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Iran News Roundup 12/15

Broad Iran sanctions approved by the House

The House of Representatives approved central bank sanctions on Iran as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be sent to the President by the end of the week (Newsweek 12/15).

The House also approved two standalone Iran sanctions bills, H.R. 1905 and H.R.2105.  H.R.1905 eliminates the President’s humanitarian waiver to allow for parts and repairs of Iranian civilian airplanes, puts legal restrictions on contacts between U.S. and Iranian officials, and places sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. The bill must now go to the Senate for consideration, which is not expected until after the New Year (The Hill 12/14).

Reuters reports that Asian countries China, India, South Korea, and Japan are increasingly worried about oil in light of new Iran sanctions. (Reuters 12/15). China is looking to obtain discounted Iranian oil as the U.S. increases pressure on Iran. “Any restriction on oil supplies from Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, could drive up already high oil prices and threaten economies already facing the impact of the euro zone debt crisis.”

“This is an issue that could have a big impact on the global economy in terms of crude prices, so our nation will pay close attention to this with grave concern,” said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

Growing concern over the number of executions in iran

Amnesty International warned of “a new wave of drug offence executions”  in a report published yesterday. Public and secret hangings have increased in what has been called “a killing spree of staggering proportions” (Guardian 12/14).

War watch

On Tuesday former Vice-president Cheney advised the Obama administration to launch a “quick air strike” against Iran after it had captured the U.S. drone.  NIAC’s Trita Parsi says, “the Obama administration’s decision not to risk war by going in and destroying the drone reflects its desire to avoid catastrophic escalation” (Salon 12/12).

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman, speaking to CNN, said he’d commit to a ground invasion to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon (Think Progress 12/14).

Revolutionary Guards commander Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali said Iran would move the uranium enrichment centers to safer locations if Iran were attacked (Reuters 12/14).

Additional Notable News:

State department official Frederick Hof toldCongress that Syrian president Assad’s hold on power will be short-lived despite the repression of protestors.

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.

  • 28 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Legislative Agenda, MEK, NIAC round-up, Sanctions

Iran News Roundup 11/28

Sanctions push in Europe, US
Financial Times writes that France is leading a push to implement a European Union oil embargo against Iran.  They report that while the UK is behind such a move, it is expected to meet resistance from Spain and Italy who are the two biggest importers of Iranian oil in Europe (Financial Times 11/24).   According to statements made by German Foreign Minister Westerwelle, Germany may be willing to support an oil embargo, but is not behind sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) (EA Worldview 11/28).  In the U.S., amendments to the annual defense authorization bill that would force CBI sanctions and limit any Presidential waiver could go to a vote this week.   Currently there are two competing amendments being proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk, and according to a report in CQ efforts talks are currently underway to find language regarding these sanctions that both sides and the White House “can live with” (CQ 11/26).

Effects of Sanctions here and Iran
Recently there are increasing signs that Iranian sanctions are having an effect both inside and outside Iran.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the price of oil is rising as a result of talk by the EU of an oil embargo on Iran (Wall Street Journal 11/28).  Some have argued recently that if an such an embargo was put in place that Saudi Arabia could prevent an increase in oil prices by increasing their oil production to make up for the loss of oil from Iran.  Despite such talk, an article in Foreign Affairs argued against this, pointing out that if an embargo occurred, Saudi Arabia’s spare production capacity would be insufficient to replace the lost supply of Iranian oil, nor is it clear they would be fully willing to do this ( Foreign Affairs July/August).   Sanctions targeted against Iranian officials prevented Irani’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi from a planned visit to Denmark after Hungary refused to allow him to fly over their country (AFP 11/28).

Notable Opinion
Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer writes in the New York Times about parallels between the 1981 Israeli strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor and the current talks of striking Iran’s nuclear program.  He warns that we must heed “The Real Lesson of Iraq“:

Israelis tend to credit this attack for denying Iraq a nuclear weapons capability. However, sources that have emerged since 2003 demonstrate that the attack created an unprecedented Iraqi consensus about the need for a nuclear deterrent and triggered a more intensive effort to acquire them. By the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq stood on the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability.

What is known about Iran’s nuclear program suggests an attack could have similar consequences. Iran’s erratic nuclear advances over the past decade suggest that there is no consensus about whether and when to develop a nuclear weapons capability. While it is possible that Iran could develop fissile material for a nuclear weapon within weeks or months, such a high-risk move would require a consensus that does not currently exist in Tehran. Instead, Iran is edging closer toward a nuclear weapons option. An attack is one of the very few events that could create consensus in Tehran that it is necessary to develop nuclear weapons sooner rather than later.

Read the full piece at nytimes.com

  • 21 November 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Legislative Agenda, Sanctions, UN

New Iran sanctions coming today

Today the US and UK will announce a new round of sanctions against Iran.  With so many existing sanctions in place, it is helpful to unpack exactly what additional measures are now being enacted.

The UK will implement the “nuclear option” of sanctioning Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, severing all ties with Iranian banks:

From 1500 GMT on Monday, all UK credit and financial institutions are required to cease all transactions with banks including the Central Bank of Iran.

It is the first time the UK has cut off a country’s banking sector in this way.

The US on the other hand will not issue blanket sanctions against Iran’s central bank just yet, but will instead designate Iran and its central bank as a “primary money laundering concern” which could prepare the ground for central bank sanctions in the future:

US officials said this new action would serve as a warning to governments and businesses in Europe, Asia and Latin America to wind down their ties to Bank Markazi and their purchases of Iranian crude oil, as even tougher actions likely will be coming down the road.

The Obama Administration is hoping to avoid an oil price spike that could result from issuing blanket sanctions on the Central Bank, stopping just short of taking direct  measures to immediately punish any country or company purchasing energy from Iran:

“This allows foreign countries to think about how to protect themselves and wean themselves off Iranian oil in a way that doesn’t disrupt the energy markets,” a senior US official briefed on the new action said. “This says: ‘You should be thinking quite seriously about cutting off your ties to the central bank’.”

Iran News Roundup 11/18

Central Bank sanctions being pushed by Congress
Minority Senate leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation on behalf of Sen. Mark Kirk that would sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) in an attempt to “collapse” the Iranian economy (The Hill 11/17).  In the House, a letter with bipartisan support, signed by House leadership and Foreign Affairs Committee leaders from both parties, was sent to the president pressing him to take action on the CBI (Read letter here).

Yet, while there may be support for CBI sanctions on the Hill, according to a USA Today piece by Oren Dorell, sanctions do not harm the Iranian government as much as they hurt the Iranian middle class.  As NIAC president Trita Parsi says in the article, sanctions actually benefit the Revolutionary Guard as they increase the profitability of smuggling, which the Revolutionary Guard has a virtual monopoly on (USA Today 11/17).  This message was echoed at a recent IISS event, where “panelists agreed that while sanctions produce social consequences, they will not achieve the political aim of ending the Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions” (Lobelog 11/17).  An Inner Press Service article spotlights economic concerns for Iran sanctions, pointing out that Obama administration officials worry that targeting Iranian oil, which is a primary driver for the world economy, could seriously harm Europe’s struggling economy and the U.S.’s tentative economic recovery (Inner Press Service 11/17).

  • 7 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Legislative Agenda, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 11/7

War watch: Israeli and U.S. officials discuss military strikes on Iran
This past week has seen an increased amount of war talk in both Israel and the U.S.  Shimon Peres joined in, saying, “the possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option.”  Yet, ex-Mossad chief Ephaim Halevy attacked the justification for such military attacks, saying that Iran is “far from posing an existential threat.”  In the U.S. former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice said that the U.S. needed to “be doing everything it can to bring [Iran] down.”  Former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh said that the U.S. is the only country that has the ability to effectively strike Iran’s nuclear program, and that Israel and Saudi Arabia would not live with a nuclear armed “suicidal theocracy” in the Middle East.  However, an article in International Security Journal points out, just like with the strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq, attacking Iran’s nuclear program would likely increase proliferation risks not reduce them.

Much speculation regarding upcoming IAEA report
A Washington Post article reports that the soon-to-be-released IAEA report will present evidence that Iran has an active nuclear weapons development program.  Additionally, it is being claimed that Iran has built a large steel container that could be used to test nuclear explosions.  On the overall impact of the report, a western diplomat was quoted as saying that there is no “killer fact” or “smoking gun” that would prove that Iran is building nuclear weapons. (Washington Post 11/6) (Financial Times 11/6)

Standoff between Congress and Obama on Iranian Central Bank sanctions?
On Friday, Obama Administration officials signaled in the LA Times that they will not go forward with the so-called “nuclear option” of sanctions—sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).  They say such sanctions could have a negative impact on international oil markets and international economies as a whole, and could fracture international unity against Iran.  Instead they say they are likely to focus on increasing sanctions enforcement through the UN and ramping up other sanctions.  (Los Angeles Times 11/4)

But earlier in the week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislationthat would impose a 30-day deadline for the President to impose CBI sanctions.  And in the Senate, Mark Kirk announced today that he will offer an amendment to the State Department funding bill this week that would force CBI sanctions.  Kirk and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to the President signed by over 90 Senators calling for CBI sanctions in August.

 

Other notable news stories:
Ron Paul warns that additional sanctions take us closer to war with Iran

Guardian op-ed: Why military strikes against Iran are a bad idea for Israel

Rothkopf Foreign Policy op-ed: How the world is misreading Obama on Iran

Beeman op-ed: Legislation would prevent diplomacy and limit president’s leverage with Iran

  • 19 September 2011
  • Posted By Helia Ighani
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Congress, Legislative Agenda, Persian Gulf, US-Iran War

U.S. military leaders push for direct communications with Iran

In January 2008, the U.S. Navy was on the verge of opening fire on three Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats, which were taking provocative action in close proximity to the American ships.  Fortunately, no shots were fired that day, but the danger of armed conflict breaking out between two nations already on the brink was clear.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, a series of “near-miss” encounters between U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf has convinced many U.S. military officials that there needs to a direct military hotline between the United States and Iran to defuse any potential situation that could arise.

During a talk at the University of Miami last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen told the audience that he is troubled by the lack of contact between the United States and Iran. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said, “U.S. officials could still talk with the Soviets.”

The catalyst behind the recent push rises out of the concern that a run-in between the two severed nations in the Persian Gulf could escalate to a large-scale conflict.  As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said, “This [the Persian Gulf] is a very volatile area. The risk of an incident, and of an incident escalating, is real.”

In fact, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last year, included a provision mandating the Pentagon “to assess the merits an Incidents at Sea agreement between the US, Iran, and other states to avoid military confrontation in the Persian Gulf.”  That provision was based on the Incidents at Sea resolution, introduced in the previous Congress by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Geoff Davis (R-KY).

As the Wall Street Journal notes, opening up communications with Iran could not just help prevent a confrontation in the Persian Gulf, it could also develop into a mechanism to stabilize tensions and prevent conflict throughout the region:

“Although that current proposal would only cover naval incidents, some U.S. officials say they believe that if it proves workable and useful it could be expanded into a broader hot line that could be used to defuse not just confrontations at sea, but also a broader array of potential conflicts. The issue is also being studied at the State Department’s Policy Planning office.”

Military leaders, including Mullen, Gates, and David Petraeus, have vigorously pushed back against calls for military strikes on Iran and have emphasized the dangers that war with Iran would bring.  Clearly it is in the interest of those responsible for U.S. troops and national security to prevent a disastrous war.  Establishing direct lines to prevent incidents in the Persian Gulf would be a positive first step, but further talks must be established to address the many volatile issues–such as instability in Afghanistan and Iraq–where conflict could quickly push us past the brink.

MEK’s attempts to hijack the Green Movement

The Mujahedin-e Khalq campaign to be removed from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organization’s has been fueled by plenty of misinformation.  One big lie that MEK has spread in Washington is that the group is popularly supported in Iran and is the “main opposition.”

This attempt to hijack Iran’s indigenous Green Movement is nothing new.

In his recent book, Then They Came For Me, journalist Maziar Bahari provides a fascinating account of his experience covering the 2009 elections in Iran and their aftermath, and the detention and abuse he endured when he was arrested and detained for 118 days in Evin prison.

Before his arrest, Bahari covered the massive protests and witnessed firsthand how “MEK sympathizers had acted as agents provocateurs among the protestors, inciting violence” during the peaceful demonstrations.

Bahari writes that, during the June 13 demonstration, “The Basijis…normally so rash and confrontational—were clearly intimidated by the sheer size of the crowd.”  But as he worked his way through the masses, Bahari heard shots ring out.  A small group of MEK sympathizers were attacking a Basij building with Molotov cocktails:

“Before long, the Basijis stopped firing warning shots and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors.  The two Basijis on the roof did not seem to care if the people they were shooting at were attackers or passerbys.  Many peaceful demonstrators in the crowd panicked and started to throw stones at the compound.”

Bahari describes how one of the men attacking the base was shot and killed by the Basijis.  Ultimately 7 people were killed in the attack, and the violence rippled through the nonviolent protests.

“As the Basij started to spread bullets into the crowd, as people scrambled to take cover as bloodied people ran out of the street, and as MEK supporters started to chant, “Death to the Islamic Republic,” I continued to film.

“Hush. Be quiet!  Change the slogan!  Allahu akbar! God is great!” screamed a couple of older men trying to get the crowd out of the street.  “We haven’t come here to say, ‘Death to the Islamic Republic.’”

“We here to support Mousavi,” said another woman.  “Not fight!”

A small group of young men approached a few of the older men who were trying to calm people down.  “Kafeh shin madar saga!” one said, throwing punches at an older man.  “Shut up, you sons of bitches!”  The crowd erupted into a brawl.

“Death to Khamenei!” cried a teenager as he joined the others hitting the older men.  I turned my camera toward him.

Bahari goes on to describe the reaction among Green Movement leaders:

Mousavi was quite upset about the attack, but he was not going to let terrorists hijack the green movement—which was how the support for Mousavi was becoming known.  Mousavi had decided to tell his supporters to take to the streets one more time and avoid any confrontation with the police and the Guards that could provoke further violence.

Bahari subsequently published an article in Newsweek on the incident, “Who’s Behind Tehran’s Violence?  Opposition supporters worry about their movement being hijacked.”  The piece, which came out just days before Bahari was arrested, quotes a peaceful demonstrator:

“I think some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation.  Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn’t allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution.”

Bahari writes:

“The supposed reelection of Ahmadinejad was a gift to such groups. On their Web sites they claim that the alleged rigging of the vote has revealed the true face of the regime. (Like some Israeli commentators, they argue that the victory of a moderate like Mousavi would actually extend the life of the regime.) It is true that in the past, whenever hardliners have intensified their grip, these groups have gained more support. They reacted angrily when pro-reform Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997.”

The vast majority of Iranians don’t want these groups to have any part in their movement for democracy.  They continue to be wary of attempts by violent groups to “hijack” their movement and risk reigniting a vicious cycle of violence that would undermine well over a century of work toward democracy in Iran.  De-listing the MEK would do just that.

  • 15 February 2011
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda, UN

NIAC Applauds Senate Call for Human Rights Monitor

NIAC applauds Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and 23 other Senators who today called for the Obama Administration to work with the international community to establish an independent U.N. human rights monitor on Iran when the U.N. Human Rights Council convenes this March. The action taken by the Senators in support of greater international scrutiny of Iran’s human rights abuses comes just one day after thousands of Iranians defied threats from the Iranian government by taking to the streets in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia and expressing their own aspirations for democracy and rule of law.

The Senators endorsed this action in a letter to Secretary Clinton that was strongly supported by NIAC.

“The establishment of a U.N. human rights monitor is an important, overdue step to address the Iranian government’s abuses,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “Iran’s destiny can only be decided by the Iranian people, but as human rights violations continue in Iran, the international community must be loud and clear that universal rights must be respected.”

The Senate letter is critical of the Human Rights Council’s failure to take any concrete measures to address Iran’s human rights situation in the time that has followed Iran’s disputed June 2009 elections. The letter states, “Establishing an independent U.N. human rights monitor charged with monitoring and reporting on Iran’s human rights violations is an important effort to provide some protection for Iran’s human rights and democracy movement.”

NIAC has joined Iranian human rights defenders like Shirin Ebadi and international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch in calling for the UN to establish an independent human rights monitor on Iran.

“The United Nations has appointed human rights monitors to address human rights crises in other countries, but not in Iran,” said Abdi. “The Iranian people deserve better.”

The following senators signed the letter to Secretary Clinton: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M).

Following is the text of the letter:

Ominous signs for new Congress’ Iran agenda: sanctions, blockade, war

This past Wednesday, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee convened for a hearing on “Implementing Tougher Sanctions on Iran” and offered a frightening preview of what will be on the House’s agenda next year.

At the hearing, Representative Don Manzullo (R-IL) laid out what may be the game plan by the new Republican Congress to drag the US into yet a third war in the Middle East:

“If these sanctions don’t work, then the next step would be a blockade,” Manzullo said looking over his shoulder to incoming chairwoman Ros Lehtinen.  “And the next step would be some type of—you hate to use the word—but military action.”

Even though it is evident that sanctions have weakened Iran’s economy, it should come as no surprise that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now wants to pressure the Administration to impose even tougher sanctions on Iran.

“Since the 1990’s, the US and international efforts to stop growing Iranian threat have been half-hearted at best. The problem is not that a tough approach has failed, but that it has yet to be fully tried.”

When it came to the opposition Green Movement in Iran – a movement based on the civil and human rights on Iranians -Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) was incensed that his question about support  for that movement was answered instead with a response about supporting human rights. “My question is what are we doing to promote the opposition, not human rights.”

It appears that the representatives have blindfolded themselves to what is actually going on in Iran and are taking sides on issues that they don’t seem to fully comprehend.

Read NIAC’s report from the hearing