comprehensive nuclear agreement in mid-May. By July, we may be looking at a historic final agreement. The Iran and the United States have not be able to agree on everything, and certainly not all at once, but for now the Obama and Rouhani administrations seem to agree on one thing: these negotiations are too important to let hardliners drag them down.

  • 7 April 2014
  • Posted By Tyler Cullis
  • 0 Comments
  • Uncategorized

Is new House sanctions bill aimed at Iran?

As concerns remain over Congress passing new sanctions on Iran while talks are ongoing, one bill that received advanced coverage was the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act.” Prior to the bill’s introduction, there was concern that the bill would indirectly target Iran and re-characterize nuclear-related sanctions as terrorism-related sanctions, thus violating the spirit of the Joint Plan of Action.

However, the bill – which was introduced late last week – does not appear to directly target Iran and would not mandate the President to impose new sanctions on Iran. To a large extent, the bill’s provisions are redundant of existing sanctions on Hezbollah and its facilitators.

Under current law, Hezbollah is designated a Specially Designated Terrorist (SDT), a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), and a designated supporter of the Assad regime in Syria (SYRIA). As such, these designations close Hezbollah and its affiliates off from the US financial system and empower the President to designate (and thus block the property of) those who he finds provide material assistance or sponsorship to the group. These are authorities which enabled the US, for instance, to designate one of the major Iranian banks, Bank Saderat, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2006, thus foreclosing its access to the US financial system.

The proposed Act would require the President, among other things, to cut off foreign financial institutions (including foreign central banks) that facilitate the activities of Hezbollah or facilitate significant transactions related to those activities from the US financial system and to decide on whether to designate Hezbollah both a Foreign Narcotics Trafficker and a Transnational Criminal Organization. The former provision (Section 103) is the most contentious element of the bill and could marginally limit the President’s discretion on whether to designate foreign financial institutions. But it is difficult to see what new authorities the bill provides the President that he does not possess at present.

While some in Congress may be eager to find new ways of sanctioning Iran, existing sanctions are so sweeping as to render the bill’s authorizations redundant. It remains to be seen, however, whether the bill is messaged by hardliners in Washington and Tehran as subtly re-characterizing ‘nuclear-related’ sanctions as terrorism-related sanctions and thus a violation of the preliminary deal.

  • 27 February 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Partisanship at Its Worst

Less than a month ago, Senator Menendez [D-NJ] conceded in a floor speech that his new Iran sanctions bill, S. 1881, should not be brought to the floor after 42 Republican Senators demanded a vote. “I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on this national security matter before its appropriate time,” said Menendez at the time.

This is a good thing considering that we now know that one of the key claims of AIPAC and other supporters was not true. They said that the bill would  require sanctions be imposed, in violation of the preliminary nuclear deal with Iran, only if Iran first violated the deal. But in reality, the bill would have imposed sanctions for a variety of actions beyond what was required in that deal. And Republican staffer  recently admitted as much, telling Wall Street Journal, “Had our bill been in law, the latest [Iranian ballistic missile] tests would have triggered a re-imposition of sanctions.” So Republicans are beginning to acknowledge that the mantra of “the sanctions will be imposed only if the talks fail” was thoroughly misleading.

One would think that the discussion was finally put to rest, that sanctions were not the answer, and that we could now focus our attention to achieving a pragmatic, realistic, and concrete deal with Iran.

However, just this past Monday, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) blocked a bid to vote on bills to combat sexual assault in the military, demanding a vote on S. 1881 in return for allowing the Senate to debate an issue which affects about 26,000 men and women in the military per year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated it most diplomatically when he said, “I’m terribly disappointed that my Republican friends are trying to turn this vital national security concern into a partisan issue by trying to inject [it] into a setting where it’s clearly not relevant.”

  • 7 February 2014
  • Posted By Samia Basille
  • 0 Comments
  • MEK, Persian Gulf

House Hearing Examines Iran-Iraq Relations

Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, spoke at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing about Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq on Wednesday, February 5. Answering the questions of several lawmakers, he notably addressed the critical role that Iran plays in the complicated Iraqi political realm.

When Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) expressed concern over supposed close ties between Iraqi senior officials and the Iranian government, mentioning reports that Iraq is allowing Iran to fly over its territory to arm Hezbollah in Syria, McGurk offered a more nuanced picture of the relationship between the two countries. While he acknowledged that Iraqis should be more active in seeking to stop overflights to Syria, he also stressed that “Iraq’s relation with Iran is multifaceted. . . We found very few instances in which we have seen Iraq acting at the behest of Iran.” He cited Iraq’s oil production, its ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in 2012, and their support of the Geneva 1 communiqué about transition of power in Syria as evidence that Iraq maintains independence from Iran.

According to McGurk, the Iraqi government is also careful to enforce international sanctions against Iran, although “they share a 3000 km border. There is trade, there are cultural ties. It’s impossible to stop everything.” He pointed out that Iraqis have increased their oil output and cut off many transactions with Iranian banks. Rep. George Holding (R-NC) mentioned negotiations between Iraq and Iran over the possible construction of a pipeline that would supply Iranian gas for new power plants in the Iraqi province of Basra. McGurk recognized that “the pipeline is concerning if it goes forward.”

The future of Camp Liberty, which shelters 2,900 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) - a cult-like group widely opposed by Iranians that was only recently removed from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations - was also repeatedly questioned by lawmakers. The camp has been attacked by outside groups on several occasions, leading to efforts to relocate the camp’s residents. While the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) seeks to relocate the militants outside of Iraq — some members were already relocated to Albania and Germany — the MEK’s leadership has ceased cooperating and has prevented further members from leaving the camp. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, indicated last year, the MEK leadership has not allowed residents of the camp to know their options for relocation.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) insisted that Iranian Americans living in his district are extremely worried about the lives of family members and friends belonging to the MEK. He told McGurk: “Many of those people are sitting behind you . . . wanting for help.” McGurk agreed that this issue should be an international human rights concern, and that countries around the world should work to relocate them.

While McGurk seemed confident that Iraq-Iran relations do not threaten U.S. interests, he insisted that such issues are not addressed in the current talks between the Western powers and Iran: “Given the existential threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to our interests in the region, we focus the nuclear negotiations specifically on the nuclear issue.”