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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.

  • 15 January 2014
  • Posted By Arrizu Sirjani
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy

Rep. Blumenauer Calls to Give Diplomacy a Chance


Last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) delivered another strong statement in support of U.S.-Iran diplomacy, calling for Congress to “calm down and give diplomacy a chance” in response to new Iran sanctions legislation.

Speaking on the House floor,  Rep. Blumenauer extolled the interim agreement with Iran and urged Congress, “Let’s work to make progress with the agreement and beyond.” He suggested, “Congress can do this most importantly, by leaving it alone. Congress shouldn’t mettle. Congress shouldn’t muddle. Congress shouldn’t give Iranian hardliners who do not want any agreement at all an excuse to scuttle it.”

“We have an opportunity to improve the most violate region in the world,” Blumenauer said, “and Congress shouldn’t blow that opportunity.”

  • 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.

  • 28 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Human Rights in Iran, Iran Internet Censorship, Sanctions

How Google, Yahoo, and Go Daddy are Helping to Silence Iranians

Given the public attention surrounding Apple’s over-enforcement of sanctions, now is a good opportunity to look at the broader issue of how sanctions policies negatively impact access to communications technology for people inside Iran. Today, NIAC called on Internet service companies to lift the “electronic curtain” over Iran and other sanctioned countries in a letter signed by a coalition of Iranian, Cuban, and Syrian diaspora organizations, and human rights and Internet freedom organizations.

The fact is, even as the White House takes efforts to lift the “electronic curtain” imposed by Iran’s government, U.S. sanctions are part of the fabric of that curtain.

As of now, many companies that offer basic Internet communication services and websites–like Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, or Go Daddy hosted sites–do not allow their services to be accessed by Iran, even though they are technically exempt from sanctions. NIAC is targeting these companies in today’s letter and demanded that the public of sanctioned countries have access to the basic tools and platforms necessary for communicating safely and securely online

Before 2009, Iran was subject to extremely strict and broad sanctions at the hands of the United States, completely blocking communication technology such as computers, phones, modems, etc. These communication tools are increasingly essential in embargoed countries as a means of communicating freely and supporting operations that are pushing for social and political change. With these tools cut off, activists struggle to find the means necessary to communicate freely–relying on a sort of cyber black market involving Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or thumb drives to access software, services, and websites.

Especially after seeing the effect that social media had during the 2009 Green Movement, the Obama administration has made some adjustments to U.S. sanction policy. In 2010, the Obama Administration exempted basic, free Internet communication tools from sanctions and issued special licenses for other Internet communication software and hardware. In addition, this past Norooz, Obama pushed Internet communication companies to make their services available in Iran and to help lift the “electronic curtain” that is helping to silence the Iranian people.

However, despite these efforts, many companies are still not providing their services to the public of embargoed countries. This is unacceptable.

  • 25 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • discrimination, Sanctions

Apple’s ‘Iran Policy’ Shows Why We Can’t Shy Away from Politics

NIAC’s Jamal Abdi and Nobar Elmi published a piece in Tehran Bureau last Friday in which they argue that recent allegations of discrimination by Apple employees against Iranian Americans are rooted in flawed US-Iran sanctions policy. They write, “we need to realize that what is happening is not just a series of individual cases of alarming behavior,” but are instead “just the latest example of sanction laws being so broad that they are misinterpreted or overenforced and mistakenly applied.”

What is happening at Apples stores, Elmi and Abdi say, is not just the result of private companies “being overly cautious or not educating their employees about their sanctions policies,” but also a result of the U.S. government “continuing to broaden the sanctions and not issuing clear exemptions and guidelines for what is allowed.”  They do point out the Obama Administration’s efforts to exempt certain communication software to promote Internet freedom in Iran, but say private companies like Google and Yahoo are, regardless, still blocking basic Internet communication tools in Iran.

Their conclusion is that the Apple episode demonstrates the many ways US-Iran relations affect our community, both inside and out of Iran, and cite this as why Iranian Americans must not to shy away from politics:

“None of us should be surprised that this is happening. Unintended consequences are the reality of broad sanctions. It’s been the policy of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) for many years to oppose broad, indiscriminate sanctions because they don’t punish the right targets (e.g., human rights abusers, the Iranian government) and instead hit ordinary people. The first time NIAC dealt with discrimination due to sanctions policy was ten years ago, when Monster.com prohibited job seekers from listing any work experience in Iran and other sanctioned countries, and removed such references from their resumes. We challenged Monster’s overenforcement and succeeded in correcting the company’s policy.

“We need to call on the U.S. government to take the necessary steps to ensure sanctions do not continue to be misapplied or overenforced to the detriment of Iranian Americans and Iranians. We also need to continue to call out private companies that are overenforcing and misapplying sanctions. And we need to challenge companies like Apple, whose employees’ actions are demeaning and discriminatory.”

To read the full article, click here.

  • 18 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Kristol’s Push for Military Strikes Against Iran

William Kristol and Jamie Fly, neoconservatives who were instrumental in orchestrating the War in Iraq, are at it again.  While their previous war advocacy shop, the Project for a New American Century, is now defunct (after a job well done), they have reconstituted their pro-war efforts in the form of the Foreign Policy Institute.

This time they are calling for Congress to pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iran–with or without support from Commander in Chief Obama.  Completely contradicting US, Israeli, and European intelligence, Kristol and Fly insist that Iran is a dangerous threat that is “closer than ever to nuclear weapons.”

These fear mongering tactics may have worked back in 2003 when Kristol and Fly organized support for the War in Iraq, but today we know better than to take the advice of war hawks such as Kristol and his cronies.  Their ridiculous claim that military action against Iran would “serve the nations interests,” only illustrates their disregard for the lives of U.S soldiers and the words of people who actually know what they are talking about.  The most prominent words used by military and civilian leaders to describe a strike against Iran are: disastrous, calamitous, and dangerous.  Their words to describe folks like Kritol and Fly could probably be summed up as: chicken hawks.

  • 15 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear file, Sanctions, US-Iran War

If ECI, AIPAC, and Senate hawks think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so

Yesterday, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) released a new ad (see the J Street response, above) rejecting diplomacy and calling for an immediate “action” with regard to Iran, further adding to the list of pro-war efforts to sabotage diplomacy and limit Obama’s maneuverability at the upcoming Moscow sessions. Although they never directly call for military action, ECI’s efforts to push for war with Iran are increasingly transparent.

The ad implies that an Iran with nuclear capabilities is around the corner, completely ignoring U.S, European and Israeli intelligence reports that say Iran has not decided to build a bomb and is years away from creating a nuclear warhead. Similarly, last week the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a memo saying, “Iran has taken advantage of the talks to advance its nuclear program.”

In a Senate letter AIPAC is sponsoring that is circulating in the Senate, Robert Menendez and Roy Blunt demand the most improbable ultimatums for Iran talks and tells President Obama to offer nothing in return, effectively killing any chance to negotiate a deal at Moscow.

However, neither ECI, AIPAC, nor Congressional hawks are directly calling for a war with Iran. A direct declaration of war would invite questions concerning the astonishing costs, the lack of achievable objectives, and why the country is being dragged into another war in the Middle East. In short, it would be political suicide. Instead, they choose the easier route of demanding Iran meet impossible red lines and blaming Iran when their demands are not met. 

As Obama has said, “If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.” They have rejected diplomacy, but are too cowardly to voice the only other option that they leave on the table- war.

  • 11 June 2012
  • Posted By Roshan Alemi
  • 0 Comments
  • US-Iran War

Panetta Says It Would Take Iran 2-3 Years to Build Nuke

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described how close he believes Iran is to building nuclear weapons in an in-depth interview that aired over the weekend on CBS’s “60 minutes.”

“The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon,” Panetta explained. This means that, were Iran to decide to construct a nuclear weapon, it would take up to three years to actually build one given current capabilities. The clock would not begin until Iran made such a decision.

Panetta and other officials have been clear that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon and has called for continued diplomacy, as well as economic pressure, in order to ensure that Iran never chooses to weaponize. Panetta’s time frame for Iran’s ability to weaponize further illuminates the disconnect between what war hawks in Congress are saying and how experts are describing Iran’s nuclear threat.

  • 19 October 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 3 Comments
  • Neo-Con Agenda, US-Iran War

Military and civilian leaders on dangers of war with Iran

Apparently, having learned nothing from their wrong-headed push for going to war with Iraq based on questionable evidence, Bill Kristol and the gang is back once again banging the drums of war.  In the wake of last Tuesday’s revelations about an alleged assassination attempt against the Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C., a cacophony of calls from Iran hawks to authorize “the use of force against Iranian entities,” “respond militarily to this outrage,” etc. have arisen from the usual suspects.

But unlike in 2003, this time around we have learned better than to follow the neocon clarion call to arms. We saw firsthand with the Iraq War fiasco what happens when we take their advice .  Today, their claims that military strikes will usher in a democratic government in Iran should ring false to most  our ears.

And given what we learned in Iraq and given that military experts have made it abundantly clear that the challenges of a war in Iran would dwarf those that we faced in Iraq, never mind that we can little afford to another war, it is obvious that the military response Kristol and Co. advocate for would be disastrous.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Here is what military leaders have said about so-called “targeted strikes” or all out war with Iran:

Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense

“Conner’s axiom — never fight unless you have to — looms over policy discussions today regarding rogue nations like Iran … Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. In fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels.”(Think Progress: Gates: War With Iran ‘Would Be Disastrous,’ It’s ‘The Last Thing We Need’)

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” (NY Times: Warning Against Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan)

Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

“No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive.”

“We haven’t had a contact with Iran since 1979.  Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union.  We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other.  If something happens it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right – that there will be miscalculations – which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world.” (Haaretz: Military Strike Won’t Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program

General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, former head of CENTCOM and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan

“It’s possible (a strike) could be used to play to nationalist tendencies. There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects (of a strike on Iran).”(Reuters: Petraeus Says Strike On Iran Could Spark Nationalism)

Stop talking war, start talking…

We’re slowly reaching a critical point in the nuclear impasse with Iran.

If you listen to Iran hawks on the right, Iran is hell bent on getting a nuclear weapon.  They just know that’s what Iran wants, despite, as Roger Cohen suggests, no evidence or logical basis supporting their conclusion.

Unfortunately, there’s been little to no push back against what sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric coming out of neo-cons in 2002, pre-Iraq invasion.

Keeping quiet could lead us beyond the point of no return, where no matter what we do or say or what calculus we use, the end result is a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.  Of course, many Iran-hawks will portray this as a “limited strike” sortie, where only nuclear facilities are attacked.  But if “limited strike” doesn’t sound a whole lot like “slam dunk” or “cake walk,” you might not be listening closely enough.

For us to assume Iran would not respond to “limited strikes”, that Iran would slow or end its enrichment of uranium, that Iran would somehow become more pliant in its reporting, and that the rest of the Middle East would remain quiet, is recklessly naive at best.

I want to be clear before I go forward.  I don’t support an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.  But the fact is Iran has not decided to actually begin a nuclear weapons program.  The only conclusion we can draw from a new IAEA report is that they are still in the investigations phase, despite attempts to suggest otherwise. And Iran still hasn’t decided if they actually want a program, and, if they do, what will it look like.  As I’ve written previously, all major intelligence analysis points to this conclusion as well.

Unfortunately, some have decided, despite the fact Iran is within boundaries of international law circumscribing uranium enrichment and despite the fact Iran remains operating within the framework of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the US needs to threaten Iran for its transgressions—as Senator Lieberman’s questioning of Leon Panetta at his recent confirmation hearings would suggest.    What we have to understand is that, in many ways, the policy coming out of Tehran is in large part a response to such threats.  (Disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that Iran is helping its cause by being evasive regarding their program.)

This means that they could decide they are safer with nuclear weapons, or with people thinking they have nuclear weapons.  We have to refrain, however, from accelerating any decision by Iran to seek nuclear weapons.  Far worse, however, would be a self-fulfilling prophecy–an attack on Iran that drives them to decide to weaponize.   As my former professor Dr. Robert Farley, at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and Commerce says, “Angels weep when we mistake pre-emptive strikes with preventative strikes.”

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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