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.

Sanction Stories

The snapback of Iran sanctions, which went into effect on August 6th, 2018, has had an immense impact on the Iranian and Iranian-American community. These sanctions effectively punish 80 million ordinary Iranians, who are being plunged into economic misery and denied basic necessities such as life-saving medicine and safe civilian aircraft. Members of our community shared how sanctions have impacted them and their families.


I am Iranian American and my husband is Cuban American and we have both witnessed first hand what sanctions do. They harm ordinary people and not the intended target. They never result in regime change and in fact bolden the regimes. Ordinary people suffer and their suffering doesn’t cause an uprising. History has shown this again and again. Diplomacy is the only way and it has to be done with mutual respect of all sovereign nations. Bullying is unproductive.

[This photo is] from January 2018 in Kashan with my sister. Travel ban and sanctions have directly impacted us. My family cannot visit us here and the inflation in Iran makes travel very expensive outside of Iran. The photo is symbolic to me. It’s like a window into a brighter future with beautiful Iran in the background. Peace is possible.






My grandmother who is in Iran has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Over the past few months that there has been a threat of sanctions being reenacted. She has been unable to get ahold of her chemotherapy drugs. None of the pharmacies are carrying it or have a supply more than a few days or a few weeks. My father has called me and told me that she lives around in bed all day and has severe fatigue and has lost 30 pounds in the past two months. They are going to see her oncologist to see if they can change her two other agents that may be available in the country.  As a physician who treats patients like this daily in the United States I feel guilty that I am helpless to take care of a loved family member back home. Sanctions hurt ordinary people on the streets and do not inflict pain at all whatsoever on the government. How is withholding chemotherapy from my 80-year-old grandmother helpful to anyone’s objective?



My parents and other family members live in Iran. My aunt (pictured to right) has cancer and she has to do chemotherapy via injection every 3 weeks for the rest of her life in order to stay alive. Her chemo medicine is not made in Iran and is only imported. She says her medicine will no longer be available due to sanctions. She is very depressed and hopeless. She has been crying every night that her life has come to an end! She has kids and grandkids and she wants to be with them longer.







Due to the constant uncertainty in the state of economy caused by U.S. sanctions against Iran, my family members are feeling the pain of high prices. My brother and his wife who are both physicians are thinking of immigrating to Australia since their affordability for living in Tehran has decreased just recently. Iran is losing its population to emigration. Officials that do not like people come to their country should let other countries prosper in their own way, then their residents will never wish to leave their own home country at the first place.


The impact of sanctions is hard on my family and myself. I have two elderly parents that are on a lot of medications for various medical reasons. They live on my dad’s pension which hardly cover their daily expenses. Their medicines are expensive and my brother who helps them out has to buy them in black market when sanctions are in place, that is if he can find them. I used to be able to help them out by sending vitamins and some other products they needed but since summer of last year I have been unable to send anything as USPS informed me that we are banned to send any packages to Iran not until we get an exporting license! I worry about them every single day and I live in the horror of what’s going to happen to them if something like Iraq and Syria’s situation take place in Iran. I live with this nightmare every day. I lived through the horrors of Iran-Iraq war before coming to the US in 1986. I went through two surgeries under total blackout and bombings as the only light available was coming from the hospital’s generators. The patient’s bed was dragged into the corridors of the hospital from the rooms so that they can turn the lights off and close the doors, isolating everybody in the hallways. My family went through incredible hardships and sacrificed so much to send me out to get an education and survive. Today, I am an educated, successful professional and a US citizen and would like to exercise my civil rights and implore my representatives to do all they can to try to reverse these sanctions on Iranian people, because it’s only the ordinary people who suffer, and more importantly, to prevent war! I would like to ask them to do their best to stand up to this administration and its inhumane and anti-democratic practices. People of Iran are deserving of peace and prosperity as are all the people in the world.


I have a sister who is single (her husband passed away at a young age). I work 2-3 jobs (and pay taxes) to support her, because she has a son who has brain damage after a car accident & has shunt implantations in his head. You can imagine how they are in need of medical care all the time. These sanctions will be devastating for Iranian people who are like my sister and her son.

When my nephew (pictured) was a baby and after the car accident, the sanction of those years affected him and maybe, if it was not for the sanctions, he would not have ended up with a permanent injury.

They took him to the best hospital of those days, Shiraz Namazi hospital. But a lack of equipment, medication, etc caused delay. As a result, he was brain damaged and the right side of his body is not working. I traveled to Iran after that accident and saw how the hospital did not even have enough sanitary papers to change for each patient. They were using them with blood of previous patients still on them.

And now, my nephew is facing another round of sanctions. He is always in need of stuff that is imported to Iran from abroad and now it will stop.

I came to this country legally in 1981 with two kids from UK, where I was going to school, and with no money. I am from Ahwaz, and because of the war, I could not go back. I have worked three jobs, never receiving government help in this country, and raised two successful boys and helped my sister as well.

I have been told “you are from Iran, we can’t give your father visa” when my father applied to come and just visit us. I lost him in that car accident and never saw him.

I am trying to show the effects of discrimination against the everyday people of a country, when policies affect only the average citizens and not the ones in power.

Shah, Khomeini, Rouhani, Khamanei, all the mullahs or any other groups are in power, none of them are affected by these horrible games politicians are playing. Only the average Joe. These Mullahs in power and their families, if they get sick, they have enough power and money to go to other countries and get fixed.

I have nightmares of the old sanctions and what I had to go through to send stuff to Iran for my family. I am furious with all going on and scared for the Iranian people. 



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.

Memo: Netanyahu’s Claims on Iran Don’t Match the Facts


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Munich Security Conference was full of eye-popping distortions on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal. Those remarks were forcefully rebutted by former Secretary of State John Kerry, who reiterated in the starkest terms yet how the Obama administration had resisted explicit calls from Netanyahu, as well as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mubarak of Egypt, to bomb Iran rather than engage in nuclear negotiations. Given that Netanyahu appears to prefer war to the hard-fought security gains of the JCPOA, his remarks are not surprising – but they do deserve scrutiny and rebutting.


Netanyahu labeled the JCPOA as “appeasement” and falsely stated that it “has begun the countdown to an Iranian nuclear arsenal in little more than a decade.” Kerry directly addressed this claim, asserting that it is “fundamentally not accurate with respect to this agreement.”

The JCPOA obligates Iran to refrain from ever seeking, developing or acquiring nuclear weapons and will ensure intrusive inspections of Iran’s entire nuclear program in perpetuity. As Kerry noted, thanks to the JCPOA, “[t]oday we have 130 additional inspectors on the ground in Iran, inspecting radio-transmitted, sealed centrifuges and facilities on a daily basis.” If Iran chooses to break its commitments in pursuit of a nuclear arsenal under the JCPOA they would be detected and the U.S. would have the same options to respond – this will hold true even after certain restrictions expire.  

It is also worth noting that there is a sharp divide on the JCPOA between Netanyahu and the Israeli security establishment. As Haaretz reported in October, Netanyahu’s anti-JCPOA stance “is at odds with most Israeli experts in Military Intelligence and in the IDFs Planning Directorate, the Mossad, Foreign Ministry and the Atomic Energy Committee.” Moreover, the report indicated that “all Israeli intelligence bodies dealing with the Iranian issue are united in the opinion that…Iran hasn’t been caught violating a single clause.”

For those with legitimate concerns about the sunset of enrichment restrictions in the out-years of the JCPOA, it might be possible for the U.S. to seek a follow-on agreement through serious diplomacy. But that possibility will be dashed if the U.S. fails to uphold its end of the bargain, as the Trump administration appears determined to do. As it stands now, killing the deal now out of fears that the agreement’s terms won’t last forever – and then expecting President Trump to negotiate a better deal after alienating our negotiating partners – is simply irrational.


Netanyahu cited Iran’s missile testing, arguing that Iran is “developing ballistic missiles to reach deep into Europe and to the United States as well.” The track record of Iran’s recent testing contradicts Netanyahu’s claims. According to a recent analysis from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Nuclear Threat Initiative, it appears “the JCPOA has helped redirect Iran’s priorities for its missile program away from developing an ICBM (whose only purpose would be as a nuclear delivery system), to developing solid-fueled versions of its short-range missiles.” This also matches Iran’s stated policy, with the apparent endorsement of Iran’s Supreme Leader, to limit its missile program to a 2,000 kilometer radius around Iran. As a result, there is little evidence to back up Netanyahu’s claim on missiles.

Iranian Empire

Netanyahu also claimed that Iran “seeks to dominate the world through aggression and terror” and “hopes to complete a contiguous empire.”

Iran continues to exert its influence in the Middle East, including in ways that run counter to U.S. interests, such as the apparent flight of a drone into Israeli air space. However, Iran is not in any way positioned to establish an “empire” or dominate the region, much less the world.

Iran’s military capabilities are still outmatched by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. In response to the drone flight into Israeli airspace, Israel took out Iranian and Syrian regime positions and defenses in Syria, albeit not without cost. In addition to a capable and modern air force, Israel possesses nuclear-tipped missiles. Iran has neither. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, also possesses a modern air force and outspent Iran militarily by a 5:1 rate in 2016, amid the JCPOA’s implementation. As Vali Nasr, Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in Foreign Affairs, many in Tehran who backed the JCPOA were disappointed as “Iran had given up an important asset only to see the conventional military gap with its regional rivals widen,” thanks to arms sales under the Obama administration.

Moving Forward

Iran is a regional power that engages in many activities that are counter to U.S. interests, and policymakers should carefully consider how to address them. Historically, bluster and confrontation have failed, while serious multilateral diplomacy has resulted in significant Iranian concessions on the nuclear issue. If we throw out that successful playbook and buy into Netanyahu’s fear mongering of an imminent Iranian nuclear arsenal and empire we risk unraveling the security gains from the JCPOA and moving rapidly toward a disastrous war with Iran.

Netanyahu, facing a corruption inquiry at home, will likely reprise his role as the JCPOA’s foremost opponent as the Trump administration weighs the fate of the agreement. While Israel has legitimate concerns regarding Iran, Netanyahu’s fabrications and exaggerations undermine his credibility on a nuclear agreement that has enhanced both Israeli and American security. As the Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, stated in testimony during the Worldwide Threats report last week:

“Iran’s implementation of the JCPOA has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about one year, provided Iran continues to adhere to the deal’s major provisions. The JCPOA has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly by fostering improved access to Iranian nuclear facilities for the IAEA and its investigative authorities under the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.”

No amount of spin from Netanyahu can reverse the deal’s success, nor the fact that diplomacy has succeeded where bluster and unilateral demands failed. Policymakers should consider Netanyahu’s statements on Iran with a healthy dose of skepticism and reject his self-destructive attempts to undermine the JCPOA and force the United States into a military conflict with Iran.

Memo: Standing in Solidarity with the Iranian People

As Iranians protest in the largest numbers since the disputed 2009 Iranian Presidential election that sparked the Green Movement, many lawmakers are wondering how to stand with Iranians as they bravely make their voices heard. To do so, it is important to recognize that policymakers in Washington will have limited ability to positively impact the ultimate outcome of protests that are Iranian in origin and will ultimately be decided by Iranians. Outside of expressions of moral support, Iranians have not asked for U.S. assistance and many believe that calls for regime change or revolution from the U.S. or other states will hurt the people’s cause and assist in the government’s ability to crack down.

With this in mind, we encourage Congress to take the following practical steps to stand with the Iranian people:

  1. Take immediate action to rescind the Muslim ban, which bars Iranians from traveling to the United States; in order to take a stand in solidarity with the Iranian people, the U.S. must address the enormous trust deficit that Donald Trump has with Iranians. The Muslim Ban that primarily targets Iranians and, combined with antagonistic rhetoric such as his blaming Iran for an ISIS terror attack in the country, Iranians do not believe that Trump or his administration have their best interests in mind. In order to credibly stand with the Iranian people, it is important that policies like the Muslim Ban are rescinded. 
  2. Condemn violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by Iran’s government and call on the Iranian government to honor its human rights obligations, including the right to free speech and peaceful assembly;  
  3. Encourage the Administration to responsibly implement targeted human rights sanctions against violators in Iran’s government under the authorities Congress granted to the President in the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act of 2010 and the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012;
  4. Ensure that communications technology is available to Iranians, including by encouraging applications to continue operating inside Iran and also taking necessary steps to ensure U.S. sanctions do not prevent other helpful tools from being utilized by Iranians; between 2009 and 2016, the U.S. took steps to lift sanctions on important tools that have helped enable Iranians to communicate freely – including applications, smartphones, and services. Further steps can be taken to ensure tech companies make these tools available to Iranians.
  5. Uphold the Iran nuclear deal and highlight the sanctions relief granted under the agreement that should benefit ordinary Iranians. President Trump and his administration will face key decisions in the weeks ahead on whether or not to extend sanctions waivers under the Iran nuclear deal and on whether to certify the accord under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Congress must warn Trump against callously shredding the deal, which would threaten to empower hardline elements in Iran and undermine U.S. security interests.


NIAC Action Statement on Senate Passage of Iran Sanctions Bill

Contact: Ryan Costello
Phone: (202) 386-6319

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.”


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


Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

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.

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


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.



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

Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: (202) 386-6408

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.”


5 Key Sanctions Questions on the Iran Deal

As lawmakers consider their position on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there are a number of questions about key elements of this detailed agreement. We’ve summarized some of the top questions regarding sanctions that we are hearing on the Hill and provided concise answers to each of them below. For a more detailed analysis of the non-nuclear sanctions that remain in place under the agreement, see this NIAC policy memo.

(1) Does the Deal Lift the Conventional Arms Embargo?
The nuclear deal does not lift the embargo on Iran’s arms until 2020. More importantly, key UN sanctions will remain in place on the transfer of arms to Hezbollah and the Houthis, and significant U.S. sanctions will be kept in place to target arms transfers to Iran.
(2) Does the Deal Lift Restrictions on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Technologies?
The nuclear deal does not lift restrictions on the transfer to Iran of sensitive technologies used to develop ballistic missiles until 2023. Moreover, a key international ballistic missile arms control regime and U.S. sanctions will remain in place to prevent the transfer to Iran of such technologies after 2023.
(3) Does the Deal Enable Iran’s Support for Terrorism?
The nuclear deal does not enable Iran to fund its troublesome activities in the region. Instead, the deal allows Iran access to what are known as its “restricted funds” – i.e., oil revenues that have been held in overseas escrow accounts since 2013. These funds are not “frozen” and can, even without the deal, be used to purchase goods or services from the country holding Iran’s funds. Moreover, with or without a nuclear deal, the U.S. cannot expect other countries to hold onto Iran’s money indefinitely.
(4) Does the Sanctions Snapback Work?
The snapback provision allows the United States to re-impose both its own sanctions and the previous UN sanctions should it believe Iran to be violating its nuclear-related obligations. This flexibility allows the U.S. to deal with non-compliance issues large and small as they arise. The snapback mechanism is notable because none of the P5 states, including Russia, can veto the reimposition of sanctions. This mechanism is the best way to keep the international sanctions regime intact. Under any alternative – i.e. were US negotiators to have rejected this deal or if Congress votes to block it – it would be next to impossible to convince the international community to maintain, snap back or impose new sanctions.
(5) Does the Deal “Grandfather” Contracts Signed with Iran?
The nuclear deal does not “grandfather” contracts and investments made in or with Iran prior to the snapback of UN sanctions. Snapback sanctions will simply not have retroactive effect for contracts and investments that were permissible at the time they were entered. This clause allows for wind-down provisions (i.e., provisions that force foreign companies to end their business in or with Iran during a certain period of time) and has no effect on re-imposed U.S. sanctions

Congress Should Support the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

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The Deal Cuts Off Iran’s Pathways to a Nuclear Weapon

  • The time it would take Iran to enrich sufficient uranium for a single nuclear device is increased from 2-3 months to a full year for a decade.
  • Iran reduces its installed centrifuges by two-thirds for a decade.
  • Iran’s enrichment level is capped at 3.67%, far below weapons grade.
  • Iran’s uranium stockpile is cut by 97% to 300 kg for fifteen years, a fraction of the amount needed for a single nuclear weapon with further enrichment.
  • The core of the Arak reactor is destroyed and Iran redesigns the facility so that it will not produce weapons grade plutonium.
  • Iran foregoes reprocessing and ships out all spent fuel from Arak and future reactors.

The Agreement Imposes the Strongest Inspection Regime Ever Negotiated

  • The agreement is fully verifiable. If Iran tries to break out, it will be detected.
  • Iran’s entire nuclear fuel cycle will be closely monitored, including via a dedicated procurement channel and IAEA inspections of enrichment facilities, the Arak reactor, uranium mines and mills, and centrifuge production facilities.
  • Iran will implement and eventually ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol, ensuring that inspectors can access any suspicious site – including military sites – when they need to.
  • If Iran objects to IAEA access to a suspicious site, Iran has 24 days to permit access or have the matter referred to the UN Security Council, which can snap back sanctions.
  • 24 days is not sufficient to hide evidence of a covert enrichment facility, where traces of nuclear material could be detected months or years thereafter.
  • “Anytime, anywhere” access – as demanded by some critics – is neither necessary nor achievable.

Key Provisions of the Deal Last for Decades, and Some Forever

  • The ratification of the IAEA Additional Protocol will lock in intrusive inspections indefinitely, including at suspicious sites. This measure will last forever.
  • Iran’s commitments not to ever seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, to forego reprocessing, and to ship out spent fuel at the Arak reactor or any future reactors do not end.
  • The IAEA will have continuous monitoring of Iran’s uranium mines and mills for 25 years, and at centrifuge production facilities for 20 years.
  • Many limitations on enrichment – including the cap on enrichment threshold and on the size of Iran’s uranium stockpile – last for 15 years.

The Deal Could Facilitate New Diplomatic Opportunities

  • This deal depends on verification, not trust, to ensure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. But it does open many opportunities to advance U.S. interests and security beyond the nuclear issue if further diplomacy is pursued.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, Foreign Minister and head of the Supreme National Security Council have all indicated that if the nuclear agreement is successful, Iran is willing to negotiate on other matters, including regional security issues.
  • Such openness could extend to areas of potential strategic convergence, like Afghanistan and Iraq, and divergence, such as Syria and Yemen. 
  • A successful resolution of the nuclear issue will empower Iran’s political moderates in addition to the Iranian people, who can press their leadership for both internal and external moderation.

The Alternatives are Grim

  • Without a deal, Iran’s breakout timeline could shrink from 2-3 months to less than a month, approaching an undetectable threshold.
  • Without a deal, the Arak reactor could come online in about a year without alterations and produce sufficient plutonium, if separated, for multiple nuclear weapons each year thereafter.
  • Rejecting a deal would unravel international enforcement of the sanctions regime. Constraints on and inspections of Iran’s nuclear program would diminish, or disappear altogether if Iran pulls out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
  • Military strikes cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear know-how, could only set Iran’s nuclear program back by a year or two, and would likely incentivize Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrent.