• 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.

  • 9 October 2013
  • Posted By Mina Jafari
  • 0 Comments
  • discrimination, Human Rights in Iran

Will Rouhani Act to End Persecution of Baha’is?

Bahai Leaders

In many ways, Hassan Rouhani has distanced himself from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  In the first two months of his presidency, Ahmadinejad’s hostile rhetoric has been replaced with Rouhani wishing Jewish people around the world a Happy Rosh Hashanah, including Iran’s Jewish Member of Parliament on his trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, and condemning the Holocaust in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. In contrast to Ahmadinejad’s crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009, over 90 prisoners of conscience have been released since Rouhani’s inauguration, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.  These critical steps indicate that Rouhani is, at least for now, willing to act on his campaign promises to improve Iran’s relations with the outside world and create a less securitized political environment.

It is certainly refreshing to see an Iranian President trying to mend relations with the Jewish community, as Iran is also home to the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East (Israel being the first). But if Rouhani truly hopes to enhance Iran’s image he must take more significant action regarding the status of other religious minorities as well.

Five of the 270 members of Iran’s parliament represent religious minorities, including three Christian, one Jewish, and one Zoroastrian. However, Iran is also home to a large Baha’i community, equal to the 300,000 Christian Iranians. Yet the Baha’i, unlike Christians, are not represented in the Iranian Parliament and are frequently subject to violence and persecution. Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian Iranians are largely protected under Article 13 of Iran’s constitution, but the Baha’i are denied rights such as government employment or admittance to University. Discrimination runs even deeper as many Iranian clerics label Baha’is as apostates and their religion an affront to Islam. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Shi’a clerics had feared that Baha’i could challenge their religious stature in Iran. That prejudice continues today, as Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a fatwa demanding further isolation of Baha’i followers. Such a stance runs counter to the long history of religious tolerance in Persian culture.

The UN special rapporteur for Human Rights has issued several reports addressing the maltreatment of religious minorities inside Iran. The most recent report published in May specifically addresses the treatment of Baha’is in Iran, urging the release of seven well-known leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community who have all been imprisoned since 2008.  The Baha’i leaders are serving 20-year sentences, longer than any other prisoners of conscience in Iran and an indication of the extreme measures taken to isolate and terrify Iranian Baha’is.

Since her release from Evin prison, Nasrin Sotoudeh sent a letter to Rouhani shedding light on the case of Ataollah Rezvani, who was murdered earlier this year for practicing Bahaism. Although this is the first “religiously-motivated” killing of a Baha’i in fifteen years, this is not an unusual case – 200 Baha’is have been killed since the start of Iran’s Islamic regime.  Sotoudeh emphasized in her letter to Rouhani how cases like these have been overlooked in the past, asking “what punishment is to be expected for the murderer of this Baha’i fellow-citizen, once he is identified? [...] You know the bitter answer to this question much better than I.” Sure enough, there has yet to be an official investigation to find Mr. Rezvani’s killers and bring them to justice. Sotoudeh also pointed to Article 14 of Iran’s constitution which “requires the government and Muslims to treat non-Muslims in conformity with ethical norms and the principles of Islamic justice and equity contingent upon their not partaking in conspiracies against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Reza Aslan, a prominent Iranian-American author and a member of NIAC’s Advisory Board, co-wrote an article with Michael Brooks in the Washington Post on this issue.  According to Aslan and Brooks, the treatment of Baha’i people in Iran “will be the most powerful test of how genuinely committed [Rouhani] is to truly expanding human rights and social openness in Iran.” During his election campaign, Rouhani promised to issue a “civil rights charter,” which could represent an opportunity to improve the rights of Iranian Baha’i and other minority groups.

The U.S. Congress, as well, will be watching for a shift in the Iranian government’s approach toward minorities, with both the House and Senate considering bills condemning the treatment of Baha’is in Iran and asking the President, Secretary of State, and other allied nations to demand the immediate release of Baha’i prisoners.  Failure to do so would result in further sanctions “on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for […] abuses against the Baha’i community of Iran.”

While Rouhani has said many things that have given reason to hope for an improvement in Iran’s human rights record, he will need to follow through. With lives and the fundamental rights of Iranian Baha’is and other minorities at stake, he will need to deliver.

  • 30 September 2013
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Dear President Obama: Thank You for Breaking 34 Years of Silence with Iran

Presidents Obama & Rouhani

President Obama broke 34 years of silence between U.S. and Iranian Presidents by calling President Rouhani on Friday.  This was a historic moment, and the White House should know they have strong support from the American people for bold diplomacy with Iran.  Tell President Obama he has your full support for diplomatic engagement with Iran by signing the petition below, and we’ll deliver the signatures directly to the White House!

The petition states the following:

Dear President Obama,
Thank you for breaking 34 years of silence between the U.S. and Iran. You have our full support for your diplomatic engagement with Iran towards a brighter future with human rights and security.

 

Thank President Obama for Breaking 34 Years of Silence

Dear President Obama,
Thank you for breaking 34 years of silence between the U.S. and Iran. You have our full support for your diplomatic engagement with Iran towards a brighter future with human rights and security.

[signature]

3,852 signatures

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  • 26 September 2013
  • Posted By Mina Jafari
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Congress races to distort facts and kill Iran opening

From IranFact.org

At the UN this week, the world saw a very different exchange between the U.S. and Iran than in the past years. Iranian President Rouhani declared that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons and seeks to remove “mutual uncertainties with full transparency,” saying Iran “does not seek to increase tensions with the United States.” President Obama welcomed recent positive signals from Iran and said, “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.”

Yet some in Congress are saying something much different. Since Rouhani and Obama’s speeches, those who are not interested in peace with Iran have been warning against any change in relations, and have often resorted to many false arguments  to maintain that Iran is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to use President Netanyahu’s description of the newly elected President.

Shortly after Rouhani’s speech, during an interview with CNN, Mike Rogers (R-MI) expressed his skepticism towards further nuclear talks and demanded that Iran first end its production of “over 20% enriched uranium.” The demand was odd given that Iran is not enriching above 20%. As is well documented by the IAEA, Iran has produced only low-enriched uranium (between 3.5%-19.75% concentration). Anything beyond 20% would be news indeed, and Rogers should present his evidence to the IAEA, ASAP.

But I suspect that Rogers, as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has more than sufficient understanding of what levels Iran is enriching to, and merely misspoke on this point. Yet, in the same sentence, Rogers also demanded that –before any talks continue–Iran must open the Fordow plant for inspection. This again is odd. While Fordow facility may be deeply fortified against potential military strikes, there are indeed UN inspections there. The IAEA visits the Fordow plant almost weekly and knows well what is going on in there. A quick glance at any of the IAEA’s quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear program will tell you as much. Shouldn’t the head of the House Intelligence committee be aware of these simple and well documented facts?

Meanwhile, the heads of the House Foreign Affairs Committee–Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY)–responded to Rouhani’s speech by setting an arbitrary deadline of 100 days for Iran to fix the nuclear issue. To put this in perspective, even Royce and Engel were unable to get sanctions legislation marked up in a committee very amendable to such bills in their first 100 days as its chairs. Yet they want Rouhani to fix all of the problems with Iran’s nuclear program in 100 days.

Then there is Senator Bennett of Colorado, who in a letter to a constituent stated, “Iran recently installed 180 advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz… [which] could be used to produce enriched uranium suitable for nuclear reactors.” Yes, that is in fact what centrifuges do. That’s what we want to make sure Iran is doing–instead of potentially using enriched uranium for weapons. The level of confusion on this fundamental point is embarrassing.

And then you have Ted Cruz (R-TX). Further complicating potential peace negotiations between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, the Senate’s new maverick introduced a  resolution which sets pre-conditions for such a meeting. In the text, Cruz misquotes Rouhani, claiming the Iranian President referred to Israel as a “a wound…on the body of the Muslim World.” This well documented false translation came from Iranian news sources that embellished a segment of Rouhani’s speech in which he said “Quds day […] is a day that people present the unity of Islam against any type of oppression or aggression. And in any case, in our region, it is an old wound that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds.” He made no direct mention of Israel or Zionism–in fact, even Obama has referred to the lack of Israel-Palestine peace as a wound in the region. The misquote, however, has been exploited by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who does not want the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s “charm offensive” and is desperate to get back to the days when he could claim Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Then we have legislators who are just plain freaking out. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are pushing for a bill which declares war on Iran. Franks even claims Iran has enough low enriched uranium that (if Iran kicked out IAEA inspectors and rapidly enriched it to weapons grade) could produce 20 nuclear bombs. I have no idea where he gets this number. The IAEA’s accounting of Iran’s total enriched uranium, according to the latest Arms Control Association brief, is that Iran has enough low enriched uranium for four bombs–though building a bomb would require many, many more steps. Franks made the exact same exaggerated claim in 2010. So by his estimate, Iran has not enriched any uranium since 2010.

These Congressional hawks apparently have no qualms taking extreme liberty with the facts, all in an unabashed effort to drag the country into another unwanted, unnecessary war.

  • 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.

  • 23 September 2013
  • Posted By Bharat Vasudevan
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, US-Iran War

Iran and the Unthinkable

At a forum at the Brookings institution on Monday, September 16, Kenneth Pollack discussed his new book, “Unthinkable” with Robin Wright, addressing prospects for Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli security, and American strategy. The book, mostly written before the election of Rouhani, focuses primarily on the question of what to do if diplomacy fails to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.  At such a juncture, the United States would be forced to choose between military strikes aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program or containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. “When I weigh the costs and risks”, Pollack asserts, “the costs and risks of containment are more bearable and more practical than the costs and risks if we do military strikes.”

Given that one of Pollacks previous books, “The Threatening Storm,” helped build the case for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Pollack is considered somewhat of a unique messenger to push back against military options against Iran.

Pollack argued that diplomacy is the far superior choice for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, he identified two major reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for a diplomatic solution. First, hardliners in Iran could block Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, from obtaining a nuclear deal. Second, America has overwhelmingly relied on sticks over carrots in diplomatic negotiations. The only carrot the Obama administration has offered is to “stop using sticks.” Without a significant carrot for Rouhani to sell a nuclear deal as a win, a deal cannot be achieved. More significant concessions need to be put on the table.

However, if diplomacy fails, Pollack asserted that containment would be far more prudent than military action.  Strikes would be costly and would only, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program and increase the likelihood that they pursue one. Meanwhile, containment carries far fewer risks – the United States has, in essence, been doing it since 1979 by limiting Iran’s influence and power through isolation and ensuring that the costs of military escalation are too high.  If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, additional steps would be needed to shore up regional allies and prevent further proliferation. The United States would also need to prevent perverse incentives for nuclear escalation from emerging, as happened during the Cold War when hawks on both sides pushed for first strikes to knock out their adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

According to Pollack, Iran would continue to demonstrate rational behavior if it obtains a nuclear weapon, meaning that Iran could be deterred from using them. Contrasted with Pakistan, which became more aggressive after gaining the bomb, and Israel, which showed more restraint, Iran would largely behave the same way. Despite support for groups including Hezbollah, Iran has never toppled foreign governments.  Further, Iran is in a weak state given the impact of sanctions on its economy and currently has few reliable allies: Hamas has turned away from Iran and Syria is embroiled in a civil war.

Israel has a military option as well, but Pollack asserted that it is not a good one.  Israel could attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. However, neither America nor Israel would prefer such an option. Israel, which typically pursues a military option when it is viable, has proven that it wants to leave military strikes to the United States by debating the option publicly for the last fifteen years.

  • 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.