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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.”

  • 31 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

The Impracticality of the Zero Enrichment Stipulation

The Israel Project has recently launched a website which aims to convince the public that if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium at all, then Iran will certainly develop a nuclear weapon. However, holding on to such notions is a fallacy that will undermine diplomatic progress. While it would be great to have zero risk of Iranian proliferation, which the zero enrichment proposal seeks to attain, such a situation is neither attainable nor necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Further, with sufficient safeguards in place, risks of Iranian weaponization can be diminished to reasonable and acceptable levels. Therefore, it is in America’s interest to sacrifice the long-gone idea of “zero enrichment” and instead focus on securing concrete and verifiable transparency from the Iranian regime. Insisting on unprecedented monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program, rather than deal-killing stipulations such as “zero enrichment,” will ultimately prove more effective in guarding against an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The expectation and the feasibility of a zero-enrichment clause in any final deal with Iran is not realistic. As George Perkovich said, “Iran has already paid tens of billions of dollars in direct costs; lost more than $100 billion in sanctions; and suffered a cyberattack, the assassination of key scientists and engineers, and the perpetual threat of war to protect its self-proclaimed right to enrich uranium. There is no reason to think that more sanctions or military strikes would change Tehran’s stance now.” Further, an insistence on zero enrichment has precluded the possibility of viable nuclear deals in the past, including in a potential 2005 bargain with European powers that would have capped Iran’s enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges.

Moreover, Iranians frequently bring up the argument that they want to have the capability to enrich their own nuclear fuel because they don’t want to be dependent on other nations whom they don’t trust. For example, Iranians mention the event in which France reneged on a deal with Iran after Iran had already provided a billion-dollar investment in the multinational enrichment consortium, Eurodif. France refused to deliver the nuclear fuel previously promised to Iran, thus giving the Iranians ammunition to strengthen their own nuclear program.

Additionally, Iran is currently one of fourteen countries that enrich uranium on their own soil, including non-nuclear weapon states like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. Under the NPT, parties are recognized as having the “inalienable right…to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Any enrichment capabilities – which are neither granted nor denied by the NPT – are subject to full and thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And under the NPT and IAEA inspection, no country has ever obtained a nuclear weapon.  This is why it is a more valuable use of our time to expand the access of international inspectors than insisting on “zero enrichment”.

As far as the interim agreement, as signed by the P5+1, enrichment is actually explicitly defined and permitted. The preamble of the agreement says, “[T]his comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Even in a final deal, enrichment would not violate the intent of the Security Council resolutions. As Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball said, “the first step Geneva deal effectively accomplishes the original goal of the U.N. Security Council resolutions by capping the total amount of 3.5% material [low-enriched uranium] and it goes further by requiring Iran to neutralize its 20% stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20% levels while a comprehensive agreement that further limits Iran’s enrichment capacity below current levels is negotiated.”

Since a final agreement with Iran would likely include the ratification and implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and potentially further voluntary measures, insisting on zero enrichment while the Iranians hold firm in their opposition against the demand is a waste of time, diplomatic energy, and political capital. We should be focusing our energies into creating practical demands which we can get the Iranians to agree to in order to ensure Iranians cannot develop a nuclear weapon. And this is a fact that America’s highest ranked diplomats and politicians have already recognized.

In 2009, when current Secretary of State John Kerry was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “The Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous… it was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will. They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.” Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has traditionally held a hard line in regards to Iran, said to BBC while she was American’s top diplomat that once Iran has shown that their nuclear program is thoroughly responsible, peaceful and in accordance to international standards, they can possibly enrich for civilian purposes in the future. And just on Tuesday, Senator Angus King [I-MI] said at a Council of Foreign Relations event that, “some of our allies want success to be no nuclear capacity at all, no enrichment capacity at all. The indication from Iran is that they’re not going to accept that, so the question is, what between zero and something is going to be acceptable in the agreement.”

Regardless of whether you support the Geneva agreement or not, we will not obtain zero Iranian enrichment.  Military strikes can’t bomb away nuclear know-how and would only enhance desires for a nuclear deterrent.  Sanctions have failed to alter Iran’s nuclear calculus.  Diplomacy, however, can provide sufficient assurances so that Iranian enrichment is used for peaceful purposes, and that’s where the US and the rest of the P5+1 need to focus their efforts.

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Israel, US-Iran War

Hindsight is 20/20

Captain Hindsight on the new Senate sanctions bill

When the White House said that a new sanctions bill (S.1881) would “greatly increase the chances that the United States would have to take military action” against Iran, supporters of the bill bristled. Lead sponsor Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called the statement “over the top” and accused the White House of “fear mongering.”

But a quick read of his bill makes clear that not only would it torpedo diplomacy by violating the interim deal with new sanctions, it even expresses support for the U.S. joining Israel in bombing Iran! The exact clause in question says, “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

If you didn’t want people saying your bill could lead to war with Iran, you probably shouldn’t have pushed a bill that sabotages diplomacy and expressly threatens military engagement with Iran.

>>Don’t let your Senators rely on hindsight, contact them TODAY and tell them to OPPOSE this disastrous bill

  • 9 January 2014
  • Posted By Shervin Taheran
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Cruz-ing Towards Failed Diplomacy

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has become the latest Iran hawk to introduce a measure placing preconditions on negotiations designed to end the Iran talks.

Originally, there were Senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, who introduced a Senate bill (S.1881) that has earned a veto threat from the President because it would invalidate the interim deal signed with Iran by passing new sanctions. That bill would also place unworkable demands on any final deal, including requiring full dismantlement of even a verifiable peaceful nuclear program.  And it would pledge U.S. support for Israeli strikes on Iran.

Now, Senator Cruz (R-TX) is joining forces with fellow hard-line conservative Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) to introduce a Senate resolution with their own demands that must be met before any bilateral negotiations continue with Iran.

The first precondition that must be met in Cruz’s world before the U.S. is allowed to engage in talks with Iran? Iran must first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Cruz wants to cut off the talks that can end the Iranian nuclear standoff, deliver a transparent and verifiable non-military nuclear program, and prevent a disastrous war in which Israel would surely play a major role, to demand Iran do something America’s staunchest allies in the region have yet to do. This is just another precondition specifically designed to block engagement. Something Cruz and his right wing colleagues are failing to understand is how the success of negotiations with Iran is actually in Israel’s interest.

  • 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.

  • 24 October 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions

Obama & Romney Agree on Sanctions As Medicine Grows Scarce in Iran

When it came to sanctions, the third presidential debate resembled an argument over which candidate could punish Iranians more with the “most crippling sanctions ever.”

Meanwhile, the number of unavailable medicines in Iran jumped from 30 to 90 in the last five months according to tejaratnews.com. There has been a gradual slide towards crisis for Iran’s sick, as sanctions cut off more than just Iran’s oil exports. Indeed, this report just confirms multiple other reports that the sanctions are depriving the sick and dying of much needed medicine.

At NIAC’s leadership conference earlier this month, Erich Ferrari, a Washington-based sanctions expert, explained how medical exports to Iran are being blocked, even though these items are technically exempt from sanctions. The U.S. government has sanctioned Iran’s entire banking system, and imposed massive penalties on foreign banks for dealing with Iranian financial institutions.  As a result, foreign banks are ceasing all trade with Iran, including food and medicine.

Tejarat reports that a growing number of sick are turning to alternative, and more dangerous, means of treatment such as faulty generics from India and China, untested indigenous prototypes, and herbalists.

Ferarri described two such instances with harmful, even deadly, consequences. In one case, an Iranian importer turned to China for pain medication and ended up empty handed. “They spent about five million dollars and, when it got to Iran, they tested it, and about 85% of it was just pure chalk, with no medicinal value.” He spoke of one of his clients whose aunt in an Iranian hospital was unable to obtain basic IV fluids. “The hospitals in Iran substituted what’s in the IV with just water. And because of that, her condition continued to worsen and worsen. She died, in the hospital, because they couldn’t get the products they needed.”

The Tejarat article recalled the days before punitive sanctions were put in place, when 94% of the substances needed to domestically produce most medicines were imported from mostly Western Europe and North America. However, a 30 to 40% price increase of medicines in just the last few months has served only to impoverish regular Iranians while empowering the government.

In the grander scheme of things, all are being affected by the sanctions, from management and officials, pharmaceutical manufacturers, distribution companies, hospitals and even pharmacies.

Such circumstances have forced Aban 13 Pharmacy, Iran’s most important for filling special medications, to implement a quota system. And, as is the norm in a time of shortage, many patients and their families have resorted to hoarding and buying in bulk, even smuggling needed medications across the border as if they were contraband.

Some Iranians simply cannot cope with the hardship imposed by the sanctions and Iran’s struggling economy. Golnaz Esfandiari, reporting to Radio Free Europe, cited one cancer patient’s struggle, “Before, some foreign made drugs were available for 2,000,000 rials. But currently the price of an injection needed for cancer patients after chemotherapy is 50,000,000 rials.” Her source continued, “As a patient, I’d rather die than impose such cost on my family.”

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Joseph Chmielewski
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Iranian pastor accused of apostasy is released

Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of apostasy, has been released from prison after tireless work by his lawyers and an international outcry regarding his situation.

Early in his life, Nadarkhani abandoned his Islamic faith and by age 19  officially converted to Christianity and shortly thereafter began his work as a pastor. In 2006, Nadarkhani began to protest the mandatory enrollment of his children in Quran classes at school. He was immediately imprisoned on charges of protesting. A few months into his sentence, his charge was changed to apostasy, the abandonment of one’s religion.

Nadarkhani was brought before a court in 2010 and given the death penalty. He was to be executed by hanging. His lawyers appealed the verdict, but a court in the city of Qom upheld the original sentence. But September 8, 2012, the apostasy charge was downgraded to evangelizing Muslims, the penalty for which was three years. Given that Nadarkhani had already served about six years in prison, he was released from a facility in Lakan, Iran.

Reaction from the international community regarding Nadarkhani’s plight had been strong, outspoken and unrelenting. Iran’s constitution allows for the free practice of one’s own religion, and yet the courts were still permitted to convict Nadarkhani of apostasy. Such a clear violation of basic human rights garnered reaction from many groups, including NIAC.

  • 18 August 2011
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • 0 Comments
  • Let's Talk Iran

Use and Misuse of the Word “Terrorism” – Let’s Talk Iran

Discussing the use and misuse of the word “terrorism” with commentator, activist, attorney and author of her award-winning book War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims, Melody Moezzi. Melody addresses the media’s role in politicizing the term and what the likely implications are for the Iranian-American community and U.S. policy.

Play
  • 19 May 2011
  • Posted By David Shams
  • 1 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran

Dorothy Parvaz is released, but will Iran open up on human rights abuses?

In welcome news, Dorothy Parvaz–the Al Jazeera English correspondent who was detained in Syria two weeks ago and later deported to Iran–was released yesterday.  She arrived in Doha, Qatar on a flight from Iran and detailed her ordeal in an interview with Al Jazeera here.

But while it is an immense relief that Parvaz has been freed, politically motivated detentions and executions continue in Iran.  Hundreds of political prisoners and journalists continue to languish in Iranian jails–such as Kurdish activist Habibollah Latifi, who faces imminent execution, and student leader Majid Tavakkoli, who will soon be celebrating his 25th birthday behind bars.

What is Iran doing about these cases?

Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s Human Rights Council, announced that Iran has no objection to allowing the recently mandated UN human rights monitor on Iran to visit the country.

This too is welcome news.  However, while Larijani said Iran accepts the basic framework of the UN investigative process, he questioned the “professionalism” of some of the UN investigators—a tact that has been used in the past to deny access to or impose prohibitively stringent conditions on investigators to prevent them from doing their jobs.

Moreover, last week Larijani announced plans for Iran to create its own “Islamic Charter of Human Rights” and framed this as a way to impose counter pressure on human rights.

It is beyond me why Iranian government would need to create yet another human rights charter given that it ignores the numerous international human rights statutes it has already signed.  Perhaps the first action that could be taken under the new charter will be an investigation of the brutal treatment of prisoners that Dorothy Parvaz says she witnessed during her detention in Syria.

  • 17 March 2011
  • Posted By Todd Ruffner
  • 1 Comments
  • Congress, Human Rights in Iran

Watch: Answering the Iranian People’s Call for Human Rights

On March 15, NIAC hosted a conference, Answering the Iranian People’s Call for Human Rights, featuring US and Swedish government officials, human rights experts, and Iran specialists.  The conference, which was held in the US Senate, was convened to discuss productive approaches to supporting human rights in Iran, including efforts now underway at the UN Human Rights Council to establish a human rights monitor on Iran.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VJr92VA6Jw&w]

Suzanne Nossel, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCmsGTESrp4]

Jonas Hafström, Swedish Ambassador to the U.S.


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkUgvjOk4Ug&w]

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), House Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQyT_HS2LCE]

Nazila Fathi, former Tehran-based New York Times correspondent


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71YP0dOwOjY&w]

Panel Discussion

Nader Hashemi, co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future

Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch

Alireza Nader, RAND Corporation

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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