Memo: Congress Must Clarify No Authorization for Iran War, Urge Deescalation after Saudi Oil Attack

President Trump is once again hinting that he will go to war with Iran via Twitter, this time over attacks on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities for which the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed credit. At this time, there is no clear smoking gun to implicate Iran despite the Trump administration’s strident condemnations.

For lawmakers, it is imperative to reinforce:

1)   Congress has not authorized war against Iran, nor has the United Nations. Any strikes on Iran without authorization would be illegal.

2)   There is no clear evidence implicating Iran – but even if there was, a Trump-led war on a nation nearly four times the size of Iraq would be a costly, generational mistake. Iran has signaled it will retaliate forcefully against any attacks on its territory.

3)   If it was the Houthis who initiated the attack, as they have claimed, it is yet another clear sign that the Yemen war needs to end. Not only is the war a disaster for Yemen, but it is achieving the opposite of its goals by eroding the security of Saudi Arabia.

4)   If Iran is implicated as the sponsor of the attack, it would be yet another sign that Trump’s maximum pressure approach is a catastrophic failure. Far from ease regional tensions and Iran’s military footprint, Trump’s approach is ensuring the reverse.

5)   Regardless of the sponsor, now is the time for de-escalation. The skeleton for a deal is on the table – the international community would ease economic pressure on Iran in exchange for Iranian restraint and further negotiations. 

We are at this crisis point because of the convergence of two self-inflicted disasters spurred by our impulsive President: the decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and impose “maximum pressure” sanctions; and the refusal to pull out of the war on Yemen and seriously press for Saudi Arabia to deescalate there.

At this juncture, Trump can choose diplomacy and peace or repeat the mistakes that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq with Iran. With the region at a boiling point, all lawmakers need to be strongly urging restraint and reinforcing that there is no authorization for war.

NIAC Applauds House for Pulling U.S. Back from the Brink of War with Iran via Khanna-Gaetz Amendment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday July 12, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mana@niacaction.org

WASHINGTON DC – Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to bar funding for an unauthorized war with Iran. The amendment passed with a final vote count of 251-170. The Khanna-Gaetz amendment was offered as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and builds on the momentum from last month’s Senate vote on the Kaine-Udall amendment, which also would have also blocked the Trump administration from launching an unauthorized war with Iran.

In response to the passage of the Khanna-Gaetz amendment, NIAC Action President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:

“The House of Representatives should be applauded for its vote today to stop an unauthorized war with Iran before it starts, and we call on the Senate to follow suit. With the passage of the amendment from Representatives Ro Khanna and Matt Gaetz, legislators moved one step closer to pulling the U.S. back from the edge of a war that the American people do not want and that Congress has never authorized. With nearly all of the 2020 presidential candidates calling for the U.S. to return to the Iran nuclear deal, and now with the House passing the Khanna-Gaetz amendment, a bipartisan consensus against the Bolton-Pompeo approach to Iran has clearly emerged.

“Such safeguards would not be necessary if the Trump administration were not recklessly endangering American security with its incoherent maximum pressure approach toward Iran. Last month, the President took us ten minutes from war, which would have been certain to trigger Iranian reprisals and a long trail of consequences not confined within Iran’s borders. Both the President and his Secretary of State have intimated that they do not need Congressional approval to launch a war, with many Members of Congress alarmed by the administration’s transparent attempts to justify a war with Iran under the 2001 authorization to use military force.

“The Iranian-American community and the broader American public know that war with Iran would be a disaster. That’s why a majority in the House and Senate now are on the record voting for provisions to rule out an unauthorized war with Iran. It is imperative that legislators ensure that the final defense authorization bill includes the Khanna-Gaetz amendment.

“We applaud Reps. Khanna and Gaetz for their leadership. Without the help of Chairmen Eliot Engel, Adam Smith and Jim McGovern as well as Reps. Anna Eshoo, Seth Moulton, Anthony Brown, Barbara Lee and countless Americans who spoke out against war with Iran, this vote would not have been possible.”

NIAC Statement on Senate Vote on Udall-Kaine Amendment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, June 28, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mana@niacaction.org

WASHINGTON DC – Today, the Senate voted on a bipartisan amendment spearheaded by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) that would block President Donald Trump from using funds from the defense bill to launch a war with Iran without Congressional authorization. The amendment received 50 votes in favor to just 40 opposed, but fell short of the 60 vote threshold set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposed the amendment. 

In response, NIAC Action Executive Director, Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement:

“We applaud the majority of the Senate that supported today’s amendment to shut down an unauthorized war with Iran. Senators Udall and Kaine deserve particular credit for forcing a vote and convincing a majority of the Senate to go on record against a march to war with Iran. 

“The depths to which McConnell and his allies like Tom Cotton went to oppose this amendment and vote against Congress’ own Constitutional power to declare war is deeply concerning. Voters did not elect Trump king so that he could send our troops into harm’s way whenever he felt like it. Yet, the vast majority of Republicans are either so cowed by Trump or eager for war that they decided to play defense for him. Critically, if not for Mitch McConnell, there could have been a straight up and down vote that inserted this amendment into the defense authorization bill ahead of the House. 

“It is a dereliction of duty for those Senators to have looked at the past several weeks and done nothing. Trump and his deputy Bolton have routinely threatened Iran, taken major provocative steps designed to trigger Iranian reprisals, and barely stepped back from the edge of starting a major war with Iran. 

“Every single Democrat who cast a vote supported the amendment, and four Republicans – Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Jerry Moran – made clear through their votes that President Trump does not have authorization for war against Iran. The Iranian-American community, our allies, and all pro-peace and diplomacy advocates should take heart that there is a strong, bipartisan group of lawmakers determined to block an unauthorized Trump war on Iran. Yet, far more is needed.

“Critically, by securing majority support, this has now built momentum for the House of Representatives to pass its own bipartisan Khanna-Gaetz amendment to restrict Trump’s ability to start a war with Iran when Congress returns from the July 4th recess and resumes consideration of its defense authorization bill.”

NIAC Applauds NDAA Amendment Aimed at Blocking Trump’s Path to War

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 25, 2019  
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mana@niacaction.org

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, an amendment was offered to the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would block an unauthorized war against Iran. The amendment, introduced by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), has wide support including from the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel and the Chairman of the House Rules Committee Jim McGovern. Many other legislators – including Reps. Anna Eshoo, Andy Levin, Barbara Lee, Seth Moulton and Anthony Brown – who have been champions in the effort to ensure Trump doesn’t lead us into an unauthorized war are already signed on as original cosponsors of the amendment.

In response to the amendment’s introduction, NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement:  

“Congress may be all that is standing between Donald Trump and war with Iran. It is crucial that lawmakers summon the wherewithal to act as a co-equal branch of government to stand up against a disastrous war with Iran. 

“The Khanna-Gaetz amendment is a strong response to the growing risks of war with Iran that stem directly from President Trump’s disastrous maximum pressure approach. 

“After nearly two decades of endless war, the American people do not want another reckless war of choice with Iran. Congress must ensure that the defense authorization rules out war with Iran by passing the Khanna-Gaetz amendment in the House, the Udall-Kaine amendment in the Senate and protecting the provisions from pro-war legislators.

“Recent events have only underscored the importance of ruling out an unauthorized war with Iran. Our thin-skinned President lashed out on Twitter this morning in response to a mistranslation of an Iranian statement, and maintains that he does not need Congressional authorization to start a war. Other Members of Congress – including Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton  – have shamefully played defense for Trump’s reckless actions in an attempt to keep the path to war with Iran open.”

Memo: JCPOA Giving Way to Destructive Tit for Tat

One year after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian officials are now signaling they may follow suit and halt compliance with aspects of the accord.

Any potential Iranian non-compliance with elements of the JCPOA would be profoundly unhelpful and escalatory. However, such steps would not occur in a vacuum, but in the context of months of pressure from the White House aimed at provoking Iran into leaving the JCPOA. It is President Trump’s drive to undo his predecessor’s signature foreign policy achievement that has put us on the brink of resuscitating the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Worse still, a forthcoming crisis might not be contained. As a senior Trump adviser recently stated, if Iran halts complying with the JCPOA “the military option comes back on the table.”

JCPOA’s Quid Pro Quo Giving Way to Destructive Tit for Tat

The nuclear deal was based on a quid pro quo in which all sides would obtain real benefits.

  • Under the JCPOA, Iran rolled back its nuclear program while enhancing the ability of international inspectors to monitor and verify its nuclear activities. In return, Iran was provided sanctions relief as a means of reconnecting with global financial and economic networks.
     
  • The text of the JCPOA makes clear that Iran has stated it will treat the reintroduction or reimposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”
     
  • The Trump administration has not only reneged on the JCPOA and sought to deny Iran the U.S. and sanctions relief it was due, but it has taken unprecedented additional actions such as designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization and terminating sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil.
     
  • Recently, the Trump administration further boosted those in Tehran arguing for leaving the JCPOA by revoking waivers for shipping out surplus heavy water and enriched uranium, while limiting the extension of waivers for critical nonproliferation work at Arak and Fordow to 90 from 180 days. This signals a disturbing intent to obstruct the nonproliferation side of the JCPOA.
     
  • In the face of the administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign, Tehran has remained restrained for nearly a year and has sought to preserve the accord through cooperation with Europe and other global powers.
     
  • However, increased U.S. pressure has created an increasingly intolerable situation for Iran and has empowered hardline voices in Tehran who believe Iran should pursue a tit-for-tat strategy to raise the costs of U.S. actions against it.

The Looming Specter of War

Since taking over as National Security Advisor last year, Iraq-war architect John Bolton has been steering the U.S. closer to war with Iran.

  • On Sunday night, National Security Advisor John Bolton released a statement threatening “unrelenting force” in response to any Iranian attack against U.S. forces in the region.
     
  • Bolton’s alarmist statement comes in the backdrop of a routine deployment of a U.S aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf that was expedited and was reportedly based on vague intelligence regarding potential Iranian plots.
     
  • Last September, Bolton similarly asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for military strikes against Iran in the wake of alleged mortar attacks from Shia militias near U.S. compounds in Baghdad and Basra. Bolton’s request “definitely rattled people,” according to a former administration official. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
     
  • The administration has since appeared to be repeating the George W. Bush administration’s playbook for war with Iraq—inaccurately tying Iran to al-Qaeda, baselessly stating that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and politicizing intelligence assessments on Iran.
     
  • Bolton has long been bent on goading the U.S. and Iran into war and has a history of manipulating intelligence to advance his hawkish agenda. As the top arms control official for President George W. Bush, he claimed Iraq possessed WMD’s to justify the administration’s 2003 invasion.

Choice for the U.S.: Save the JCPOA or Follow Bolton’s Path to War

Rejoining the JCPOA is essential to blocking Iran’s paths to the bomb and addressing other U.S.-Iran disputes.

  • Due to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran’s compliance with the accord is no longer ensured and the nonproliferation benefits from the agreement risk being lost.
     
  • The U.S. is isolated from allies and former negotiating partners that continue to support the JCPOA, has empowered Iranian hardliners and ensured a more rigid negotiating posture from Iran, and now is following the playbook of an Iraq-war architect intent on provoking another disastrous war with Iran.
     
  • The choice to the U.S. is clear: ensure Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal by resuming America’s sanctions-lifting obligations, or follow Trump and Bolton’s disastrous path to war.
     
  • Already, most 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have stated they would return the U.S. to compliance with the JCPOA. Lawmakers should follow suit by clearly stating that the U.S. should return to compliance with the accord.

Halt Bolton’s War Push

Congress must send a clear message that Trump and Bolton do not have authorization to start a war with Iran.

  • The Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act (S. 1039/H.R. 2354), introduced by Sens. Udall, Paul and Durbin and Reps. Eshoo and Thompson, would prohibit the Trump administration from using funds to launch a war against Iran without Congressional approval.
     
  • The Repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill (H.R. 1274) from Rep. Barbara Lee would repeal the 2001 AUMF and prevent the Trump administration from exploiting the authorization to justify yet another war it was never intended to authorize.

Memo on H.R. 4591

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 4591, the “Preventing Destabilization of Iraq Act of 2017,” which seeks to impose sanctions on persons engaged in actions that are or risk “threatening the peace or stability of Iraq.” While we welcome that the amendment in the nature of a substitute has removed explicit references to sanctioning Iran in the bill’s title, this legislation clearly remains an effort to ratchet up tensions with Iran.

On the heels of House Republicans protecting Saudi Arabia by blocking a vote to end U.S. support for the disastrous war in Yemen, it is now doubling down on the Trump-Saudi policy of escalating pressure on Iran with no plan for negotiations. Only diplomatic solutions can resolve the proxy conflicts in the Middle East – not further efforts to perpetuate these conflicts by insulating the Saudi kingdom or escalating with Iran. As a result, H.R. 4591 risks worsening regional instability rather than ameliorating it, and as a result is bad for both Iraq and the U.S. position in the Middle East.

Backward Priorities

The timing of the vote on H.R. 4591 demonstrates the House majority’s backward priorities with respect to the Middle East. Credible estimates indicate that more than 80,000 children may have died of starvation as a result of the U.S.-backed and Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen since 2015, with little end in sight to the unauthorized war. Moreover, the President of the United States is shamefully playing defense for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the Central Intelligence Agency determined with high confidence that bin Salman ordered the assassination of U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which was carried out last month at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The response of the House Majority to these two major crises has been to follow Trump’s lead and to short-circuit debate on a resolution to end America’s backing of the Saudi intervention. However, any legislation to further Trump’s pressure campaign against Iran – including H.R. 4591 – will get the green light. Given these suspect priorities, legislators should use debate over H.R. 4591 to highlight the Trump administration’s dangerous Middle East policies, including U.S. support for the war in Yemen and the dangerous decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

A balanced U.S. policy toward the Middle East will take time, but work should begin now to end U.S. support for the disastrous war in Yemen, impose consequences on those in Saudi Arabia responsible for the assassination of Khashoggi, and restore U.S. credibility by returning to the JCPOA.

Doubling Down on Hostility without Diplomacy

While political stability in Iraq is a laudable goal, it is unlikely to be achieved by a strictly adversarial posture towards Iran – particularly considering Iran’s security interests in Iraq are likely to figure of far greater import than the risk of limited U.S. sanctions posed by H.R. 4591.

Instead, the Trump administration and Congress must recognize that Iraq’s political future requires political engagement between the U.S. and Iran – both of which have a significant presence in the country and both of which have staked their political security on Iraq’s internal stability. For this reason – to the extent that the Congress believes that punitive sanctions are useful in influencing Iran’s behavior – such sanctions must be expressly tied to diplomatic engagement with Iran regarding events in Iraq.

For its part, Iraq cannot afford a rupture in its ties with Iran. The two countries have over $12 billion in annual trade and other deep connections. The administration’s granting of waivers to Iraq on Iran sanctions for gas, energy supplies, and food items reflects an acknowledgement of the depth of Iraqi-Iranian ties—which developed after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Iraqi leaders such as former PM Haider al-Abadi have made clear that they do not wish for Iraq to be a theater in U.S.-Iran tensions. Instead, the Iraqi government has sought to balance its relations with the U.S. and Iran. As was evident in June 2014, when Iran helped to prevent ISIS from overrunning Baghdad, the U.S. and Iran have overlapping interests in Iraq and thus need not remain implacable enemies there.

Moreover, at a time when the President is destroying diplomatic channels by sabotaging an agreement that exchanged sanctions relief for far-reaching Iranian nuclear concessions, legislating further sanctions would merely demonstrate the U.S. Congress’ backward priorities when it comes to Iran.

Rather than encourage Trump’s pressure campaign and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation, as many of the President’s closest advisors favor, lawmakers should seek to restrain the administration. To help Iraqi stability, the U.S. must appreciate the fine line that Baghdad must walk in its relations with Iran and the United States. The Trump administration must move beyond overstating the scale of the Iranian threat in Iraq and its obsessive denial of Iranian influence.  

Bill Summary

The original text of H.R. 4591 was wholly aimed at countering Iranian persons threatening stability in Iraq, which has since been amended to a more general focus on foreign persons. However, given the intent of the authors and the single-minded focus of the Trump administration on countering Iran throughout the Middle East, it is without a doubt that the White House would view this legislation as support for its broader pressure campaign and a green light to aggressively escalate sanctions against Iran over its activities in Iraq.

Section 2 of H.R. 4591 mandates the President to block the assets of any foreign person determined to knowingly commit a significant act of violence that has the direct purpose or effect of:

  • Threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq;
  • Undermining the democratic process in Iraq; and
  • Undermining significantly efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.

Any Iranian persons or entities designated pursuant to Section 2 of H.R. 4591 would also be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions by virtue of current U.S. sanctions targeting Iran.

Section 3 of H.R. 4591 requires the President to determine whether several Shia militias and individuals meet the criteria for designation as foreign terrorist organizations or for the application of sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Section 4 requires the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress on the armed groups, militias, or proxy forces in Iraq receiving logistical, military, or financial assistance from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or over which the IRGC exerts any form of control or influence.

Top Five Takeaways From Mike Pompeo’s Nomination Hearing

At his confirmation hearing to become President Trump’s next Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo offered little reassurance that he has tempered his hawkish inclinations on Iran or distanced himself from past bigoted remarks. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to vote on Pompeo as soon as next week, and there is a likelihood he may not gain the votes necessary to earn the committee’s support – no one in modern history has become Secretary of State without winning that endorsement. Below are five key moments from the hearing that demonstrate why Pompeo is unfit to be Secretary of State:

Pompeo Offered No Reassurances on Protecting the Iran Deal from Trump and Bolton

Director Pompeo demurred when Senator Jeff Merkley asked if he was going to be part of a “war cabinet” with John Bolton. But his comments on Iran left little question that Pompeo would work to spike the Iran deal and put the U.S. on a potential war path with Iran. Pompeo vowed that he would follow Trump’s directive to try to “fix” perceived deficiencies in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, when pressed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) on whether he would recommend staying in the JCPOA if he couldn’t fix it by May 12, Pompeo refused to answer because he said it was a hypothetical – even though it is one that he could face in his first weeks on the job. When pressed further, Pompeo made clear that he would not caution against Trump snapping back sanctions and that he would instead work for a “better agreement” after Trump walks away from the deal.

View the full post on The Iranian…

Memo: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R. 5132)

If passed in its current form, H.R. 5132 – the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Economic Exclusion Act – threatens to violate the JCPOA, undermine current long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, and splinter the United States from its European allies and other international partners. This bill threatens the JCPOA and ordinary Iranians, not the IRGC.

Key provisions of the bill appear targeted not at the heavily-sanctioned IRGC, but at deterring companies from doing business with Iran’s private sector in violation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. The Iran nuclear deal not only maintains the already extensive sanctions in place on the IRGC, it implicitly opens opportunities for economic competitors to the IRGC in Iran’s private sectors by enabling them to receive the benefit of sanctions relief. Contrary to this approach, H.R. 5132 would accrue to the benefit of the IRGC and undercut ongoing trends that are diminishing their economic influence, including the Iranian Supreme Leader’s direction – under popular pressure – that the IRGC must divest many of its holdings.

This legislation also comes amid Trump’s reckless threats to unilaterally terminate the JCPOA, an outcome which Europe and many in Congress are seeking to prevent. This is the wrong bill at the wrong time; Members of Congress should be restraining this President from killing this key nonproliferation agreement and moving toward war, not coaxing him forward.

Turning Iran into a “No Fly Zone”?

Section 5 of the bill would trigger a process to designate Iran Airports Company – which reportedly owns and controls all of Iran’s civilian airports – as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under E.O. 13224 as a result of its reported facilitation of Mahan Air flights. If so designated, all of Iran’s civilian airports would likewise be constructively blocked under the U.S.’s Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR)s, placing all international flights to Iran at the risk of future designation. The U.S. already bans Iranians from visiting their families in the U.S. under Trump’s Muslim ban, this bill now threatens to ban all civilian flights into Iran. Moreover, such a designation would also jeopardize U.S. commitments under the JCPOA to license the sale of civilian aircraft to Iran.

Reimposing Sanctions Lifted Under JCPOA

Section 4 of H.R. 5132 threatens to re-impose sanctions on Iranian financial institutions that were delisted under the JCPOA, which would be a clear violation of U.S. sanctions-lifting obligations under the nuclear agreement. By requiring the President to identify any Iranian financial institutions that have facilitated transactions even tangentially linked to the IRGC, the bill could subject Iran’s central bank and other major financial institutions to secondary sanctions.  The lifting of these sanctions was central to the relief promised Iran under the JCPOA; the reimposition of such sanctions would effectively nullify any benefit to Iran from agreeing to long-term restrictions on its nuclear program.

Additionally, the bill defines Iranian financial institutions to include all financial institutions located in Iran. Under this definition, branches or representative offices of non-Iranian, foreign financial institutions that are located in Iran would be reported as “Iranian financial institutions.” Even if such institutions have not engaged in transactions with the IRGC, the inclusion of their name on mandated U.S. government reports – which may be publicized – would act as an effective deterrent to opening or maintaining branches or representative offices in Iran. This is anathema to the U.S.’s JCPOA commitment to agree on steps to facilitate Iran’s access to finance.

Moreover, in mandating the administration to report on all foreign entities on the Tehran stock exchange and all foreign persons operating major businesses in Iran, the bill may undermine its own goals of increasing sanctions pressure. The Obama administration set a precedent by threatening to veto the Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act (H.R. 1638), indicating that similar reporting requirements under that bill would:

“incentivize those involved to make their financial dealings less transparent and create a disincentive for Iran’s banking sector to demonstrate transparency. These onerous reporting requirements also would take critical resources away from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s important work to identify Iranian entities engaged in sanctionable conduct.”

The Obama administration also indicated in its veto threat that JCPOA participants would view the public reporting requirement as hedging on U.S. JCPOA commitments. Given the breadth of reporting requirements the bill would impose on the Treasury Department, H.R. 5132 would almost certainly raise similar concerns.

Coaxing Trump to Violate JCPOA

Section 6 of the bill declares that it shall be U.S. policy to prevent Iran’s accession to the World Trade Organization and similar international bodies, which is contrary to U.S. obligations under the JCPOA to facilitate Iran’s access to trade and finance. This risks undermining efforts by international bodies to facilitate changes to Iran’s economic and financial character in ways that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Broad Sectoral Sanctions Stifle Communication and Violate the JCPOA

Section 2 of the bill requires the President to determine whether major Iranian entities, including those in Iran’s telecommunications, construction, engineering, and mining sectors, should be sanctioned as under the effective ownership or control of the IRGC. In doing so, this bill seeks to sanction broad sectors of the Iranian economy in ways that are even more aspirational than those sanctions pre-dating the nuclear agreement. Doing so would be not only anathema to U.S. obligations under the JCPOA to facilitate Iran’s access to trade and finance, but would effectively nullify any benefit to Iran from agreeing to long-term restrictions on its nuclear program.

Moreover, by targeting Iran’s telecommunications sector, the bill could prevent outside telecommunication vendors from working in Iran. Such vendors are crucial for the cell phone, Internet, and other communication infrastructure that the Iranian people rely on to communicate freely, both internally and with the outside world.

NIAC Action Statement on Senate Passage of Iran Sanctions Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: (202) 386-6319
Email: rcostello@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, Executive Director for NIAC Action, issued the following statement in response to Senate passage of S. 722, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017:

“Giving Trump any new toys to wreak havoc in the Middle East is complete recklessness. We hope Members of Congress come to their senses and reconsider this ill-advised bill before it is too late.

It is the height of folly to expect Trump to show restraint with these new authorities when he is openly hostile to the nuclear deal and diplomacy in general. Numerous former administration officials, including Sec. Kerry, had cautioned against moving forward with this bill at this time. These warnings have gone unheeded in part due to the desire to pass new sanctions on Russia, which were inserted into the bill via amendment.

“The U.S. has now moved one step closer to a potential war with Iran. It is now the responsibility of those Senators – in particular those who asserted contrary to evidence that this bill is wholly consistent with the nuclear deal – to ensure that Donald Trump does not use these authorities to undermine the accord or spark conflict with Iran. If they fail to do so, they will end up bearing a large portion of the responsibility for an unnecessary geopolitical disaster.”

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Rep. Rohrabacher Must Apologize for Suggesting ISIS Attacks on Iran “A Good Thing”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Adam Weinstein
Phone: 216-544-0898
Email: aweinstein@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Jamal Abdi, Executive Director of NIAC Action, issued the following statement in response to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-CA) suggestion that the ISIS terrorist attacks on Iran be viewed as “a good thing”:

“Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) must immediately disavow and apologize for his outrageous suggestion that the ISIS attacks on Iran should be viewed as ‘a good thing.’ After Trump’s heartless message to Iran blaming the country for being attacked by ISIS, it was hard to believe that any lawmaker could find a way to go lower. Yet that is exactly what Rep. Rohrabacher did with his outrageous and deplorable line of questioning yesterday.

“While Iranians held candlelight vigils for Americans after the September 11th attacks, lawmakers like Rohrabacher and our President appear incapable of showing any remorse or humanity for victims of terror.

“In Thursday’s hearing, Rohrabacher noted ‘we have recently seen an attack on Iran, and the Iranian government – the mullahs, I believe that Sunni forces have attacked them.’ Then he asked the panel, ‘Isn’t it a good thing for us to have the United States finally backing up Sunnis who will attack Hezbollah and the Shiite threat to us, isn’t that a good thing?’ Of course, the ‘Sunni forces’ he referenced are ISIS and their targets were innocent Iranian civilians.

“The U.S. cannot credibly lead the fight against ISIS if lawmakers like Rohrabacher are cheerleading for ISIS terrorism. His comments also pose a risk of feeding into anti-American conspiracy theories in the region that will ultimately undermine our ability to unite disparate forces against our common enemy in ISIS.

“Rep. Rohrabacher’s statement defending ISIS terror attacks prove that he is unfit to represent his constituents, in particular his Iranian-American constituents, and the US-led fight against ISIS and global extremism.”  

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Former Official Highlights Risks of Iran Sanctions Bill S. 722

Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President under the Obama administration, highlighted his concerns with Iran sanctions bill S. 722 (the ‘Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017’) in a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this morning.

Additionally, later in the afternoon, Kahl joined with six other former Obama administration officials – Antony J. Blinken, Avril Haines, Jeff Prescott, Jon Finer, Philip Gordon and Robert Malley – to warn against the bill in an article published on Foreign Policy. The officials cautioned that “[a]ny marginal benefit of this legislation is outweighed by the risk of giving an impulsive president license to take steps that could undermine a deal that is working, isolate the United States, and put U.S. troops at risk.”

At the panel discussion at CSIS, Kahl noted: 

  • The language in section 4 is “overly broad” and risks complicating JCPOA implementation and dividing the P5+1 coalition;
  • Section 5 “effectively designates the IRGC a terrorist organization,” which would be “gratuitous” and could risk putting U.S. troops in harm’s way;
  • Section 8 would complicate sanctions lifting on Transition Day, conveying that the U.S. is ”unilaterally renegotiating the terms of the agreement.”
Critically, Kahl warns that the bill risks loosening the restraints on the Trump administration to avoid activities that would explicitly undermine the deal, as the administration would be able to point to consensus in Congress to justify its activities:
 
Section 4 – ballistic missile sanctions:
 
“The problem there is how overly broad the sectors or the contributions to the ballistic missile program that could be sanctionable are, and there’s a real risk that it could be so overly broad it could complicate the execution of say, the procurement channel that’s part of the JCPOA, or it could run sideways from European interests in a way that splits the P5+1 coalition.”
 
“As staff and Members of Congress tweak the legislation, they should make sure that any steps they take on the ballistic missile front aren’t so overly broad that it unintentionally runs sideways from basically our commitments under the deal or consensus that underlies the implementation of the deal.”
 
Section 5 – IRGC designation:
 
The concern there is that it effectively designates the IRGC as a terrorist organization, and the problem with that is not that the IRGC are good folks and we shouldn’t be mean to them. We can already designate and sanction any member of the IRGC and the IRGC as an organization under existing authorities, so the bill actually does nothing beyond being a symbolic gesture to basically rub it in the nose of the IRGC, so it’s gratuitous.” 
 
“And, I understand politics and the need to show that you’re tough on Iran, but in this case the symbolism could have the inadvertent effect of triggering a response by the IRGC, and if that response by the IRGC is something that actually puts our troops, our men and women, in harm’s way – it strikes me that’s a price that’s not worth paying for a symbolic or political thing that won’t make any difference to our ability to actually do what we can already do against the IRGC. In areas like this, I get the politics but politics should not be the reason to do it.”
 
Section 8 – Transition Day:
 
“Section 8 of the bill, which I think in some ways is the most problematic as it relates to the JCPOA…the problem there is it puts a new condition on us lifting sanctions on Transition Day.”
 
 
The problem with the bill is it adds a new condition – it says you can’t lift those sanctions unless the administration at the time can certify that actors are not engaged in objectionable behavior in non-nuclear areas, which is again completely unnecessary because if they’re engaged in non-nuclear malicious activities – cyber, terrorism, human rights violations – we can designate them under other authorities…So it doesn’t get us anything, but what it does do is it conveys that we are unilaterally renegotiating the terms of the agreement and that we are looking for a way, a loophole to not lift nuclear related sanctions by recasting them as non-nuclear sanctions. And I worry that Iran will say, ‘Well, screw us, then screw you – here are all our conditions for us living up to’ – and they’ll start unilaterally renegotiating the deal.”
 
“I agree with Mike that the deal is imperfect, that there are problems with when it sunsets and how long it is and what the constraints are and there are things that are outside the four corners of the deal – but you don’t solve that problem by putting unilateral conditions and unilaterally renegotiating the terms that were negotiated in the deal. You solve that by actually sitting with our European allies…plus the Chinese and the Russians – and the Iranians – and trying to figure out ways to smooth out or clarify the ambiguities and make some corrections.
 
“So I am very worried about this…In the Obama administration, you could almost be assured that they would use the national security waivers if they thought that implementing things that Congress did would run sideways from the implementation of the deal. The Trump administration is not going to use those waivers, and in fact they may see this as a bipartisan permission slip to be even more assertive, because in a world where the Trump administration owns the failure of the deal, then they may be restrained in pushing past the boundaries of the deal. In a world where they think they have permission from the Congress on both sides of the aisle to dial up enforcement and other activities against Iran to 11, then suddenly they can say look it’s not us, there’s a bipartisan consensus…I say this to my Democratic friends, you will own this too, if you sign up to this and things go sideways.”
 

12 Organizations Write Congress on Potential Iran Sanctions Act Debate


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jamal@niacaction.org

Washington, DC – A dozen national organizations that have supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) delivered a letter to Congress today outlining key considerations for any potential debate over legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA), which is set to expire at the end of the year. 
 
The battle over extending ISA may be exploited by opponents of the JCPOA, who have been stymied in their attempts to pass deal-killing measures over the past year. The letter urges Congress to only consider renewing ISA as a clean reauthorization. As the administration will retain full authority to snap back sanctions with or without the extension of ISA, the letter states that ISA should be allowed to expire in lieu of passing legislation that could unravel the JCPOA. Finally, it urges Congress to reaffirm that the U.S. is fully committed to uphold its sanctions relief obligations and that lawmakers should defend and support further action to ensure that relief under the JCPOA moves forward. 
  
The full text of the letter, including a list of signers, is available below.

View in PDF.
  
September 16, 2016
  
To: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
 
CC: Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
 
We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge the 114th Congress to continue to maintain the United States’ commitment to upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has succeeded in blocking Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon while averting a disastrous war. We understand that Congress may soon focus its attention on a potential renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA), which is set to expire on December 31, 2016. In deciding whether and how to extend this legislation, we urge Congress to observe several important considerations.
 
First, Congress should only consider renewing ISA as a clean reauthorization. Many, but not all, of the legislative proposals to extend ISA introduced thus far include poison-pill provisions and measures that would seek to re-impose sanctions lifted under the JCPOA, albeit under a different justification. Shifting the goalposts midway through implementation would be viewed as an outright violation by our international partners in the P5+1 and by Iran, and must be rejected.
 
Second, it is important to note that the administration will retain full authority to snap back sanctions in order to respond to a potential Iranian breach of the accord with or without the extension of ISA under the authorities established by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). While some have asserted that ISA should be extended in order to ensure snapback authorities, the President retains virtually unlimited authority to impose or re-impose sanctions under IEEPA, rendering an extension of ISA largely duplicative of existing authorities. Therefore, if opponents of the JCPOA are unwilling to allow for a clean renewal of ISA, it should be allowed to expire rather than moving forward with legislation that could unravel the JCPOA and free Iran from its nuclear constraints under the accord.
 
Third, if ISA is extended beyond the date of the JCPOA’s “Transition Day,” Congress should reaffirm that the U.S. is fully committed to upholding its commitments to terminate nuclear-related sanctions on that date so long as Iran upholds its own obligations. The latest potential date for “Transition Day” under the JCPOA is October 18, 2023. Many of the current proposals to renew ISA go well beyond that time frame, departing from past ISA renewals that have extended the authorization by just five years. An act of Congress will therefore be necessary to terminate nuclear-related sanctions, including ISA sanctions, and Congress should make clear that this remains its intent. Further, lawmakers who support the JCPOA must also defend and push for further action by the U.S. government to ensure that businesses receive due assurance that they will not face U.S. legal repercussions for engaging in transactions allowable under the JCPOA.
 
There have been numerous efforts to undermine confidence in the JCPOA, both from Congressional opponents of the JCPOA and hardliners in Iran.  Any consideration of an ISA extension must not become an opportunity for opponents of the JCPOA on either side to re-litigate or renege on the accord. We urge you to take these important considerations into account to preserve the important national security achievements of the JCPOA. We will be monitoring this debate closely as it moves forward and look forward to working with you.
 
Sincerely, 

Americans for Peace Now
Council for a Livable World
CREDO
Friends Committee on National Legislation
J Street
Just Foreign Policy
MoveOn.Org
NIAC Action
Peace Action
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Women’s Action for New Directions
Win Without War

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