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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Clinton Should Double Down on Iran Diplomacy, Not Containment

Press Release - For Immediate Release

 

 

 

Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after Secretary Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference:

We commend Secretary Clinton for reaffirming her support for the landmark nuclear deal with Iran should she win the presidency. Secretary Clinton played a critical role in supporting the deal during the Congressional review this past summer and she will likely be the only candidate at AIPAC praising the deal. The Iranian-American community deeply appreciates her principled position in favor of the deal. However, saying that “Iran’s fingerprints are on every conflict in the Middle East” without acknowledging the culpability of some of our closest allies — a culpability that President Obama openly admits — socializes our allies into thinking their bad behavior delivers results and they can get away with anything.

At a time when President Obama is seeking to make his historic Iran policy change as irreversible as possible, we are concerned by Secretary Clinton downplaying the possibility of a larger diplomatic opening. Rather than following President Obama’s lead in acknowledging the challenges while emphasizing the need for diplomacy across the board, Secretary Clinton needlessly reduces the requisite political space to make a peaceful diplomatic opening with Iran come to fruition should the opportunity present itself during her potential presidency. It is indeed ironic that while President Obama is in Cuba reaping the fruits of engagement, many of the Presidential hopefuls are at AIPAC redoubling on the containment policy that neither produced a breakthrough with Cuba nor Iran.  

 
We commend Secretary Clinton’s call for standing with the Iranian people. But doing so requires further dialogue between the two peoples and two governments, not less. It requires taking steps to make clear that lifting the U.S. trade embargo is possible if Iran is willing to reciprocate with steps of equal value. These are the steps that will allow the American and Iranian people to build bridges. IRGC provocations such as missile tests are a trap to keep us on the path of confrontation and ensure Americans and Iranians can never stand together. Secretary Clinton should take a page from President Obama’s playbook and craft her responses accordingly. Any deviation from Obama’s prudent and wise rhetoric and diplomacy will risk the significant progress achieved in the past few years.

 

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FAQ on Visa Waiver Changes Passed in Omnibus Bill (January 6, 2016)

Flowchart-VisaWaiver

This post is out of date. See our latest FAQ.

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law a massive government-spending bill known as the omnibus appropriations act. The legislation included provisions reforming the visa waiver program, which is the program that enables citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States without a visa. Despite numerous objections, Congress included discriminatory provisions from a bill that passed the House of Representatives (H.R. 158) to bar dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan as well as foreigners who have traveled to those countries since March 2011 from eligibility in the visa waiver program. These measures are now being implemented.

The changes do not directly target Americans, but – because the visa waiver program operates on reciprocity – the visa waiver program countries are likely to respond with reciprocal measures that could render Iranian Americans ineligible for the visa waiver program, effectively creating a second tier of American citizens traveling abroad.

Below are answers to key questions on the discriminatory visa waiver reforms that are included in the omnibus:

How can the visa waiver reform impact Iranian Americans?

Iranian Americans are likely to be directly impacted because the visa waiver program operates on the system of reciprocity. France, for example, has accepted American travelers without a visa because we accepted French travelers without a visa. However, because we barred certain French citizens from the visa waiver program, France can now respond by applying the same restrictions to Americans. As the bill targets dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan, it is likely 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. 

The direct targets of the changes include Iranian dual nationals from eligible countries, as well as non-Iranian nationals from those countries who have visited Iran in the past five years. They would be forced to apply for a visa in order to travel to the United States.

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

No. The discriminatory provisions in the omnibus will not bar U.S. citizens or green card holders from re-entering the United States after travel to Iran. They would solely affect travel between the U.S. and the 38 countries participating in the visa waiver program. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program.

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

The discriminatory provisions in the omnibus will not affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking a U.S. visa. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program, so Iranian citizens who are not dual nationals of countries eligible for the visa waiver program would not be affected by this bill.

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

However, it is possible that further restrictions will be enacted by Congress that specifically target Iranians travelling to the United States, or Iranian Americans who have travelled to Iran.

Do these changes impact Canadians?

No. Canada is not part of the visa waiver program 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 provisions impact the nuclear deal?

Under paragraph 29, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) obligates the United States and other parties to the agreement to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran.” By barring individuals who have traveled to Iran since 2011 from eligibility in the visa waiver program, many business executives who travel to Iran to explore permissible trade under the JCPOA could be barred from eligibility in the visa waiver program.

While the intent of why Iran was included among countries that would render one ineligible for the visa waiver program is unclear, this could be interpreted as interference with the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran as permitted under the JCPOA. Iran has protested the visa waiver restrictions and has signaled that it will file a complaint. Amb. Stephen Mull, lead coordinator for overseeing implementation of the JCPOA at the State Department, indicated that very senior officials in the European Union had told both he and Secretary of State John Kerry that the provisions could have a very negative impact on JCPOA implementation. A recent letter from Secretary Kerry to Iranian Foreign Minister 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 a waiver and other authorities available.

Are we making a difference?

Yes! NIAC Action staff and grassroots leaders have ensured that leading Senators and Representatives are aware of the problems in the bill. This issue was raised at the highest level of budget negotiations, but House Republicans reportedly refused to budge. Fortunately, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that the provisions were counterproductive and rushed through, and that Congress will take a new look in 2016. Action in the House of Representatives is forthcoming, as well.

NIAC Action grassroots teams and the entire Iranian-American community have been incredibly engaged in this effort, totaling more than 81,000 actions to date, which has given us a fighting chance to repeal the bill.

How do we stop this?

Here’s our plan:

1) We are in communications with the White House and have worked with allies to formally call on the President to waive the visa restrictions on Iranian Americans and travelers to Iran.

2) We are talking to the most senior officials in the EU Foreign Ministry and will formally urge that the EU avoid reciprocal steps that would punish dual nationals and adopt alternative proposals we are developing.

3) We are engaged in serious discussions with Members of Congress to take legislative action to reverse these provisions. New legislative initiatives in the House and Senate will be rolling out in the weeks to come.

 

UPDATE: Frequently Asked Questions on the Visa Waiver Reform Bill (H.R. 158/S. 2362)

This post is out of date. See our latest FAQ.

On December 8, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 158) to reform the visa waiver program, which enables citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States without a visa.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are now negotiating whether to include the visa waiver reform bill in the “omnibus” appropriations act, a must-pass spending bill to keep the government funded. Government funding is currently set to run out at midnight on December 16, so the omnibus must be passed by Wednesday.

The visa waiver bill, as passed by the House, would render Iranian dual-nationals and foreigners who have traveled to Iran in the past five years ineligible to visit the United States under the visa waiver program. This would not directly target Americans, but – because the visa waiver program operates on reciprocity – the visa waiver program countries are likely to respond with reciprocal measures that could render Iranian Americans ineligible for the visa waiver program, effectively creating a second tier of American citizens traveling abroad.

Below are answers to key questions on the discriminatory bill:

Where does the bill restrict Iranians?

The bill applies to Iran through the state sponsors of terrorism provision.

In section 3 of H.R. 158, the bill restricts the visa waiver program to any national of a designated state sponsor of terrorism under section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act, as well as to any foreign national who has traveled to such country. This list includes Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Syria is listed explicitly along with Iraq as a country that would render one ineligible for the program. Iran and Sudan are included specifically because they are designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

How does the bill impact Iranian Americans?

Iranian Americans are likely to be directly impacted because the visa waiver program operates on the system of reciprocity. France, for example, accepts American travelers without a visa because we accept French travelers without a visa. However, if we bar certain French citizens from the visa waiver program, France could then respond by applying the same restrictions to Americans. As the bill targets dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan, it is likely 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. 

The direct target of the bill includes Iranian dual nationals from eligible countries, as well as non-Iranian nationals from those countries who have visited Iran in the past five years. They would be forced to apply for a visa in order to travel to the United States. However, Iranian Americans would likely be impacted by reciprocal restrictions in eligible countries.

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

This bill will not affect Iranian citizens in possession of or seeking a U.S. visa. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program, so Iranian citizens who are not dual nationals of countries eligible for the visa waiver program would not be affected by this bill.

This bill would not prohibit Americans from traveling to Iran. However, reciprocal actions among European nations and other countries eligible for the visa waiver program could bar Americans who have traveled to Iran from traveling to those countries without a visa.

However, it is possible that further restrictions will be enacted by Congress that specifically target Iranians travelling to the United States, or Iranian Americans who have travelled to Iran.

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

No. This bill will not bar U.S. citizens or green card holders from re-entering the United States after travel to Iran. This bill would solely affect travel between the U.S. and the 38 countries participating in the visa waiver program. Iran is not eligible for the visa waiver program.

What happens next?

The fight depends heavily on whether the discriminatory provisions of the visa waiver program bill are included in a must-pass spending bill known as the omnibus. The omnibus, which funds the federal government, is likely to be revealed today.

If the provisions of the visa waiver reform bill that discriminate against Iranian dual nationals and those that have traveled to Iran are not included in the omnibus, we will have likely succeeded in blocking Congress from passing the bill this year. This would be a key victory in the opening phase of this campaign. However, our fight would not be over, as the Senate could look to pass H.R. 158 separate from the spending bill in the new year.

If part or all of the discriminatory provisions are included in the omnibus, they will be very difficult to remove, and will likely pass both Houses and be signed into law by the President.

Although NIAC Action made the Obama administration aware of the flaws in the bill, the administration has thus far only expressed support for the broader legislation. The Visa Waiver bill was initially supported by the White House and prominent Congressional Democrats as a means to convince House Republicans to drop an attempt to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from coming to the United States and to instead focus on fixing loopholes in the Visa Waiver Program. While many lawmakers now have concerns about the measures targeting dual-nationals under the House version of the Visa Waiver Program bill, there are worries that opposing the visa waiver program language would open the door for House Republicans to add the refugee-blocking legislation to the omnibus instead.

Could the bill impact the nuclear deal?

Under paragraph 29, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) obligates the United States and other parties to the agreement to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran.” By barring individuals who have traveled to Iran since 2011 from eligibility in the visa waiver program, many business executives who travel to Iran to explore permissible trade under the JCPOA could be barred from eligibility in the visa waiver program.

While the intent of why Iran was included among countries that would render one ineligible for the visa waiver program is unclear, this could be interpreted as interference with the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran as permitted under the JCPOA. Iran has signaled that it will monitor the situation.

Are we making a difference?

Yes! NIAC Action staff and grassroots leaders have ensured that leading Senators and Representatives are aware of the problems in the bill. Many Senators, including those in Democratic leadership, have discussed whether they will be able to block the discriminatory provisions. There may be more traction in blocking the provisions that discriminate on the basis of nationality than the provisions that target travelers to Iran.

NIAC Action grassroots teams and the entire Iranian-American community have been incredibly engaged in this effort, which has given us a fighting chance to block the bill. NIAC Action members have sent more than 47,000 messages and 1,900 phone calls to Congress to tell them to stop the bill.

How do we stop this?

Lawmakers are trying to insert the discriminatory visa language into the omnibus spending bill that must pass by Wednesday, December 16 in order to keep the government funded.

The path to victory is to convince enough in Congress to oppose inserting the discriminatory language in the omnibus. If we can block this language from being adding to the omnibus in the next few days, we win for the year.

Lawmakers may try to bring this up again next year, but it will be much more difficult as a standalone measure. The Senate is unlikely to pass the discriminatory language unless it is bundled into a must-pass bill, which is why proponents are trying to attach it into the omnibus.

Ultimately this issue will be decided by lawmakers in Congress, which why it is critical for constituents to weigh in with their elected officials in the House and Senate via calls, email, and social media. We are also in continuing conversations with senior officials at the White House as well as in the European Union to encourage them to weigh in as well.

Will the bill become law?

The discriminatory provisions of H.R. 158 have a strong chance of becoming law, including the restrictions on Iranian dual nationals and foreigners who have traveled to Iran. The bill contains a number of measures outside of those targeting dual nationals that are deemed beneficial by members of both parties. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor last week, 407-19. There is a strong chance that the bill is folded into the omnibus, though leaders of both parties have been alerted to the problematic provisions. Last week, 13 Representatives who voted for H.R. 158 realized their error and urged the Senate to remove the discriminatory provisions.

Our best chance to block the discriminatory provisions lies in preventing them from being incorporated into the omnibus. Then, we will have to work to make sure Congress doesn’t pick them up in the new year.

The further along this gets in the legislative process, the harder it will be to stop. Take action today!

Statement: Mikulski Protects Iran Deal But Veto Battle Should Be Avoided

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: (202) 386-6408
Email: jamal@niacaction.org

NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced that she will support the Iran nuclear deal:

“Senator Barbara Mikulski’s support is a major milestone that ensures the Iran agreement can move forward despite the millions of dollars and misinformation pumped out by opponents in an effort to kill the deal. With 34 votes secured, there are enough votes to protect the agreement through a presidential veto so that the U.S. will not be forced to renege on its commitments.
 
“The work for the agreement’s supporters is not done. Nearly the entire Republican presidential field has pledged to nullify the agreement if they take the White House. The opposition is now hoping to set the stage for further efforts to undermine and eventually unravel the deal, and passage of a disapproval resolution could provide that opening. 

“Forty-one votes are needed to prevent Congress from passing a disapproval resolution. Everyone who wants this deal to work should seek to ensure that 7 of the 11 undecided Senators support the deal so that the President does not need to use his veto to protect the agreement.

“Senator Mikulski’s significant Iranian-American constituency thanks her for her decision and hopes that her colleague Senator Cardin follows suit. NIAC and the Iranian-American community have worked for over a decade urging negotiation instead of war and endless isolation. All of those who said that you can’t negotiate with Iran, that war was inevitable, that the nuclear issue can never be resolved, and that Congress would surely reject any accord have been proven wrong. Those who have believed that peace is possible and who have worked to achieve that dream have been proven right.”

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