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  • 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.”

Feinstein Delivers Strong Defense of Diplomacy on Senate Floor

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added to her credentials as a champion of diplomacy with Iran with a remarkable speech on the floor of the Senate last night. Sen. Feinstein warned that S.1881, a sanctions bill from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that has garnered 59 cosponsors, would “collapse negotiations” and be a “march toward war.”

Her speech came at a critical time. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran announced an agreement to implement the first phase nuclear deal struck in November. Further, a number of Senators are voicing their strong opposition to the new Iran sanctions, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Despite the growing opposition, the bill still retains the support of a majority of U.S. Senators.

Feinstein began her speech by noting that countries can change direction, citing the examples of post-war Germany and Japan, Spain, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa. Further, she noted that several nations have abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons, including Sweden, Argentina and South Korea. Citing robust diplomatic engagement and steps to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Feinstein suggested that Iran could be on the cusp of a similar change “and that it is the job of diplomay to push for that change.”

Feinstein highlighted the strong security benefits of the first phase nuclear deal, including that it will require Iran to cap its enrichment at 5% and eliminate its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, all while instituting “the most intrusive international inspection regime ever” to verify compliance.

According to Feinstein, Senate passage of S.1881 would kill the deal and ongoing talks with Iran, “and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed. “ Further, Senate passage would “play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.”  Those Iranian hardliners would argue that Rouhani and Zarif “exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harsh punitive sanctions.”

“Above all,” Feinstein added, “they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy–we are interested in regime change. “ Nuclear negotiations would collapse, Iran’s nuclear program would be unconstrained, and the U.S. would only be left with military options.

Feinstein, citing Secretary of State John Kerry’s formal request that the Senate hold off on new sanctions to allow the negotiators time and space to do their jobs, argued that the Menendez-Kirk bill “is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

Citing the fact that new sanctions would collapse the agreement, Feinstein asked, “How does that (passing new sanctions) make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.”

Sen. Feinstein concluded by stating that the first phase nuclear deal with Iran “is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own. To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S.1881).”

Sen. Feinstein’s strong speech could weaken support for the sanctions bill at a critical time, encouraging other Senators to make their opposition to the bill public. Currently, two dozen Senators have yet to take a formal public position on the bill.

  • 11 December 2013
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Sen. Rockefeller Supports Deal, Opposes New Sanctions

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), a senior Democrat and the former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, delivered a strong defense of the nuclear deal with Iran on the floor of the Senate this afternoon while warning that new sanctions would jeopardize the deal.

According to Sen. Rockefeller, “The question is how – not whether – we prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. For the first time in years, there is a real opportunity to verifiably eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability through tough negotiations rather than by acts of war.”

The speech comes at a critical time as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) are seeking to rally support to push new sanctions through next week — the last week the Senate will be in session in 2013.  The Obama administration has strongly warned against new sanctions, which would violate the terms of the nuclear deal, including in Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.  Secretary Kerry also briefed Senators in a closed-door briefing today.

“The initial interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is an encouraging first step, and I urge my colleagues not to put it at risk by passing new sanctions right now,” Sen. Rockefeller warned. ”Instead, we should simply state the obvious: If Iran reneges or plays games, we will quickly pass new sanctions the very moment the need arises.”

New sanctions would also risk unraveling the sanctions regime by undermining international faith in the U.S. approach, according to the Senator.  ”New sanctions now could be criticized as a violation of the interim agreement. Such a move could separate us from our negotiating partners in the P5+1, and it could further complicate the already difficult negotiations of a final agreement.”

Raising the specter of military conflict as the likely outcome of failed diplomacy, Sen. Rockefeller asked his colleagues, “Why would we risk an opportunity that may well be the only chance we have to resolve this without using military force?”

“All of us have lived with war for the past 12 years. We have seen up close the incalculable financial and human cost that has come with these wars, and the burden that the wars now put on our troops, their families, and our economy.”

Sen. Rockefeller also implied that more of his colleagues should take to the floor in support of the agreement.  A number of lawmakers have issued positive statements, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), though Sen. Rockefeller is the first to do so on the Senate floor.

You can view a video of the speech below and and the full text of his speech here.

  • 15 November 2013
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions

Tide is Turning Towards Diplomacy as Key Senators Speak Out Against New Iran Sanctions

President Obama and the White House have been engaged in a battle in the Senate to block the chamber from passing new sanctions that could derail ongoing negotiations with Iran. The White House has been clear: new sanctions could kill the talks and put the U.S. on a “path to war.”

Groups including NIAC, FCNL, Peace Action, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have  all come out against new Senate sanctions. Groups including AIPAC and Foundation for Defense of Democracies are, as usual, advocating more sanctions. AIPAC even says they will explicitly try to kill a deal.

But it looks like the pro-diplomacy side is winning.

Senators Carl Levin, Christopher Murphy, and Dianne Feinstein have all now come out in opposition to new Iran sanctions, saying they will instead support  the ongoing negotiations with Iran. And today, even Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told the BBC  today he will not support new sanctions for now, saying, ”I am skeptical of talks with Iran but willing to give the Obama administration a couple months.”

Here are the three Senators who are leading the charge to protect diplomacy from a new sanctions push:

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)

 

 

“Whether it is a 10%, 40% or 60% chance [that the change is real], it should be tested and probed. We should not at this time impose additional sanctions.” - Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee

 

 

 

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

 

 

“I am baffled by the insistence of some senators to undermine the P5+1 talks. I will continue to support these negotiations and oppose any new sanctions as long as we are making progress toward a genuine solution.” – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

 

 

 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

 

 

“At this critical juncture in these negotiations when Iran may be on the verge of making serious concessions regarding its nuclear program, I worry it would be counterproductive for Congress to authorize a new round of sanctions, diminishing American leverage and weakening the hands of Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in the P5+1.”  - Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

 

 

 

 

While the House of Representatives already voted in support of new sanctions just days before Rouhani’s inauguration, a recent letter calling for the Senate to support new sanctions drew less than half as many supporters as a previous letter supporting diplomacy and calling for sanctions to be traded in for Iranian nuclear concessions.

Regardless, it is now up to the Senate to decide whether to pass a sanctions bill opposed by the White House. The chamber has yet to advance their own  bill despite prodding from hawks like Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The most likely path for the new sanctions was the National Defense Authorization Act, expected to be on the Senate floor next week. But with the two Senators who will manage the bill – Levin and McCain – now opposed to adding sanctions, U.S. negotiators are likely to have more space to conduct talks and secure a framework for a deal without Congressional interference.

If the sanctions battle can be worn, the next battle looms: will Congress be able to accept a good deal that puts constraints on Iran’s nuclear program to protect against weaponization in exchange for sanctions relief? Or will they set unrealistic Bush-era demands, such as that Iran completely end even civilian nuclear work, to scuttle the talks? Stay tuned.

  • 16 September 2013
  • Posted By Shadi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions

Experts Consider Prospects for Iran Diplomacy Amid Syria Crisis

The alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing debate within the United States over military intervention has raised many questions regarding the prospects of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

On September 10, in efforts to shed light on the current complex dynamic between Iran, Syria and the United States, as well as to explore the potential for diplomacy with Iran, the American Security Project hosted an event entitled “Prospects for a Diplomatic Solution in Iran.” This panel included Greg ThielmannSenior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, Joel Rubin, Policy Director for the Ploughshares Fund and Alireza Nader, International Policy Analyst for the RAND Corporation.

Thielmann initiated the discussion by providing a comprehensive update on the status of Iran’s nuclear program. Thielmann discredited the current 2015 projected date of Iran being able to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons. He stated, “2015 is a worst case number the intelligence community has used for a long time, now requiring so many qualifications it is no longer a meaningful projection.”

Describing the current position of Iran’s nuclear program, Thielmann said,  “whatever redlines are drawn on cartoon bombs, Iran is not yet on the verge of being able to make a no warning dash to nuclear weapons.” He argued that the present task for the United States is to convince Iran through diplomacy that nuclear weapons development is not necessary for deterrence, or in Iran’s national interest.

Joel Rubin focused primarily on the potential for diplomacy with Iran in light of Syria. Rubin emphasized “it’s always darkest before the dawn when it comes to diplomacy.”  Opportunities are always present because  “diplomacy is not linear, different pressures and key moments combined with creativity can produce results.”

Rubin urged decision-makers, and analysts like himself, to “stretch [their] minds in how [they] think of diplomacy.” Providing instances of such creative diplomacy, Rubin referenced Russia’s recent proposal for Syria, as well as Rouhani’s and Mohammad Javad Zarif’s (the new Iranian Foreign Minister) innovative use of “twitter diplomacy.”

Another strategic point Rubin articulated is that “Congress can’t be counted on, but can’t be ignored.” This became increasingly apparent days before Rouhani’s inauguration, when the House passed a new bill (H.R. 850) that would impose harsh sanctions on Iran.  Rubin warned that several of the recently proposed sanctions (including H.R.850) contain “language that frankly would handcuff the president’s ability to negotiate a diplomatic deal with Iran on its nuclear program,” including restrictions on the President’s ability to waive certain sanctions. According to Rubin, there are currently “so many sanctions that it is hard to keep track of them” due to three decades of accumulation, in addition to multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The key question is whether Obama and his team have enough flexibility to move on sanctions relief that would be essential to negotiating a nuclear deal.

The final speaker, Alireza Nader, discussed the internal politics of Iran and how the election of Iran’s president Rouhani provides “real opportunities for the United States and its partners to resolve the nuclear crisis diplomatically.”

Although the election of this relatively moderate president was a surprise to many in Iran and the United States, Nader argued that Rouhani is not a transformative figure, is not a reformist, and does not want democracy for Iran. He is a conservative cleric and regime insider who supported the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. However, arguing against many who claim that Rouhani is too inline with the Islamic Republic to bring about new solutions to this historic conflict, Nader claims “it is because he is part of the system that he can lead Iran through a diplomatic solution.”

All three panelists agreed that now is the time to engage Iran diplomatically to resolve the nuclear issue.  The three panelists similarly acknowledged the power of offering to lift sanctions to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran.  There seems to be a growing push for diplomatic engagement with Iran. However, the complexity of conditions and the uncertainty of Syria’s crisis make it difficult to predict how future negotiations will unfold.

  • 8 August 2013
  • Posted By Caroline Cohn
  • 2 Comments
  • discrimination, Sanctions

Want to book a flight to Iran on Kayak? Sorry. But North Korea’s nice this time of year.

When Iranian Americans started reaching out to us a few weeks ago asking why websites like Kayak and Priceline were no longer allowing users to book flights to Iran, NIAC contacted the top executives of seven online travel agencies currently engaging in the practice to attempt to fix the problem. We told these companies – Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Cheaptickets, Hotwire, and Kayak – that, while sanctions are broad and confusing, they do not prohibit travel or the booking of travel to Iran. Since then, we’ve been contacted by Orbitz’s VP for Corporate Affairs who told us that the reason they block these sales is indeed sanctions. Or rather, the over-enforcement of sanctions that are so broad and ambiguous, private companies have been scared out of doing any business related to Iran even if it means booking flights for Iranian Americans to visit family.

Travel hurdles and restrictions aren’t a foreign concept in the U.S. You can’t simply book a flight to Cuba, either. In fact, all travel to Cuba by Americans traveling as individuals is expressly prohibited. Though, as of 2012, you can go to Cuba in a group – so long as you travel with an organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department. In any case, given the stringent travel restrictions on Cuba, it makes sense that if you search for a flight to Havana on Tripadvisor, your attempt fails and the same error message – “we cannot complete your request…” – appears.

In the case of Iran, however, U.S. federal regulations explicitly do not restrict travel, and they certainly do not prohibit online travel agencies from facilitating Iran-related travel. And yet, as is the case with most other goods and services that are technically exempted from the sanctions, it appears that many companies are simply unaware of or unwilling to take advantage.

But what about North Korea, the country threatening war with the U.S. and our allies, and with a much more extensive nuclear war capability than Iran? Interestingly, we noticed yesterday that you actually can book flight tickets to Pyongyang, North Korea, through one of the websites, Kayak.com. Type in “Pyongyang” as your destination on Kayak, and you can find flights with no problem; although, some of the other online travel sites won’t process your request.

So why can’t you book flights to Iran? De jure technicalities aside, the de facto consequences of broad sanctions on Iran is clear. The Iran sanctions are the harshest sanctions regime ever imposed on a country during peacetime, according to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Many businesses, like many of these online travel agencies, have been convinced that zero association with Iran is a better business decision than the potential costs associated with any sort of business association. This has actually been the unofficial U.S. policy with regard to Iran sanctions for some time, to convince private actors that any business involving Iran, even if it’s perfectly legal, is simply not worth the risk. And this has also been the mission of organizations like United Against Nuclear Iran who name and shame any company doing any business with Iran, even if its legitimate.

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.”

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 2 August 2013
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Sanctions

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

On Wednesday, House leadership ignored the Iranian peoples’ call for change and moderation and voted for new punishing sanctions on the Iranian people.

But twenty lawmakers showed courage and leadership by voting no, inviting attacks from the pro-war lobby.  Other representatives who share their views were unwilling to take that risk.  Those twenty representatives need to know that those who oppose war and unending sanctions appreciate their stand, and that we have their back.

Will you sign the petition thanking them for standing up for peace and diplomacy with Iran?

 

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

Dear Representatives,

As someone who strongly opposes war between the U.S. and Iran, I thank you for your leadership in standing against new Iran sanctions that undermine diplomacy and punish ordinary Iranians. The courage you showed in standing up for new approach between the U.S. and Iran is precisely what has been lacking in the relationship between the two countries. I commend you and hope you will continue to work with your colleagues to build momentum toward a positive resolution of the U.S.-Iran standoff.

Thank you,

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1,823 signatures

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Learn more about the vote and see the list of lawmakers below and watch the sanctions floor debate here:

  • 10 July 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, Sanctions

Escalating Iran Sanctions Could Damage Hopes for New Beginning

On Monday, July 1 new Executive and Congressional sanctions on Iran, put in place before Iran’s recent elections, came into force. These new sanctions target the shipping and automobile sectors, financial transactions involving gold, and holdings of Iran’s currency, the rial. These latest sanctions come amid a growing debate over whether sanctions could undermine diplomatic opportunities and moderates within Iran in the wake of Iran’s recent elections. However, there is little sign that the sanctions will abate, with the House of Representatives considering a floor vote on new, sweeping sanctions in the weeks before Iran’s President-elect, Hassan Rouhani, even enters office.

Rouhani’s ability to deliver and change the policies of the Iranian government remains a question mark. During his campaign, the former nuclear negotiator pledged to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” with the outside world, release political prisoners, and potentially to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent in order to ease tensions with the West.  But his political flexibility may be limited in the face of intensifying economic pressure and fear that the United States is only interested in regime change.