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  • 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.

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.

  • 25 September 2013
  • Posted By Ryan Costello
  • 0 Comments
  • Uncategorized

Cruz Takes Break from Fake Filibuster to Block Iran Diplomacy

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took a break from his fake filibuster of the Senate to introduce a non-binding resolution in the hopes of blocking a meeting between President Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  The resolution lays out stipulations that Iran would have to meet in order for President Obama to meet his Iranian counterpart, and attributes a false quote to Rouhani.  Presumably, Cruz was too busy trying to shut down the government to fact check his own resolution.  Which raises serious questions about the credibility of his attempt to wade into the Iran debate:

S.RES.252 : A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on steps the Government of Iran must take before President Obama meets with the President of Iran.

Whereas the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is attending the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City;

Whereas the Government of Iran has yet to take any practical steps towards halting Iran’s nuclear programs and remains a committed state-sponsor of terrorist groups that have been responsible for American deaths in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan;

Whereas, since the election of President Rouhani, the persecution by the Government of Iran of religious minorities, notably Christians, has increased not decreased, and the United States citizen Pastor Sayeed Abedini has endured a year of brutal imprisonment for professing his faith;

Whereas President Rouhani has called Israel the “Zionist state” that has been “a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed”; and

Whereas President Barack Obama has signaled a willingness to meet with President Rouhani in New York during the meeting of the United Nations Security Council or thereafter: Now, therefore, be it

 Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that President Obama should not engage in any meeting with President Rouhani before the Government of Iran —

(1) affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; and

(2) immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran.

  • 20 May 2013
  • Posted By Conor Hughes
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Presidential Election, Uncategorized

When a Shark Stirs the Water for Iran’s Presidential Hopefuls

With the Guardian Council set to announce the final list of Iranian presidential candidates on Tuesday, after vetting a staggering amount of  hopefuls (686 to be exact), a few contenders have been making some prominent headway.

Prior to the registration deadline it seemed as if many Iranian voters were going to sit out these elections due to a lack of reformist candidates. Yet in the final minutes of the deadline, former president, and supposed reformist candidate Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani–referred to by some as “the Shark”–entered the fray. To add to the strange mix of events, President Ahmadinejad accompanied his right hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei at the last minute as well.

In the conservative camp, the so called 2+1 coalition made up of International Affairs advisor to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayeti, Tehran mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, and former parliament Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel have all thrown their weight in the mix.

What does all this mean for the June 14th election? For one thing, this truly shows that the Islamic Republic has domestic politics where contenders are vying for support in different camps. As one local Iranian analyst put it, “Conservatives had been very comfortable with their prospects before Rafsanjani entered the race,” yet now, “they face a major challenge, since they know his presence will attract voters to the ballot box, and likely not in their favor.”

Second, this election cycle is shaping up to be as contentious as ever, which is not what the Iranian leadership would have hoped for this time around.  Principlists have been highly critical of  Mashaei for his “deviant” view of Islam, and quick to discredit Rafsanjani for his support of the 2009 Green Movement. Some have even made claims that the 78-year-old Rafsanjani should be barred from the presidency on the count that he is too old to lead the country.

Yet even if Rafsanjani clears the vetting process, any president’s policies is going to be constrained by the Supreme leader’s ultimate approval, as well as an economic system in pieces from sanctions and government mismanagement. As the conservatives attempt to unify their candidates to one representative, it will be interesting to see if the Guardian Council approves of Rafsanjani’s bid, and if they do, will reformists rally around Rafsanjani or another candidate entirely.

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.
  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian American activism, MEK, Uncategorized

Media dupes lump entire Iranian-American community in with MEK

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations, a large rally took place near the United Nations building. This participants were described as “Anti-Ahmadinejad protesters” (AFP), “anti-Iranian regime protesters” (CNN), merely “protesters” (NY Daily News, USA Today), “sponsored by groups including the Association of Iranian-Americans in New York & New Jersey” (CBSNewYork), and “a coalition of Iranian-American groups” (AP).

Let me show you a few pictures.

(c) Marcus Santos/New York Daily News

(c) Robert Deutsch/USAToday

(c) GaryofNYC/CNN

It may be subtle, but these are not actually pictures of an unaligned rally. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that when you spell out a message in giant mylar balloons, that’s probably the most important message of your rally.

These Are the Facts

Today marked the release of the first in a series of reports from an impressive group of former US ambassadors, retired generals and policy experts dubbed The Iran Project. The primary purpose of the paper, titled “Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran”, is to answer the tough questions and ensure that Americans are as informed as possible before the nation hurriedly decides to strike Iranian nuclear facilities: Can military strikes stop Iran’s nuclear program? What are the immediate and long-term impacts? Are strikes even possible?

The report has already made a splash with its frank assessment of the significant costs of military strikes and what it says are the limited gains.

First to the plate, the Washington Post:

The assessment said extended U.S. strikes could destroy Iran’s most important nuclear facilities and damage its military forces but would only delay — not stop — the Islamic republic’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

[The report] says achieving more than a temporary setback in Iran’s nuclear program would require a military operation — including a land occupation — more taxing than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

  • 11 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 0 Comments
  • Uncategorized, US-Iran War

Majority of Americans oppose Iran war in all circumstances, support direct talks

A new survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that Americans oppose war against Iran under just about every circumstance. This includes military action with UN support (51% against), unilateral U.S. attacks (70%), and even joining military action with Israel if Iran retaliated to unilateral Israeli strikes (59%). Given that Pentagon simulations predict that the US would be quickly drawn into such a conflict, noting public opposition is important.

Interestingly, support for direct talks between the US and Iran is on the rise, with 67% support, up from 61% support in the 2010 survey.

All of this is in spite of the survey’s findings of significant levels of misinformation about the status of Iran’s nuclear program:

In a new question respondents were asked what they thought was “the most recent assessment by the U.S. intelligence services, including the CIA,” of Iran’s nuclear program. When presented four options, only 25 percent of respondents choose the correct answer: “Iran is developing some of the technical ability necessary to build nuclear weapons, but has not decided whether to produce them or not.” The most common answer, chosen by 48 percent, is that, “Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons and is actively working to do so, but does not yet have nuclear weapons.” Another 18 percent go even further, choosing the position that “Iran now has nuclear weapons.” Just 4 percent say intelligence sources think that “Iran is producing nuclear energy strictly for its energy needs.

Even so, a majority of Americans would support a bargain allowing Iran to enrich for peaceful uses if inspectors were allowed permanent and full access to facilities (52%).

The majority favoring such a bargain is greater among participants who are accurately informed about the status of Iran’s current program (64%).  The numbers against military action are similarly affected–with those who have correct information opposing military action in greater numbers:

Not surprisingly, those who say that intelligence sources think Iran has nuclear weapons or that Iran is actively working to build them are more likely to see Iran’s nuclear program as a critical threat (72% and 68%, respectively) and to support authorization of a military strike through the UN Security Council (each 52%). Among those who say intelligence sources think Iran is gaining the technical ability but has not decided whether to produce nuclear weapons, many fewer see Iran’s program as a critical threat (53%) or support UN authorization of a military strike (35%).

This is perhaps the most important message of the survey: when people have accurate information, they tend to oppose war with Iran and support diplomacy.

  • 9 August 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Diplomacy, Let's Talk Iran, Uncategorized

Justine Shapiro & “Our Summer in Tehran”

In this episode, we speak with Jewish-American filmmaker Justine Shapiro. Justine is the former host of the travel series GlobeTrekker and was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary called “Promises,” which gave us a look into the lives of Palestinian and Israeli children in and around Jerusalem. Justine’s newest documentary, “Our Summer in Tehran” shows us the seldom seen realm of middle class family life in Iran. In the film, Justine and her 6-year-old son Mateo go to Tehran to spend the summer with 3 families: a religious family with ties to the government; a cosmopolitan, secular family; and a single mom who is an actress.

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  • 26 July 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 1 Comments
  • Iranian American activism, Israel, Let's Talk Iran, Uncategorized

Lessons from the Jewish-American Community

The AIPAC membership is only a fraction the size of the membership for the other top two lobbying organizations in the U.S., those being the AARP and NRA. How has AIPAC has been able to reach such a level of influence? How do Jewish-American organizations interact and balance cooperation and competition? How does the community handle internal disputes? Find out the answers to these questions and more from former executive director of American Israeli Public Affairs Commitee (AIPAC), Tom Dine.  Currently, Tom serves as the Senior Policy Advisor for the Israel Policy Forum and will be participating as a panelist in NIAC’s 2012 Leadership Conference this fall.

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