Key Races Will Decide Majority Control of Senate

Washington, DC – Control of the Senate is up for grabs this Election Day, and many of the most important Senate races are sharply divided on issues important to the Iranian-American community. Some of the most endangered incumbents are Senators who led the opposition to the Iran deal, have authored sanctions aimed at unraveling the deal, or who have stood in the way of efforts to repeal H.R.158 visa discrimination. Many of their challengers, meanwhile, have backed the accord and are being attacked for their pro-diplomacy positions.

Republicans currently hold a 54-46 majority in the Senate, meaning they control what bills go to the floor for a vote and what issues get priority. If Democrats pick up five seats in the November elections, they will take control of the Senate next year.

Below, we review the ten most competitive Senate races that could decide which party holds the majority – and how the next Congress handles issues like the Iran deal, sanctions, and visa discrimination.

ARIZONA

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Sen. John McCain is in for the political fight of his life. If he survives his August 30th Republican primary election against Osteopath Kelli Ward (who says she wants to mix the mortar for Trump’s border wall), he will go on to face Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick in November. While McCain – an influential lawmaker and Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee – has vocally opposed the administration’s negotiations with Iran from the outset and signed onto numerous bills to unravel them, Kirkpatrick supports the Iran deal and has pledged to support legislation to repeal discriminatory visa restrictions against dual nationals. McCain has endorsed Trump but is clearly in distress about the top of the ticket (Trump only narrowly leads Clinton 42% to 40% in Arizona in a post-convention CBS poll). If McCain reverses his endorsement of Trump he is in danger of alienating his base; if his endorsement stands, he alienates 30% of the population, which is Hispanic, as well as moderate women. The polls are all over the place, with some showing McCain up and a few showing Kirkpatrick gaining, but it is rare for an Arizona Republican to be in such a tight race with a Democrat at all.

 

FLORIDA

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This seat is critical to both parties in the fight to control the Senate and the Presidential election so it will get a lot of attention. Many thought that Democrats had a strong shot at taking the seat of formerly retiring Senator Marco Rubio – a major opponent of the Iran deal and a supporter of new sanctions efforts aimed at unraveling the agreement. But the race was turned on its head in June. First, Rubio reversed his decision to step down and decided to run for reelection. Then, the stronger of the two Democratic candidates – Rep. Patrick Murphy, a supporter of the Iran deal – was found to have embellished important parts of his resume. The other Democrat in the race – Rep. Alan Grayson, who announced his support for the Iran deal after Murphy – has been charged with ethics violations for running a hedge fund while in office in addition to being accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse. Rubio is running ahead of Murphy in the latest polls by 6 points, but Clinton is ahead of Trump by 5 so this race is far from over. 

 

ILLINOIS

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Kirk is perhaps the top Iran hawk in the Senate; he is the author of some of the most strident sanctions against Iran and led efforts to block the nuclear negotiations. Kirk’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, is ahead in the very few polls that have been conducted. Duckworth voiced early and strong support for the Iran deal. Senator Mark Kirk is widely viewed as the most vulnerable Republican Senator, but he is trying harder than others to hold on. He endorsed Trump in March, but he became the first major candidate to rescind his endorsement, attempting to appeal to moderate Republicans and Democrats. It could very well be too little, too late and his efforts to become more moderate have alienated his conservative base.

 

INDIANA 

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Republican Sen. Dan Coats is retiring, so this is an open seat. Until mid July, Republican Rep. Todd Young was heading toward a victory over former Democrat Rep. Baron Hill and the Republicans believed the seat was safe. However, the Democratic Campaign Committee convinced the popular former Governor and Senator Evan Bayh to run for his old seat instead with Hill now running to secure his old House seat. Bayh brought with him a $9 million war chest and name recognition, transforming the race. Neither Republican Young nor Democrat Bayh supports the Iran deal. Bayh is one of the few Democrats who opposed the deal and helped spearhead at least two separate organizations that spent millions to try to block the deal. Most analysts now predict another Democratic pickup of a Republican seat.

 

NEVADA

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Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring so this Senate seat is open. Neither candidate – Republican Rep. Joe Heck and Democratic former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto has a strong persona or image in the state. The two powerful and polarizing personalities dominating this race are Trump and Reid. Heck is trying to make the race a referendum on the retiring US Senate Minority Leader Reid; Cortez Masto is trying to hang Trump around Heck’s neck like an anchor. Heck opposes the Iran deal and, because of Cortez Masto’s early and vocal support of the Iran deal, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been airing attack ads against her since October of last year on her pro-deal position. There are lots of moving parts in this race – the huge Hispanic, Democratic leaning population has been energized in part by the prospect of a Latina representing Nevada in Cortez Masto. But outside groups (Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs) are pouring money into the race in support of Heck. Clinton is up by about 3 points here but the real battle begins in September.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE


New Hampshire is one of the states that has shown a dramatic shift since the conventions and has placed incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is a major Iran hawk and the sponsor of new sanctions aimed at unraveling the Iran deal, in real danger. Democratic candidate Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports the deal, has been a strong challenger and polls have gone back and forth all year. Then came the conventions and the Trump meltdown of the last several weeks. The WBUR poll of August 4 has Hassan up by 10 points, sending shock waves through the Republican establishment. The same poll shows voters across the political spectrum consolidating around Clinton who now leads Trump by 9 points in the state. Anything can happen, and polls are fluctuating , but this race has been a canary in the coalmine warning for Republicans in New Hampshire and across the county.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

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The Senate race in North Carolina has become the most surprising of the list. Roll Call wrote just last week, “Nobody thought Burr was going to have a real race.” But Burr’s opponent, Democrat Deborah Ross, outraised him in the first two quarters of the year. Ross, a supporter of the Iran deal, has gotten the attention of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which has moved this race to its top tier. The Senate race is now labeled a toss up and the Clinton campaign and the DSCC are pouring resources into the state. A recent poll has Clinton  up by 5 and Ross up by 2 and the battle for this state will be fierce. Many political pros are giving North Carolina to Clinton and Ross may well ride her coattails to the Senate.

 

OHIO

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Republican incumbent Senator Rob Portman is considered a moderate, has over $13 million cash on hand, and has been endorsed by the four major labor unions (100K members total). An opponent of the Iran deal, he signed the Cotton letter warning Iran’s Supreme Leader against agreeing to the nuclear accord. Ignoring Trump, he has focused on local issues like the opioid epidemic in Ohio. In the last poll, Portman posted a 5% lead over his opponent, Democratic former Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland has about $3 million in the bank and has voiced strong support for the Iran deal. Clinton is up by 5 in Ohio and both the Clinton campaign and the DSCC have made major ad buys and committed staff to winning this state and electing Ted Strickland.  Portman is so desperate to hold on to his seat that he is sending his staff to Clinton rallies seeking support.  Republican Gov. John Kasich told CNN that he does not believe Trump will win Ohio. Anything could happen.

 

PENNSYLVANIA

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Trump needs Pennsylvania if he has any chance of winning the White House and the Republicans badly need to hold this Senate seat if they have any chance of keeping the Senate. Although they have not won the state in 20 years, Republicans always believe they have a shot at Pennsylvania because of its stark demographics. Philadelphia and its surrounding counties tend to be progressive, Pittsburgh tends to be more conservative but persuadable, with the center T-shaped section very conservative and blue-collar. On paper, the T section is perfect Trump territory, but many of those families are Blue and Gold Star families who could be turned off by Trump’s attacks on the Khan family. Recent polls show that even the voters in the T are leaning toward Clinton. In one of the few polls released after the conventions, Clinton leads Trump here by 11 points and Senate candidate McGinty is up by 4. Incumbent Republican Senator Pat Toomey, a strong opponent of the Iran deal and signatory of the Cotton letter, is worried and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is now airing ads against McGinty attacking her support of the Iran deal.

 

WISCONSIN

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Senator Johnson is the author of the Senate companion to H.R.158, barring Iranian dual nationals from visiting the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. He is a vocal Iran deal opponent, and pushed legislation in 2015 that would have mandated a two-thirds vote of approval before the Iran deal could go forward, which was viewed as a poison pill and rejected.

Former Senator Russ Feingold, a powerful voice in favor of the Iran deal, had maintained a double-digit lead in the race most of the year and the Republican Campaign Committee all but gave up on Johnson. However, outside groups have decided to help Johnson with a $1 million ad buy that begins in September. Conventional wisdom still gives the seat to the Democrats. But, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and GOP Chair Reince Priebus are trying desperately to protect Republican control of Congress, including home state incumbent Senator Johnson, all the while seeking to mitigate the harm of Trump’s candidacy.

Memo: Countering Iranian Threats Act of 2016

The Countering Iranian Threats Act of 2016 (S.3267) – a bill sponsored by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) – is the latest in a series of Congressional efforts that would violate the Iran nuclear accord and block any further diplomatic outreach to Iran in favor of a return to a posture of confrontation.  

The bill would prevent the United States from implementing its sanctions-related obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) and would thus threaten to fatally undermine the historic accord.  Under the JCPOA, the U.S. is committed to lifting all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, as well as refrain from re-imposing the lifted sanctions or implementing policies intended to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.  However, S.3267 would require the President to re-impose sanctions on individuals and entities that were delisted from the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (“SDN List”) maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) pursuant to the JCPOA. It would also enact policies aimed at preventing Iran from engaging in certain activities permitted it under the JCPOA, including access to U.S. dollars from non-U.S. financial institutions.  

Furthermore, the bill would significantly constrain any President’s ability to utilize sanctions for their intended purpose – i.e., to incentivize a change in Iran’s behavior. S.3267 imposes arduous requirements for any suspension of the sanctions imposed under the bill and would prohibit the President from waiving sanctions or licensing transactions involving Iran as part of U.S. implementation of any international agreement with Iran.  While this provision would apply prospectively and would thus not directly impact U.S. obligations under the JCPOA, it would render impossible future efforts to forge a diplomatic compromise with Iran that secures vital U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.  It would also constitute a gross overreach by Congress into the Executive Branch’s ability to conduct U.S. foreign policy.    

Most critically, the bill would require the U.S. to view Iran as the U.S.’s principal threat in the Middle East by mandating the administration to develop a plan to counter Iran’s regional activities.  In an era in which non-state actors such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are terrorizing the region and threatening to turn their attentions towards the U.S. homeland, this bill would effectively ignore these developments in favor of the U.S. building a regional strategy solely devoted to countering Iran.  While the U.S. continues to have serious strategic differences with and concerns about Iran and its regional behavior, this bill’s single-minded focus on counteracting Iranian activities in the region is dismissive of the profound potential inherent in the U.S. and Iran cooperating to resolve the problems posed by state collapse – whether in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.   

As such, deal-supporting legislators – as well as those who have since recognized the merits of the nuclear accord in constraining Iran’s nuclear program and reject efforts to undermine the deal – should oppose this bill and refrain from joining efforts to pass this deal-killing legislation.

Below, the substantive provisions of this bill are detailed:

The bill would require the administration to develop a 10-year strategy biennially aimed at countering Iran and its activities in the region.  This would include the development of plans to build a regional security architecture – inclusive of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel – whose primary purpose would be to counteract Iran.  In this manner, the bill would effectively define Iran as the principal threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East and mandate this (and successive administrations) to design security policies aimed at neutralizing this perceived threat.

The bill would also:

  • Effectively designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by imposing all of the sanctions applicable to such designations.  Sanctions would also be applied to IRGC officials, agents, and affiliates. (Section 201)
  • Require the President to impose blocking sanctions on persons that engage in activities related to the sale of arms to Iran currently prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231.  Such persons would also be subject to U.S. civil and criminal penalties. (Section 202)
  • Require the President to impose blocking sanctions on persons that contribute to Iran’s ballistic missile program.  This includes successor entities to such persons, as well as those who exercise ownership or control over the persons.  The bill would also subject designated parties to U.S. civil and criminal penalties.  To ensure that the President was faithfully implementing this provision, the bill would require the President to submit a report every 6 months detailing all persons that have engaged in activities supportive of Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as those sectors of Iran’s economy that are facilitating, supporting, or otherwise involved in the development of Iran’s ballistic missile program. (Section 203)
  • Require the President to impose blocking sanctions on persons that engage in significant activities undermining cyber-security on behalf of the Iranian government.  This provision also requires the President to submit a report to Congress on Iran’s cyber-activities, including a detailed strategy for counteracting such Iranian activities. (Section 208)
  • Mandate the President to maintain sanctions imposed under EO 13224 (relating to support for international terrorism) and EO 13382 (relating to support for WMD and WMD delivery systems, including ballistic missiles) until such time as the President certifies that the designated person has not provided support for such activities during the preceding 12-month period.  By requiring the designated person to relent from such malign activities for a 12-month period preceding the potential rescission of their designation, this provision would (1) undermine the President’s ability to trade the lifting of sanctions for a change in behavior in ways detrimental to U.S. security interests; and (2) prohibit the President from entering into a diplomatic settlement with Iran under which Iran would refrain from activities anathema to U.S. security interests (such as its support for terrorism) in return for the lifting of sanctions related to terrorism, as the President would be unable to make the required certification in such an instance. (Section 204)
  • Mandate the President to maintain sanctions on Iranian persons related to human rights abuses until such time as the President certifies that the designated person has refrained from such abuses during the preceding 12-month period. (Section 205)
  • Mandate the President to maintain sanctions on persons that are designated for having undermined cyber-security on behalf of the Iranian government until such time as the President certifies that the designated person has refrained from such activities for the preceding 12-month period. (Section 207)
  • Authorize the President to impose blocking sanctions on persons identified to:
    • Have committed or pose a significant risk of committing an act of violence that threatens the peace or stability of, or undermines the efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in, the GCC countries, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, or Yemen; or undermines the peace process in Syria;
    • Have been responsible for or complicit in the commission of human rights abuses in Syria or in the GCC countries, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, or Yemen;
      Have committed or facilitated human rights abuses or other acts of violence in Iran on behalf of the Government of Iran;
    • Have been responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other violations of human rights against persons in Iran who seek to (a) expose the illegal activities of the Iranian government or (b) promote human rights and freedoms in Iran;
    • Have been an official of the Government of Iran responsible for or complicit in acts of significant corruption in Iran, including expropriation of assets for personal gain, etc. (Section 206)
  • Authorize the President to impose blocking sanctions on Iranian government officials responsible for or complicit in acts of significant corruption in Iran, including the expropriation of assets for personal gain, etc. (Section 211)
  • Prohibit the President from authorizing offshore dollar clearing entities to conduct transactions with an Iranian bank in U.S. dollars.  The bill would also mandate the President to submit to Congress all documents – including Executive actions, guidance, regulations, FAQ documents, written communications, etc. – provided to offshore dollar clearing entities relating to the conduct of transactions with Iranian banks in U.S. dollars.  This provision would remain in effect until Iran’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is rescinded.  Moreover, the bill would require the Secretary of State to describe all efforts being undertaken by the U.S. government to prevent all U.S. dollar-related transactions involving Iran or the Government of Iran, including by reporting to Congress the names of all financial institutions engaged in the provision of U.S. dollars to Iran. (Section 209 & 302)
     
  • Renew the Iran Sanctions Act for a 10-year period ending December 31, 2026. (Section 212)
  • Require the Secretary of the Treasury to establish and maintain an IRGC Watch List, including the names of all entities in which the IRGC or a designated IRGC agent or affiliate has an ownership interest of less than 25% or in which the IRGC does not have an ownership interest but the IRGC or a designated IRGC agent or affiliate does maintain a presence on its board of directors or otherwise has influence over its actions, policies, or personnel decisions.  The IRGC Watch List will be sent to Congress on an annual basis. (Section 307)

    Require the President to submit a report to Congress every 6 months detailing the U.S. citizens that are detained in Iran or by groups supported by Iran, including the steps that the U.S. government is taking to secure their release. (Section 308)

  • Limit the President’s waiver authorities on a case-by-case basis, so that the President would be unable to broadly waive the applicability of the sanctions imposed under the bill.  Moreover, the bill would prohibit the President from using his waiver authorities under the bill to implement the terms of an international agreement with Iran unless that agreement is approved through enactment of a joint resolution or has received the advice and consent of the Senate via the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  (Section 402)
  • Limit the President’s licensing authorities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to implement the terms of an international agreement with Iran unless that agreement is approved through enactment of a joint resolution or has received the advice and consent of the Senate via the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  This provision would derail efforts to engage Iran in a diplomatic process to resolve outstanding concerns and would have prevented the U.S. from adhering to its commitments under the nuclear accord. (Section 402)
  • Require the President to respond to Congress within 120 days regarding why a certain individual or entity has not been sanctioned under the bill’s authorities. (Section 403)
  • Mandate the President to initiate investigations into potentially sanctionable activities should the President receive credible information that persons have engaged in conduct deemed to be sanctionable under this bill.  Following no more than 180 days after the commencement of the investigation, the President shall determine whether sanctions should be imposed on the subject persons. (Section 404) 

NIAC Action Statement on Tim Kaine Selection as Clinton’s VP

Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“As advocates for diplomacy we have high hopes for Hillary Clinton’s decision to pick Tim Kaine as her running mate. 
 
“This is not a pick that will please neocons who hoped to build influence with a Clinton administration to hedge their bets on Trump. Kaine serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was the ranking Democrat on Middle East Subcommittee, and played a leading role in shepherding the Iran deal through Congress. He has publicly articulated his belief that that the U.S. must put diplomacy at the center of U.S. foreign policy in order to ensure the nation is not on permanent war footing. 
 
“Kaine played a leadership role among Democrats on the substance and fraught politics surrounding the Iran deal. He was at the center of blocking the Kirk-Menendez sanctions that would have killed the nuclear talks when they first started. He helped secure Congressional authority to review and vote on the Iran deal, and worked to win that vote when it came. Kaine was one of the first in the Senate to refuse to attend the Benjamin Netanyahu speech organized by House Republicans in a brazen and unprecedented bid to defeat President Obama and block the nuclear deal. 
 
“A Democratic Vice President who has credibility on foreign policy, advocates for diplomacy, and fought for the Iran deal can help ensure that the Obama diplomatic legacy remains a core foundation of the Democratic party. Nominating him could bridge the gap for those in the pro-peace community who have had questions about Clinton’s foreign policy direction.
 
“We hope Kaine builds on his record and works to ensure the United States get off the perpetual war footing places diplomacy at the center of any future Democratic Administration’s foreign policy.”
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Memo: Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016

The Iranian Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 – which Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has offered as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) – evidences the continued fight by opponents of the Iran nuclear accord to kill the deal.  If included in the broader NDAA, this amendment would fatally undermine the U.S.’s ability to observe its sanctions-lifting commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”). 

The bill would impose significant new sanctions on Iran, including sectoral sanctions designed to cut off large parts of Iran’s economy from the world.  In imposing such broad-based sectoral sanctions, this bill would eviscerate the practical benefit of the sanctions-lifting for Iran and would drag the United States  back to the path towards military conflict with Iran.     

Below, the bill’s substantive provisions are as follows:

Iran Sanctions Act Extension

The bill would extend the Iran Sanctions Act to December 31, 2031.  All previous ISA-related extensions have been for five-year periods.  This extension would last for 15 years.       

Ballistic Missile Sanctions

This bill would require the President to submit Congress a report identifying persons that have knowingly aided the Iranian government in the development of its ballistic missile program.  The President would be required to both impose blocking sanctions with respect to each such person identified and impose travel restrictions on such persons’ entry into the United States.  Moreover, the President would be required to sanction foreign banks that conduct significant financial transactions with such identified persons.

Moreover, the bill would impose blocking and secondary sanctions on persons or entities that are: owned 25% or more by Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (“AIO”), Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (“SHIG”), the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group (“SBIG”), and any agent or affiliate of the foregoing; persons that control, manage, or direct the foregoing entities; and persons on the board of directors of the foregoing entities.  Secondary sanctions include sanctions on foreign banks that conduct significant financial transactions with any person designated for sanctions under this provision.

The Secretary of the Treasury is also tasked with establishing and maintaining a list of entities in which the AIO, SHIG, SBIG, or any agent or affiliate of the foregoing has a greater than 0% interest but less than 25% interest or maintains a presence on the board of directors but has no ownership interest.  The Comptroller General is required to conduct a review of such list on a regular basis to determine whether persons not included on the list otherwise qualify for inclusion on such list.  The Comptroller General is authorized and encouraged to consult with NGOs in conducting its review.  Effectively, this would deputize outside anti-Iran hawks to oversee the work of the U.S. administration in designating persons and entities and including them on this list.   

The bill would also mandate the President to submit to Congress a certification that each person listed in the annexes to the United Nations Security Council resolutions – including those Council resolutions that have been superseded by UNSCR 2231 – are no longer facilitating, supporting, or involved with the development of or transfer to Iran of ballistic missiles or technology, parts, components, or technology information related to ballistic missiles.  If the President is unable to make such determination, then the President is required to impose blocking and secondary sanctions on such persons or entities.  This would contradict express provisions in the JCPOA de-listing such persons and entities.

The bill would also amend the Iran Sanctions Act to require ISA-related sanctions on persons that export, transfer, or otherwise provide to Iran any goods, services, technology, or other items that may contribute materially to the ability of Iran to acquire or develop ballistic missiles and the capability of launch ballistic missiles. 

Sectoral Sanctions

This bill would require the President to submit to Congress a list of the sectors of Iran’s economy that are facilitating, supporting, or otherwise involved with the development of or transfer to Iran of ballistic missiles or technology, parts, components, or technology information relating to ballistic missiles.  The President would also be required to provide Congress a determination as to whether certain sectors of Iran’s economy are involved in such activities, including the automotive, chemical, computer science, construction, electronic, energy, metallurgy, mining, petrochemical, research (including universities and research institutions) and telecommunications sectors.  If the President determines that any such sectors do meet the criteria established above, then the President will include them in such list provided to Congress and published in the Federal Register.

For sectors of Iran’s economy included on such list, the President shall impose blocking and secondary sanctions on persons that operate in designated sectors of Iran’s economy; persons that knowingly provide significant financial, material, technological, or other support to, or goods or services in support of, any activity or transaction on behalf or for the benefit of a person operating in designated sectors of Iran’s economy; and any person owned or controlled by a person operating in designated sectors of Iran’s economy.  Secondary sanctions include sanctions on foreign banks that conduct significant financial transactions with or provide significant financial services to such targeted persons.  This could lead to a sanctions program targeting dwarfing that imposed prior to the nuclear accord.

Moreover, the President is required to submit to Congress a list of all foreign persons that have facilitated, supported, or been involved with the development of ballistic missiles or technology, parts, components, or technology information related to ballistic missiles in certain sectors of Iran’s economy.  The Comptroller General is tasked with reviewing such a list to see whether foreign persons not include on the list otherwise qualify for inclusion on such list.  The Comptroller General is authorized and encouraged to consult with NGOs in conducting its review.  This would again effectively deputize outside anti-Iran hawks to oversee the work of the U.S. administration in designating persons and entities and including them on this list.  

Broader Banking Sanctions

This bill would broaden the scope of U.S. sanctions targeting foreign banks engaged in certain conduct with Iran or Iran-related entities by including, as the subjects of U.S. sanctions, foreign banks that conduct significant financial transactions with or provide significant financial services to persons designated for involvement in Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and capabilities or launch technology related to ballistic missiles.  The bill would also limit the Secretary of the Treasury’s waiver authorities with respect to the imposition of such financial sanctions under CISADA § 104(c)(2).

Stop the Next H.R. 158!

House Republicans are moving forward with the next discriminatory visa law inspired by the bigoted rhetoric of our decaying political atmosphere.


Late last year, after Donald Trump called for Muslims to be banned from the U.S., the House passed H.R. 158 – banning dual nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan from visa-free travel to the U.S. 

The legislation was passed without a single hearing and was inserted into a year-end spending bill and quickly became a law that we have been fighting to repeal ever since.
Now, House Republicans are moving forward with the next discriminatory visa law inspired by the bigoted rhetoric of our decaying political atmosphere.
 
H.R. 5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act (or “VISA Act”), is a discriminatory new immigration bill that will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee next week and could receive a full vote shortly thereafter. 
 
The VISA Act targets visa seekers from Iran, as well as Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, for enhanced security measures and provides no way for a listed country to be removed–meaning the enhanced scrutiny for Iranians would be permanent. 
 
The bill also imposes draconian hurdles and delays against all immigrant visa seekers and their American family members. If an Iranian American petitions for a visa for their family member, the VISA Act would force them to undergo DNA testing to prove their relationship.
 
Finally, the bill will make it significantly more difficult for foreign nationals to come to the U.S. by increasing “burden of proof” requirements. This could make it especially difficult to Iranian students who seek to study at American universities to demonstrate they will not overstay their student visa.
 
There is still time to stop the VISA Act. Unlike H.R. 158, the VISA Act is moving under normal procedure. The bill is the next step on the slippery slope that H.R. 158 helped create, we must not let it move forward.
 
Please contact your Representative in Congress and urge them to oppose the VISA Act and to work to repeal the discriminatory visa restrictions already on the books.

FAQs on the Visa Waiver Restrictions (May 12, 2016)

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The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act (H.R. 158) prohibits citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program from visiting the United States under the program if they are dual nationals of or have recently traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria. It was signed into law on December 18, 2015, as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of FY2016.

The original version of the bill restricted visa-free travel to the U.S. for any citizen of a VWP country who, since March 2011, has traveled to Iraq and Syria – the primary states where ISIS operates – or any other country that the Department of Homeland Security designates as having a significant Foreign Terrorist Organization presence. The legislation was amended to add countries that are designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism to the restricted countries list (Iran, Sudan, Syria), and to expand the restrictions to include not just persons who traveled to these countries but also to prohibit citizens of VWP countries who are also dual nationals of these countries from participating in the program.

These restrictions have provoked an outcry from the Iranian-American community, as well as Arab-American and civil-liberties groups, who say the restrictions on dual nationals and certain travelers are discriminatory and could be imposed against American dual nationals.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate – the Equal Protection in Travel Act of 2016 (H.R. 4380/S. 2449) – to repeal the restrictions on dual nationals. NIAC Action and other groups have urged for passage of the legislation and additionally called for the Obama administration to utilize its waiver authority to ensure dual nationals and certain travelers to Iran are not restricted from the VWP.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How can the visa waiver reform impact Iranian Americans?

The direct targets of the law include citizens of European Union or other VWP countries who also hold Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese or Syrian dual nationality or who have visited these countries in the past five years. They are now required to apply for a visa in order to travel to the United States.

The law may potentially impact Americans who are dual nationals or have traveled to the “restricted” countries because the VWP operates on the basis of reciprocity. EU countries, for example, accept American travelers without a visa because we accepted EU travelers without a visa. However, because we now bar certain citizens from the VWP, the EU can respond by applying the same restrictions against Americans seeking to visit EU countries. As the bill targets dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, it is possible that reciprocal measures would target dual nationals from those same countries living in the United States, including Iranian Americans.

The European Union already has laws in place to expedite reciprocal restrictions in the event that a third country imposes such restrictions on European nationals. In April 2016, the European Commission is set to consider a reciprocity mechanism that would suspend VWP travel to the European Union for all Americans for 12 months. It is unclear if such a suspension will be implemented, as the European Council and European Parliament would have up to 6 months to object before the suspension would go into effect. This reciprocity mechanism was initially triggered because a handful of EU states are not eligible for the VWP, in addition to other complaints. However, the recent restrictions on certain EU dual nationals and travelers further exacerbates existing divides between the EU and the United States over the VWP. Even if the EU chooses to forego full suspension of the VWP this year, such a course would not rule out the possibility of narrower reciprocation against certain categories of American travelers.

Why is NIAC saying Iranian Americans are being treated as second class if we are not currently being impacted by HR158?

It is true that Iranian Americans are not the direct targets of this law, but the law has opened up the Iranian-American community to reciprocation by VWP countries. At this time, it is not certain that the 38 VWP countries – including Europe – will choose to reciprocate. NIAC encouraged all 38 to abstain from reciprocating so that Iranian Americans are not treated as second-class citizens. Hopefully, this effort had an impact and reciprocation does not come to pass.

Even if it does not, the Iranian-American community has a vested interest in ensuring that Iranians outside the United States are not subject to discrimination from the US. Many Iranian Americans have family members in Europe and elsewhere who have been unable to visit their family in the U.S. due to the new visa restrictions. Further, if we permit discrimination against our community on the basis of national origin to stand, it could be easier for lawmakers to target the Iranian-American community directly in the future.

 
It doesn’t look like the EU is planning to reciprocate – aren’t they just addressing a separate issue regarding the exclusion of certain EU countries from the VWP?
 
The EU likely views the exclusion of EU states from the VWP as a greater problem than the restrictions on dual nationals, but the two issues are now intertwined. The EU has threatened to suspend the VWP for all American citizens for a year if visa requirements are not lifted for all EU citizens – including nationals of the five countries excluded from the VWP and dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. The EU could choose to suspend the entire VWP, though many view this as unlikely. Even if they choose to abstain from suspending the VWP in July, nothing precludes the EU from targeting American dual nationals directly, and this could be a more politically-viable step for the EU to take.
 

I am an American citizen or green card holder who is planning to visit Iran. Does this affect my ability to return to the United States?

No. The law does not bar U.S. citizens or green card holders from re-entering the United States after travel to Iran. It solely affects travel between the 38 countries participating in the VWP and the United States. Iran is not eligible for the VWP.

Will the restrictions affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking U.S. visas, or Americans seeking to travel to Iran?

The restrictions do not affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking a U.S. visa. Iran is not eligible for the VWP, so Iranian citizens who are not dual nationals of countries eligible for the VWP are not affected by this law.

The visa waiver reforms do not prohibit Americans from traveling to Iran. However, future reciprocal actions among European nations and other countries eligible for the VWP could bar Americans who have traveled to Iran or other restricted countries from traveling to those countries without a visa.

Do these changes impact Canadians?

No. Canada is not part of the VWP impacted by these new restrictions. Visa-free travel between Canada and the U.S. is permitted under a separate arrangement unaffected by the legislation.

Could the law impact the Iran nuclear deal?

The administration has offered a waiver for individuals who have traveled to Iran for permissible business under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), side-stepping concerns that the new law represented a backdoor sanction that would violate the JCPOA’s requirement that the U.S. and other parties “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran.” Though Congress provided the administration with an open-ended waiver for the restrictions to protect law enforcement and national security interests, certain Republican lawmakers have expressed opposition to the administration’s use of the waiver, including to exempt JCPOA business.

Iran had protested the visa restrictions and signaled that it would file a complaint. Secretary Kerry, in a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, indicated that the administration will implement the visa restrictions in a manner “so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran,” citing the waiver and other authorities available.

Will the administration offer waivers for dual nationals?

Currently, the administration has only offered to waive the restrictions for certain categories of individuals on a case-by-case basis. These include individuals who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, sub-national governments or a humanitarian NGO on official duty, or as a journalist for reporting purposes. Additionally, individuals who have traveled to Iraq or Iran for legitimate business-related purposes – the latter facilitated by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – are also eligible for a waiver. The waiver process is facilitated through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is an electronic program that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S under the Visa Waiver Program and was updated to reflect the new restrictions in February.

Right now, no waivers have been extended to dual nationals, and the existing waivers do not appear to have been extended to dual nationals from VWP countries that would otherwise be eligible for the waiver categories listed above. For example, a dual national UK-Iranian who traveled to Iran as a journalist and holds dual nationality might not be eligible to receive a waiver. While the administration has stated that it “will continue to explore whether and how the waivers can be used for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan” – and some administration officials have even indicated that the dual national restrictions do not make us safer – the administration has not signaled that there will be any new waivers in the immediate future.

Are we making a difference?

Yes! NIAC Action staff and grassroots leaders have met with leading Senators and Representatives to make certain they are aware of the problems with the new restrictions. We have worked with a coalition of civil rights, Arab-American, and Iranian-American organizations to mobilize pressure to repeal the discriminatory restrictions. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to repeal the restrictions affecting dual nationals, and the administration has at least considered using its waiver authority for Iranian dual nationals.

NIAC Action grassroots teams and the entire Iranian-American community have been incredibly engaged in this effort, totaling more than 100,000 actions to date, which has given us a fighting chance to repeal the discriminatory restrictions.

How can this be resolved?

There are two main paths to overturn the visa restrictions:

Legislative repeal: Bipartisan legislation – the Equal Protection in Travel Act (H.R. 4380/S. 2449) – has been introduced in both the House and Senate to repeal the restrictions on dual nationals.

Executive action: The White House has waiver authority that can be utilized to waive restrictions on dual nationals and certain travelers to Iran. A House letter organized by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and signed by 25 other Representatives encouraged waivers for dual nationals and travelers to Iran, and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) led a Senate letter signed by 12 of his colleagues urging waivers for dual nationals. The administration has utilized the waiver for business, humanitarian, governmental, and journalist travel to “restricted” countries, but has not provided waivers for family, academic, or tourist travel. 

 

Memo: Senators Kirk and Rubio Bill on Dollar Clearing Would Violate Iran Deal

Following news that the Obama administration was considering the issuance of a license in order to facilitate the creation of an offshore dollar clearing system to enable required sanctions relief under the nuclear accord, several Congressional opponents of the Iran deal rushed to block the authorization in a manner that risks violating the accord. 

The most damaging piece of legislation comes from Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) – S.2752, ‘Preventing Iran’s Access to United States Dollars Act of 2016’. 

The bill would prohibit the President from issuing license authorization that permits a person:

(1)    to operate an offshore dollar clearing system for transactions involving the Iranian government or an Iranian person; and

(2)    to provide U.S. dollars for any offshore U.S. dollar clearing system conducted or overseen by a foreign Gov’t or a foreign financial institution for transactions involving the Gov’t of Iran or an Iranian person. 

The bill would also subject any financial institution operating, or participating in, such a dollar clearing system to blocking sanctions.  Finally, the bill would extend the scope of current blocking sanctions on Iranian banks to include all property that arises from or is ordinarily incident or necessary to the offshore dollar clearing system involving Iran.

This bill would violate the nuclear accord in a number of respects. 

First, the bill would subject foreign banks that operate or participate in such an offshore U.S. dollar clearing system to blocking sanctions.  This means that banks involved in such an offshore dollar clearing facility would be cut off entirely from the U.S. financial system and have their U.S.-based assets blocked (or “frozen”).   

This would have the effect of blocking transactions currently allowed under the nuclear accord.  For example, foreign banks are prohibited from clearing U.S. dollar-denominated transactions involving Iran through the U.S. financial system, as U.S. banks are prohibited from providing financial services to Iran.  However, foreign banks are likely not barred from clearing U.S. dollar-denominated transactions involving Iran if such dollar clearing does not touch the United States.  Indeed, the U.S. lifted sanctions related to the provision of U.S. bank notes to the Iranian government by foreign persons, provided that the transaction does not involve a U.S.-designated person or certain prohibited conduct.  While this may not be sufficient to reassure foreign banks to move forward with permissible transactions, by prohibiting such transactions that are currently permitted under U.S. law, S.2752 would be a violation U.S. commitments under the nuclear accord. 

Second, the bill would prohibit the President from issuing license authorizations to permit U.S. banks to provide U.S. dollars for an offshore dollar clearing system involving Iran.

This could tie the President’s hands at a time in which he is required to take action to ensure U.S. compliance under the nuclear accord.  Pursuant to § 24 of the JCPOA’s Main Text, the United States may be obligated to lift certain additional nuclear-related sanctions if doing so is required to ensure full implementation of the JCPOA’s sanctions-lifting.  That means that if Iran is not reaping the promised benefits of the sanctions-lifting due to surviving U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, the President may have to lift certain of the surviving sanctions in order to ensure that Iran receives practical value from the nuclear accord.  This bill, though, would effectively tie the President’s hands by preventing him from taking any such action, causing the U.S. to abrogate it commitments. 

For these reasons, S.2752 is a deal-killing bill specifically designed to prevent the President from ensuring full U.S. compliance with its obligations under the nuclear accord.  Passage of the legislation would undermine efforts to ensure the U.S. is able to abide by its commitments and the nuclear accord is implemented by all parties.

EU Restrictions on American Travel Delayed, Congress Must Act

Press Release - For Immediate Release

 

 

Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the European Commission delayed a decision to suspend the Visa Waiver Program for American travelers by three months:

“Ever since Congress passed discriminatory legislation to restrict visa-free travel for dual nationals late last year, we have warned there could be reciprocal consequences for Americans. That legislation, which barred visa-free travel for dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan as well as individuals who have traveled to those countries since March 201, is already having an adverse impact on European citizens. Today, the European Commission took the first step towards imposing such restrictions that would limit the travel privileges of Americans. 

“The European Commission delayed a resolution to suspend visa-free travel for all Americans until July but highlighted several areas of tension between the EU and U.S. that would need to be addressed. Some of these issues are complex, such as whether the U.S. should admit five additional EU states into the Visa Waiver Program. But the one issue that should be easy to resolve is the U.S. travel restriction based on a person’s national origin or family heritage. Targeting people based on their heritage is un-American, does not make Americans safer, and could come with real costs. 

“Congress should act immediately to repeal this restriction in order to not just protect American values, but also American travel privileges. The Commission’s report notes its favorable view of bipartisan legislation to remove the restrictions – the Equal Protection in Travel Act (S. 2449/H.R. 4380) – that would mitigate the effect of the restrictions on affected EU dual nationals. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has offered this bill as an amendment to the must-pass Federal Aviation Administration authorization that is being considered in the Senate this week. This could be one of the last opportunities to repeal the restrictions until after the U.S. elections, given that few measures of consequence are expected to receive consideration in advance of November.

“There has been growing momentum to remove the restrictions on dual nationals. The author of the dual nationals restrictions – Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) – has acknowledged that these restrictions may need to be reevaluated. In February, 35 tech CEOs and entrepreneurs – including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Pixar President Ed Catmull, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban – denounced the dual national restrictions as discriminatory and bad for U.S. business, while urging their repeal. Additionally, the Iranian-American and Arab-American communities and civil liberties organizations all continue to fight strongly for the repeal of the restrictions. With momentum building for repeal, Congress should not wait to reverse these discriminatory and harmful restrictions.”

###

EU Responds to NIAC Action Concerns on Visa Waiver Reciprocity

Washington, DC – The European Union (EU) responded to a letter from NIAC Action explaining their concern about recent Congressionally mandated changes to the Visa Waiver Program.

The new restrictions prohibit dual nationals from the EU and other Visa Waiver program countries from visiting the U.S. under the program if they are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan or have traveled to those countries since March, 2011. While the program is based on reciprocity, NIAC Action sent letters to the EU as well as all countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program urging against reciprocal restrictions against American dual nationals or persons who had traveled to Iran, especially as legislative and administrative efforts remain underway to remedy the issue.

EU Deputy Chief of Mission Caroline Vicini writes in the response to that the EU has “taken good note of the provisions that affect dual nationals,” and highlights legislation—supported by NIAC Action and prominent civil rights and immigration organizations—introduced in Congress to repeal the dual-nationals restrictions. “We continue to believe that European Union citizens who are dual nationals of a proscribed country are disproportionately and unfairly affected by this legislation and therefore we closely follow the new legislation introduced by Representative Amash and Senator Flake”.

However, the EU letter response highlights a reciprocity mechanism under EU law and suggests that the bloc may suspend visa-free travel to Europe for all Americans. “This mechanism establishes that if by April 2016, the third countries concerned (i.e. visa free countries) have not lifted the visa requirement for all EU citizens, the commission shall adopt an act temporarily suspending the visa waiver for 12 months for all citizens of those third countries.”

The full EU response letter is here.

BREAKING: Visa Discrimination Now Being Implemented

Today, the Obama administration announced details for how it will implement the legislatively mandated changes to the U.S.’s visa waiver program under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.  Based on our reading, these plans will both cause major problems for non-U.S. Iranian dual-nationals in their travels to the United States and threaten to provoke European and other VWP countries to adopt similar restrictive measures against U.S.-Iran dual nationals. The same concerns that NIAC Action and so many within the Iranian American community had initially remain today. 
 
The Obama administration has adopted a narrow interpretation of the waiver provision contained in the legislation amending the Visa Waiver Program and has done nothing to absolve concerns over how the changes could affect Iranian dual-nationals, both here and abroad. 
 
Soon after the initial legislation was first enacted, NIAC Action urged the Obama administration to utilize the waiver provision contained within the bill in a broad manner so as to limit the effect of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program for both dual-nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria, and European and other travelers to Iran.  Unfortunately, the administration has decided to use its waiver authorities in a most limited manner.  
 
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will waive, on a case-by-case basis, the requirement that persons from Visa Waiver Program countries have a valid nonimmigrant visa prior to travel to the United States. The waiver will apply only to individuals who have traveled to Iran:
  • (1)  On behalf of an international organization, regional organization, and sub-national governments on official duty;
  • (2)  On behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • (3)  As a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • (4)  For legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
There is currently no indication that the Obama administration plans to use its waiver authorities for Iranian or other dual-nationals, despite the problems that have already been created for prominent UK-Iranian dual nationalsWe therefore call on the Obama Administration to issue additional waivers for persons who are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan; for persons who have traveled as tourists to Iran; and for person who have traveled to Iran to visit family.  Right now, a European person would not be eligible for a waiver and would thus require a valid nonimmigrant visa prior to traveling to the United States if they had traveled to Iran as a tourist or to visit family.  NIAC continues to believe that the waiver provision in the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act can be interpreted in such a manner as to ensure that such persons are eligible for a waiver from the new rules.  
 
While we await the Administration’s full rollout of its implementation plans, including additional guidance on how this will affect dual-nationals, there are immediate steps that you can take to resolve this. NIAC Action urges continued efforts to build support the Equal Protection in Travel Act (S.2449/H.R. 4380) – legislation that would remove restrictions on the admission of dual-nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria to the Visa Waiver Program.  If this legislation passes, then the changes to the Visa Waiver Program will no longer affect dual-nationals of these four countries and we will not be reliant on the Obama administration to utilize its waiver authorities to fix the problem that Congress has created. It is also important to build support for the letter that is circulating among lawmakers in the House urging the Obama Administration to waive the application of the new changes to Visa Waiver Program. You can support both of these initiatives by sending emails and making phone calls to your lawmakers via our action alert. We are also organizing in-district meetings with lawmakers, please contact us if you would like to join your local chapter.
Take-action
 
If you’ve already taken action, join your local chapter here!

NIAC Action Urges Visa Waiver Countries to Forego Reciprocal Restrictions

On Friday, January 8, NIAC Action sent letters to the thirty-eight foreign embassies participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) urging them to forego any new, reciprocal travel restrictions that could impact the Iranian-American community, Arab-American groups and other Americans.

Recent changes to the VWP passed in the omnibus bar dual-nationals of Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Iraq, as well as those who have visited the aforementioned countries since March 2011, from visa-free travel to the U.S. under the program. These measures passed despite NIAC Action members sending more than 81,000 messages to Congress in protest. Just yesterday, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to remove the provisions barring dual nationals.

While the legislative process plays out, there is still a risk that VWP countries adopt reciprocal restrictions that bar Iranian American dual nationals and many other Americans from visa-free travel to VWP countries. While no restrictions have been enacted as of this date, NIAC Action’s recent letters detail why such reciprocal actions would double down on discrimination and be counterproductive. As the letter states:

“we do not believe that VWP countries should respond to the U.S. Congress’s short-sighted, discriminatory action with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals and/or U.S. travelers to Iran. Penalizing Iranian Americans and other dual nationals, or U.S. travelers to Iran is unlikely to provoke Congress to revise the U.S. law.”

Please see the letter reproduced below.

The letters to VWP countries are one part of NIAC Action’s three-tiered campaign to reverse the discriminatory changes to the VWP. NIAC Action has also reached out to the White House, including through a letter with other allied groups, urging the administration to broadly use its waiver authority to permit dual nationals and others to travel visa-free to the U.S. under the program. Additionally, NIAC Action’s legislative efforts focus on repealing the discriminatory provisions affecting dual nationals.

To: Visa Waiver Program countries

Last month, despite significant and sustained opposition from the Iranian-American community, the United States Congress enacted into law a legislative provision that would exclude from the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) dual nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and one of the 38 VWP countries, as well as any non-U.S. national of a VWP country who has traveled to Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Sudan since March 1, 2011.  As the largest U.S. grassroots organization representing Iranian Americans, we are writing to express our dismay with the U.S. Congress in backing these amendments and are urging European and other VWP countries not to reciprocate with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals, including Iranian Americans like ourselves, or other U.S. travelers to Iran.

Over the last several weeks, we have taken significant action to push U.S. legislators to excise this provision from a broader spending bill to fund the U.S. government.  Collectively, tens of thousands of us reached out to our lawmakers to express our deep misgivings with this legislation and to demand that they reject its inclusion into the broader spending bill.  These actions led to a more clear appreciation from our lawmakers as to the negative implications of this provision to European and certain travelers to Iran, as well as dual-nationals of Iran and one of the 38 VWP countries.  Moreover, we clarified the risk that European and other VWP countries could respond with similar reciprocal measures. 

As a result of these efforts, we are prepared to ramp up our efforts over the next few months and seek to push for changes to this U.S. law in order to excise the most problematic language.  Any reciprocal actions taken by European and other VWP countries risk prejudging the outcome of these proposed legislative efforts to revise the law in its current form.  We kindly ask for your patience in deciding on the appropriate responsive action to the U.S. legislation amending the Visa Waiver Program.

 To be clear, however, we do not believe that European and other VWP countries should respond to the U.S. Congress’s short-sighted, discriminatory action with discriminatory measures of their own that target dual nationals and/or U.S. travelers to Iran.  Penalizing Iranian Americans and other dual nationals, or U.S. travelers to Iran is unlikely to provoke Congress to revise the U.S. law.  In fact, such action may actually satisfy certain hardline elements in Congress who supported the discriminatory amendments to the VWP in the first place.   

In short, as we continue our push to amend and/or repeal this law and shield European and certain other foreign nationals from its negative effects, we request VWP countries refrain from any responsive action that may affect dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, as well as U.S. travelers to Iran.  In order to fight those who would shut us off from each other, we must not adopt their same policies and close our borders ever further.  

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi
Executive Director

Memo: Two House Democrats Introduce Problematic Iran Sanctions Measures

Two Democratic-led Iran sanctions bills have been introduced in the House and pose a considerable challenge to the Obama administration’s efforts to insulate the nuclear agreement from non-nuclear-related issues. While it is unclear whether either of these bills will move forward, it is significant that the original sponsors include some lawmakers who voted in support of the Iran nuclear agreement.

H.R. 4333 – “Zero Tolerance for Terror Act”

The first of these – H.R. 4333, the ‘Zero Tolerance for Terror Act’ sponsored by House Democrat Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA-4) – seeks to expedite the imposition of new terrorism and ballistic missile-related sanctions by mandating the President to notify Congress at each time a person or entity either:

  • Commits an act of international terrorism, at the direction of an Iranian government official, that threatens the United States or U.S. nationals, or provides assistance for such act; or
  • Commits an act in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibiting Iran from engaging in certain activities related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, including ballistic missile launches

Upon the President’s notification to the legislature, Congress is given a period of 60 days in which to adopt legislation under expedited procedure that either authorizes or requires the President to impose sanctions on the parties that engaged in such activities.  Once such legislation is introduced and referred to committee, the specified committee has a 10-day window to take action after which the bill can be discharged to the chamber floor for a circumscribed debate and final vote.  Such procedural requirements mean that Congress has limited time to evaluate the proposed legislation to impose sanctions on Iranian persons or entities prior to an actual vote.

By authorizing such a limited period of time for consideration of a proposed bill to impose additional sanctions on Iran, H.R. 4333 risks putting in place an inadequate process for careful deliberation of the potential consequences of imposing new sanctions on Iran.  This is especially true in light of the fact that Iran has undertaken measures to roll-back and constrain its nuclear program as a result of U.S. sanctions relief, and should Iran view the imposition of new sanctions as undermining its benefit of the nuclear bargain, then it may remove those restrictions and accelerate its nuclear program.

Moreover, H.R. 4333 is superfluous to the extent that the President has existing authorities to impose new sanctions on Iranian persons or entities engaged in either acts of international terrorism or development of Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.  Those sanctions authorities exist under Executive Orders 13224 and 13382, respectively, and have been used by successive administrations to target Iranian activities anathema to U.S. interests.  Requiring the President to impose such sanctions on Iranian persons or entities ignores the sensitive diplomatic considerations that go into imposing new sanctions and unnecessarily ties the hands of the President in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

H.R. 4342 – “Iran Ballistic Missile Prevention and Sanctions Act”

The second bill – H.R. 4342, the ‘Iran Ballistic Missile Prevention and Sanctions Act’ sponsored by House Democrat Rep. John K. Delaney (D-MD-6) – mandates the President to impose ISA-based sanctions if the President determines that a person transfers to and from Iran advanced conventional weapons or ballistic missiles, or technology, parts, components, or technical information related to advanced conventional weapons of ballistic missiles.  Moreover, the President is required to include such person on OFAC’s SDN List pursuant to Executive Orders 12938 and 13382, where their U.S.-based assets will then be frozen. 

Like H.R. 4333, this bill seeks to force the President’s hand when it comes to new sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile activities capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.  However, H.R. 4342 also goes a step further by sanctioning persons that transfer to or from Iran advanced conventional weapons and, as such, expands the scope of current sanctions targeting Iran. 

While the nuclear agreement does not prohibit the U.S. from imposing additional non-nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, Iran could view such additional sanctions as a mere pretext for re-imposing the nuclear-related sanctions lifted as part of the nuclear accord and allege a U.S. violation of the nuclear agreement.  Absent clear indications that Iranian activities are threatening direct U.S. interests, Congress should hold its fire in imposing additional sanctions.

This is especially true in light of the significant sanctions targeting Iran that will remain in place during the implementation phase of the nuclear agreement.  For instance, the United States has imposed sanctions on all of the major coordinators, managers, middle-men, and operators of Iran’s ballistic missile program, including Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (“MODAFL”), the Aerospace Industries Organization (“AIO”), the Defense Industries Organization (“DIO”), the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (“IRGC”), the IRGC Missile Command, and dozens of other Iranian and non-Iranian persons and entities.  As such, it is unlikely that additional sanctions measures on lesser Iranian persons and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program (such as officials at MODAFL or Dubai-based money exchanges) will impose any significant cost on Iran for its missile-related activities. Yet, such sanctions measures may send a political message to Tehran that will be exploited by hardline factions at the expense of the voices of moderation.