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Events in DC

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*

E Pluribus Unum

It’s no challenge trying to find an American flag and seal in the U.S. State Department. Almost every place you look, you can find our nation’s beautiful seal decorated with these powerful words, “E Pluribus Unum” meaning Out of Many One.

But the reason I went to the State Department was not just to admire the flags and phrases, but to attend a conference,  The Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.  As an Iranian American, I was interested to hear from Hillary Clinton about how diaspora communities like mine fit into the diverse American tapestry.

Kris Balderston opened the conference and noted that nowadays the meaning of our nation’s motto has transformed into a similar concept that we are one nation united under the precepts of being Americans working together towards common goals. No matter what country of origin, ethnicity, religion, or gender the citizens belong to, they are all striving towards the same things whether it is education, freedom, or peace. The purpose of this conference is to recognize and connect all the different Diasporas in the United States and provide them with a road map to the future full of success and achievement of common goals. Additionally, the conference encourages building bridges from the Diasporas in the U.S. to their countries of origin, via people to people interactions.

Part 1: Assessing the Baghdad Nuclear Talks

Last week, the P5+1 met with Iranian officials in Baghdad to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. While many questions were left unanswered, the one known fact is that there will be another round of negotiations on June 18th and 19th in Moscow.  Listen to a NIAC policy panel hosted last week in DC on the nuclear talks in Baghdad. The panel features top experts and former U.S officials including PJ Crowley (Former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs), Bijan Khajehpour (Iranian Political and Economic Analyst and Chairman of Atieh International), Aaron David Miller (Distinguished Scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), George Perkovich (Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and moderated by NIAC’s very own, Trita Parsi.

Listen to Part 1 of NIAC’s panel discussion on the Baghdad nuclear talks.

Play

Iran News Roundup 12/8

Presidential candidates continue war rhetoric

Republican presidential candidates continued their war rhetoric towards Iran on Wednesday (Reuters 12/7). Front running candidate Mitt Romney said that “covert and overt” actions are needed to pressure Iran.  Candidate Jon Huntsman added that “you have to have all options on the table.” Presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman said “the Pentagon must prepare a war plan.”

Stephen Walts argues against any covert or overt actions against Iran based on four grounds: the risk of undesirable escalation, the overestimation of the nuclear threat, the inevitable risk of “blowback,” and the reaffirmation of deep suspicions between the United States and Iran (Walts Foreign Policy 12/7). 

Sanctions watch

The Washington Post reports that AIPAC has endorsed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank despite concerns that the sanctions would raise oil prices and benefit Iran financially (Washington Post 12/7). Platts reports that Iran may divert petrochemical cargoes meant for Europe to Asia if new sanctions are imposed by the European Union (Platts 12/7).

 Jayshree Bajoria details expert opinion on how increased sanctions would weaken European economies, shrink global oil supplies and raise prices, and do little to divert Iran’s nuclear ambitions (Bajoria Huffington Post 12/7).

M.E.K. status update

Republican legislators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to remove M.E.K. from its list of terrorist organization (NY Times 12/7).

Fallen drone

According to a Washington Post article, the fallen drone incident highlights a growing covert strategy against Iran (Washington Post 12/7).  Iran’s PressTV broadcast the first images of the fallen drone.  U.S. officials say they doubt Iran can make use of the drone (AFP 12/7).

Notable Opinion:

In a Guardian op-ed, Seumas Milne says that an attack on Iran would turn a regional “maelstorm into a global firestorm.”

Iran would certainly retaliate directly and through allies against Israel, the US and US Gulf client states, and block the 20% of global oil supplies shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Quite apart from death and destruction, the global economic impact would be incalculable.

All reason and common sense militate against such an act of aggression. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad, said last week it would be a “catastrophe”. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that it could “consume the Middle East in confrontation and conflict that we would regret”.

To read the full piece click here.

  • 27 October 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 1 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in DC, NIAC round-up, US-Iran War

Iran news roundup

Fareed Zakaria says Iran sanctions are enriching IRGC, Obama’s policy is same as Bush’s, and it’s time for talks
Zakaria notes that the Obama of 2008 held that we needed to break away from the pressure-only strategy of the Bush administration and increase diplomatic engagement with Iran.  Now two years into the Obama administration, the U.S.’s policy on Iran has begun to resemble the pressure only strategy of the Bush years.  Fresh from his recent trip to Tehran, Zakaria says the result has been the strengthening of the state and the weakening of the private sector and civil society.  Zakaria calls for Obama to return to the principles he set in 2008 to break with the failed policies of the Bush Administration and find a diplomatic route to break the impasse. (Washington Post 10/26)

Yasaman Baji – Iran experiencing increase in nationalism, anti-U.S. sentiment, and criticism of its politicians in wake of alleged Iranian assassination plot
According to Baji, the recent revelation about an alleged plot by the Iranians to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the related uptick in tensions, has been met with skepticism by Iranians.  She says they are troubled by what they interpret as the U.S.’s intention to weaken Iran with increased sanctions and laying the ground work for a future military attack.  This has led to a strengthening of Iranian nationalism and has increased criticism of the U.S., according to Baji, but she also notes Iranians fault the hardline approach of the Iranian government and the Ahmadinejad administration. (Yasaman Baji –Inter Press Service 10/24)

Iran says interested in returning to negotiations with world powers
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast announced that Iran was ready to restart negotiations with the international community over its nuclear program.  He said that Iran is “ready for useful dialogue and negotiation…which can be based on talks regarding cooperation on common ground.”  The impetus behind this latest public statement by Iran is believed to be EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s recent letter to Iran, where she offered a resumption of negotiations.  The Iranian deputy foreign minister in charge of European and American affairs, Ali Ahani, claimed that the forthcoming official Iranian response to Ashton’s overture was going to be “softer in tone” than it had been in the past. (Daily Star 10/26)

Changes by Google’s may obstruct Iranian citizen’s ability to get around government online censorship
Iranian internet users’ ability to skirt government censorship might be jeopardized by an upcoming move by Google to make changes to its RSS reader, Google Reader.  Iranians, who live in a country with some of the most intense internet censorship in the world, depend on Google Reader to get around government censorship. While these changes are likely to have only a limited effect on Google Reader users in the U.S., they are expected to have a large impact on the average Iranian’s ability to avoid governmental censorship. (TechCrunch 10/26)

Supreme Leader hints at future move to abolish Presidency
Recently, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei publically suggested that in the future the Iranian presidency may no longer be necessary.  In place of the publically elected president Khamenei indicated that a parliamentary chosen Prime Minister could be created.  These comments by Khamenei may be only a threat to current President Ahmadinejad or they could be evidence that a plan to remove the presidency is being seriously looked into.  Ahmadinejad’s recent challenges to Khamenei and the unrest following the 2009 presidential elections may have demonstrated to Khamenei that the existence of a publically elected president poses a significant threat to his power and can lead to public mobilization that is hard to control. (Reuters 10/25) (New York Times 10/26)

Joint Subcommittee Hearing on Iran
On Wednesday the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management held a joint hearing entitled “Iranian Terror Operations on American Soil.”  The panel of speakers included Gen. Jack Keane, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Dr. Matt Levitt, Dr. Lawrence Korb, and Col. Timothy Geraghty.

Commentary on the event discussed the level of rhetoric that occurred when “House Republicans gave the stage Wednesday to hardliners who called for everything from cyber attacks to political assassinations.” (Huffington Post 10/26)(LA Times 10/26)

Al Gharib pointed out that General Keane’s claim during the hearing that Iran has been America’s “number one strategic enemy” since 1980 neglected to recall that in the 80’s the U.S. was in the middle of the Cold War and saw the U.S.S.R. as the largest strategic threat. (Think Progress 10/26)

In his opening remarks, Committee chairman Peter King claimed that Iranian diplomats inside the U.S. are acting as spies and should be kicked out of the country.  Additionally, he expressed his belief that the recent alleged assassination plot was an “act of war” by Iran. (Huffington Post 10/27)

Statements and video of the hearing can be found on the Homeland Security Committee’s website.

Chinese tech firm Huawei assisting Iranian government to crackdown on reformists
The Chinese tech firm Huawei is today Iran’s second largest mobile phone service provider.  In addition to normal cell phone services, it has been reported that the company is also assisting the Iranian government and IRGC in its crackdown on dissidents.  As a cell phone service provider Huawei has access to both their users’ locations and communications.  By passing this information to the Iranian authorities it is allegedly helping Iran arrest and quiet dissent in the country. (Wall Street Journal 10/27)

Clinton gives interview with Voice of America Persian and Parazit on U.S.-Iran relations
Giving two interviews in the same day directed at the Iranian people, Secretary of State Clinton discussed both the U.S.’s relationship with the Iranian government and its relationship with the Iranian citizenry.   While she did express her concern that Iran was moving from a dictatorship to a military dictatorship, she also stated that she hoped to see the U.S. reengage with Tehran to find a peaceful solution to their problems.  Addressing the Iranian public, she explained that she desired to see the U.S. forge a stronger relationship with the Iranian people.  To assist in this process, she announced the launching of a “virtual embassy” before the end of the year.  The role of the online embassy would be to help facilitate Iranian study and travel to the U.S. (EA World View 11/26)

  • 20 October 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in DC, Events in Iran, Sanctions

Paying for the US-Iran Feud With Blood

In the summer of 2009, in the aftermath of the elections, there was obviously a lot going on in Iran. But one of the things that I remember made everyone hold their breaths in those months is probably not what you’re assuming right now.

On July 15 2009, an Iranian passenger jet – a Russian-made Tupolev – crashed, killing all 168 people on board. Nine days later, another plane – a Russian-made Ilyushin – crashed in a local airport, killing over 20 people. The close succession of crashes frightened us all, and made us realize how vulnerable Iranians really are to sanctions.

At the time, I, along with many other Iranian Americans, was in Iran, and to get between cities and provinces I had to fly. I remember praying that nothing would go wrong as I entered each plane, before takeoff, and before landing. And I remember holding on for dear life when I heard the plane rattle the slightest bit. And I’m not scared of flying.

I remember asking my family why the crashes had occurred. Were Iranian planes just not up to par to American ones? “Sanctions,” they responded, surprised at my ignorance.

Is the Sanctions Debate Justifying the Military Option?

This post originally appeared at InsideIran.org.

To an outsider, it may seem like Washington is united in favor of imposing new sanctions on Iran. But, like in Iran itself, the internal wrangling over this question among Washington policymakers is much more complex and divided by factions than one may assume.

Congressional leaders from both parties have long called for new sanctions — and, bolstered by the strong support of the pro-Israel lobby, even some Democrats have undermined the President’s engagement strategy in their zeal for a more heavy-handed approach. Now that the administration has moved past direct talks and embraced the pressure track, one would assume that Congress, the President and the rest of the Iran policymaking community is in harmony.

But they’re not. Not even close.

NIAC 2010 Conference Video: Iran at a Crossroads

In case you missed our livestream video, here is the full conference video, available for viewing.  We apologize for the beginning part being cut off, we experienced some technical difficulties at the start (but it gets better!)

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more about “NIAC 2010 Conference Video: Iran at a…“, posted with vodpod

Iran at a Crossroads – LIVESTREAMING Here

UPDATE: It’s confirmed, we’ll be Livestreaming our conference here at niacINsight tomorrow.  So tune in between 9:00 and 2:00 to see what’s happening!

Iran used to be a pretty black-and-white issue. You either wanted war, or not.  Diplomacy, or not.  Regime change, or not.

Those days of simple choices between two clear opposites–they’re long gone.

Now, the rise of an indigenous opposition movement has thrown a new set of variables into questions of “regime change,” diplomacy, and even human rights.  Iran-watchers are struggling with the cognitive dissonance of it all: how can you still oppose war but support the dismantling of the Islamic theocracy?  How can someone help the opposition but still oppose overt US government involvement? And don’t even get me started on the nuclear issue…

All of this confusion amid the new complex reality of post-June 12th Iran means it’s probably a good thing that people are still debating the issue as vigorously as ever.  Open any major newspaper in the US and chances are you’ll find at least one or two (often four or five) different articles about Iran.  From op-eds advocating a preemptive strike, to analysts who say the Green Movement is just a fad–there is a wider diversity of opinions now than ever before.  Even politicians and pundits who might otherwise have the luxury of ignoring the Iran issue are being forced to weigh in (see Palin, Sarah), and despite their often ludicrous claims, ultimately the best thing for US-Iran policy is a robust debate about substantive issues.  That’s the only way we’ll be able to think our way through this difficult challenge.

(Incidentally, some major steps have already been taken in formulating a coherent policy proposal: see here and here for one approach that’s coming clearer into view).

Our goal here at NIAC is to contribute some wisdom and clarity to the debate on Iran — both among the Iranian-American community and inside the Washington DC beltway.  Toward that end, we are pleased to announce our upcoming conference on Capitol Hill: “Iran at a Crossroads: Assessing a Changing Landscape.” We’re bringing together the top Iran experts in the world, alongside members of Congress and their staffs, to explore the most important questions facing US-Iran policy today.

We’ll look into the current state of the Green Movement as the latest chapter in Iran’s 100-year democratic evolution.  We’ll examine the prospects for US-Iran relations one year after President Obama began his engagement strategy, and we’ll try to determine if there is a US-Iran war looming on the horizon.  (And we’ll also celebrate the upcoming Norooz holiday with some excellent food and our very own haft-seen table).

The video will be streamed live on this site, niacINsight, so check back here next Wednesday morning (March 10) at 9am for the feed.  Or feel free to RSVP and show up in person.

We are grateful to our special guests Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), along with all of our excellent panelists (including our friends at EA).

Full info available below the jump, or at niacouncil.org/march10.  Hope to see you there!