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  • 9 July 2015
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

War is Only Alternative to Iran Deal, Warns Top Lawmaker

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) questions Secretary of State John Kerry during a hearing about the tentative deal for Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program and end sanctions against Iran on December 10, 2013. John Shinkle/POLITICO

Washington, DC – Congress must “come to grips” with the reality that failing to seal an Iran nuclear deal would mean war, according to the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As Secretary of State John Kerry announced that negotiations with Iran would continue past today’s deadline, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) put the prospect of diplomatic failure into stark context at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

“The alternative to a deal would surely mean some kind of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear plant,” said Engel, who has given the Obama administration room to negotiate but has also been skeptical of the negotiations and a strong supporter of Israel.

“We have to look at the choices that we have, and the way I see it right now, we have a choice to accept the deal that the administration negotiates, or we don’t,” Engel observed. “And if we don’t, then we need to look at the alternatives.”

His comments suggested that, despite some misgivings about the negotiations, some of the more hawkish Members of Congress acknowledge the imperative of reaching a deal as a matter of war and peace.

“It’s not just accepting the deal or nothing,” Engel said at the hearing. “There are things we’re going to have to come to grips with, and I believe one of them is bombing the nuclear reactor.”

Some in Congress have bristled at the notion that opposing a deal is the equivalent of pushing for war, but critics of the talks have largely avoided discussing what alternatives would look like if not military action. The public debate has thus regularly focused on areas of perceived weakness in the envisioned agreement, raising concerns that Congress may avoid debating the far greater costs of the alternatives.

“If we are able to sustain the sanctions regime and have a bombing of their plant that sets them back two years or three years, is that really a viable alternative?” Engel asked panelists at the hearing.

The willingness of the committee’s ranking Democrat to discuss the negotiations in such stark terms contrasted with the overall tone of the hearing which, like past hearings in the House and Senate on the Iran talks, featured witnesses that were almost exclusively opposed to a deal.

Three of the panelists served under the Bush Administration when the decision was made to invade Iraq and one–Stephen Rademaker–implored lawmakers to recognize that “any deal is a bad deal.”

Congress will now have 60 days to review a deal if an agreement is secured, and to decide whether to approve it or reject it. A rejection would almost certainly nullify the deal–freeing Iran from nuclear constraints under the agreement and likely unraveling international enforcement of the U.S.-led sanctions regime.

>> Take Action: Urge your lawmakers to support a deal and Vote For Peace

  • 27 November 2013
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 1 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Thank President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Senator Feinstein for succesful US-Iran Diplomacy

This Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for. We are especially thankful because the United States and Iran are talking for the first time in three decades and are on a pathway toward a brighter future without war and sanctions, and with respect for human rights and a true friendship between the Iranian and American people.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, who invested in diplomacy despite the pressure against them, and leaders like Senator Dianne Feinstein who stood up against new sanctions that would have derailed the talks.

Will you join us in sending Obama, Kerry, and Feinstein a Thanksgiving card today to show your thanks and to encourage them to keep up their laudable efforts?

Dear President Obama, Secretary Kerry and Senator Feinstein,

Thank you for investing in diplomacy to resolve the standoff between the U.S. and Iran. We strongly support your efforts to secure a deal and to work towards a brighter future without war and sanctions, with respect for human rights and with a true friendship between the Iranian and American people.

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  • 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.

  • 13 February 2013
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Reading the Iran Tea Leaves at the State of the Union

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” said the President in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

The brief sentence in the hour-long speech was fairly consistent with Obama’s remarks on Iran from previous addresses, but  may offer clues in its emphasis on a “diplomatic solution.”

In his 2010 and 2011’s speeches–years that the White House focused largely on ramping up pressure on Iran–Obama focused his remarks on how diplomacy had been utilized to isolate Iran, and ramp up tougher sanctions.

In 2010 he said:

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. … That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran’s leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

In 2011:

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.

In 2012, with serious concerns of a looming military confrontation and pressure on the President to draw a “red line,” Obama stated clearly that prevention was his policy but peaceful options remained:

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before. Its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions. And as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent. Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better. And if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment — and I mean iron-clad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.

Whether or not this year’s comments suggest the White House is looking to invest political capital in negotiations that promise few quick fixes and may ultimately require a showdown with Congress over sanctions flexibility remains to be seen. The U.S. and P5+1 will enter a new round of negotiations with Iran on February 26 in Kazakhstan.

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.
  • 30 July 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Legislative Agenda, Sanctions, UN

Congressional push for sanctions on food and medicine

It’s that time of year again–when Republicans and Democrats in Congress takes a break from wringing each other’s necks to pass a piece of legislation to “tighten the noose” around Iran just in time for campaign season.

For those just checking in, here’s an example of what our current sanctions are already doing on the ground in Iran (via Tehran Bureau):

The board of directors of the Iranian Hemophilia Society has informed the World Federation of Hemophilia that the lives of tens of thousands of children are being endangered by the lack of proper drugs, a consequence of international economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian Hemophilia Society notes that U.S., EU, and UN sanctions technically do not ban medical goods.  In fact, there is a so-called “humanitarian exemption” in U.S. sanctions that is supposed to exempt humanitarian goods like medicine, medical goods, and food.

And yet medicine is not getting in to Iran as “sanctions imposed on the Central Bank of Iran and the country’s other financial institutions have severely disrupted the purchase and transfer of medical goods.”

It turns out that imposing the broadest, most indiscriminate, crippling-est, noose tightening sanctions ever (did I miss anything in there?) means that a few piecemeal exemptions for food or medicine, or even  Internet communication tools, don’t really stand up.

  • 16 July 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

Morality police raids go hand in hand with sanctions

Over the weekend, Iranian officers and morality police raided and shut down 87 cafes in Tehran for not following Islamic values.  As Reuters reports:

Coffee shop culture has flourished in Iran in recent years, offering wireless Internet, snacks, hot drinks, and a place to hang out for Iranian youth in a country where there are no bars or Western chain restaurants or cafes.

But that trend has been criticized by conservative Iranians who consider it a cultural imposition from the West and incompatible with Islamic values. The government periodically cracks down on behavior it considers un-Islamic, including mingling between the sexes outside of marriage.

The shameful actions by Iranian authorities further illuminates how the goals of the state’s hardliners are actually aided by broad sanction policies designed to isolate Iranians from the world outside of Iran.

Just last Friday, Milad Jokar wrote a post on how Iranians manage to circumvent the sanctions and enjoy Western products in spite of U.S. efforts to block them–buying iPhones, DVDs, Nikes, and even eating at restaurants that are clones of Starbucks and McDonalds.

And Iranian hardliners, as demonstrated by these most recent raids, don’t like it one bit.

But the fact is, we have our own hardliners in the U.S. who also don’t want Iranians getting Western goods.  How will we make Iranians angry enough to take up arms against the regime if they still have access to Happy Meals?

  • 25 June 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 1 Comments
  • discrimination

19-year old Georgia teen reiterates: Apple employee discriminated

Sahar Sabet, the 19-year old Iranian American teenager at the center of the Apples discrimination controversy, issued a statement through her attorney today to “correct erroneous media and organizational reports” that were claiming Apple did not discriminate against her because they were just following the law.

The evidence suggests that, yes, she was in fact discriminated against and that, yes, broad sanctions encouraged sanctions vigilantism and profiling by retail employees:

“On the date in question, Sabet’s family had relatives visiting from Houston, Texas.  Ms. Sabet decided to take her uncle, aunt, and grandmother with her to the mall that afternoon.  Sabet received assistance from two different Apple employees while finalizing her decision on which specific iPad model to select. Ultimately, she selected an iPad and was preparing to make her purchase.  It was at this time that Sabet’s uncle, a native Farsi speaker, had a question regarding an iPhone that he was considering purchasing for his daughter in Tehran, Iran.  Sabet, a United States citizen and native English speaker, served as a translator.  After asking her uncle’s question to one of the Apple employees that had been assisting her, she translated the answer into Farsi for her uncle’s benefit.

“Then, as Sabet attempted to complete her purchase, another Apple employee, previously unknown to Sabet, approached her and rudely demanded to know what language Sabet and her uncle were speaking.  When Sabet replied that they were speaking Farsi, the Apple employee, with no other basis, denied Sabet the sale and stated that “our countries do not have good relations with each other.”  Sabet’s attempts to escalate the situation to the store’s management were fruitless as the manager on duty simply sided with the employee’s decision to refuse Sabet the sale on account of her ethnicity and national origin.”

The full statement via Sahar’s attorney is below.

U.S. Companies Blocking Communication Tools in Iran

With Apple’s vigilante-sanctions-enforcement/racial profiling of Iranian Americans receiving well-deserved attention, we wanted to spotlight similar over-enforcement of broad sanctions by tech companies impacting people inside Iran.  Below is a list of services not technically blocked by sanctions but still denied to Iranians by U.S. companies, compiled via researcher Collin Anderson who maintains and updates the list here:

Publisher Product Blocked By Company Require License? Notes
Google Google Talk X N
Google AdSense X Y
Google AdWords X Y
Google Android Market X N
Google Google Code X N
Google App Engine X N Cannot Host or Access Resource on Platform
Yahoo Yahoo Messenger X N
Yahoo Yahoo Web Messenger No SSL Support N
GoDaddy (all) X N Webpage Does Not Respond
Adobe (commercial products) X Varies Webpage Does Not Respond
Geeknet, Inc. Sourceforge X ITAR Issue
McAfee MacAfee Antivirus X Y
Symantec/Norton (all) ? Y
AVG Technologies (all) X Y
Oracle MySQL X Not Where Free
Oracle NetBeans X N
Xacti Group inbox.com X N
cPanel, Inc. cPanel X Y
Logitech (all) X Varies
  • 18 June 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Romney says war with Iran already authorized

This past weekend, Bill Kristol came out and said the President should seek an authorization for war with Iran from Congress.  It’s no surprise that Kristol and friends have ratcheted up their rhetoric in the days ahead of critical negotiations with Iran that the pro-war hawks hope will go badly.

Given a chance to weigh in on Kristol’s comments on Face the Nation, Mitt Romney doubled down.

Romney said the President already has the “capacity” to go to war with Iran right now–without need for further Congressional approval.

“I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m President, that we need to have war powers approval or a special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate, for instance, have written letters to the President indicating you should know that– that a– a containment strategy is unacceptable.”

Romney apparently believes that if a few Senators write letters saying containment is unacceptable, you’ve got your war authorization.

While that may not hold up in court, the House has indeed passed an AIPAC-supported resolution ruling out containment of a “nuclear weapons capable” Iran.  NIAC warned that Congress was giving the current or future occupant of the White House a “blank check” for war.  When the resolution came up for a vote, the top Democrat on House Foreign Affairs took time on the House floor to state on the record that it is NOT an authorization for force and the President would need to seek such authorization from Congress before waging war on Iran.  The statement convinced some Members concerned about an Iraq rerun to get off the fence and vote for the resolution.  It is unclear if it convinced Obama that the President can’t go to war with Iran just yet–but Romney clearly was not convinced.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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