Memo: H.R. 31, Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019

The Trump administration’s re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran has placed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the nuclear deal between the U.S., other major world powers, and Iran—on the brink of collapse. Not only has the President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton sought war options against Iran, but the Trump administration has also utilized existing Iran sanctions authorities in unprecedented ways by targeting entities involved with humanitarian trade that are far removed from sanctionable conduct. It is imperative that Congress demonstrate leadership by working to protect the JCPOA and avoid providing the Trump administration with new ammunition to escalate tensions with Iran.

In this context, we are concerned that the sanctions mandated by H.R. 31, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, can be utilized by this administration to redouble its efforts to unravel the JCPOA by targeting Iranian parties far removed from Syria. Because the Trump administration has not shied from using its sanctions authorities toward Iran, H.R. 31 could – however unintentionally – (1) further empower the Trump Administration to undermine Iran’s continued compliance with the JCPOA, increasing the risk of collapsing the nuclear agreement entirely and leading Iran to ramp up its nuclear activities; and (2) complicate any efforts by a successor administration to bring the United States back into compliance with the JCPOA, particularly if the Trump administration uses H.R. 31’s authorities to impose sanctions on those Iranian parties whose designations were formerly rescinded pursuant to the JCPOA.

We recognize the desire to pressure Assad and that this bill has been under consideration for some time; however, we believe that the first foreign policy action by the new Congress should advance priorities like salvaging international agreements that this administration has so callously imperiled and encourage the pursuit of diplomatic solutions the challenges within the region. It would be more appropriate to move H.R. 31 through regular order and ensure that the legislation does not in any way jeopardize the JCPOA. Moreover, we would strongly encourage proactive steps to ensure that the window to return to the JCPOA remains open throughout the 116th Congress and to safeguard the prospect of diplomatic solutions to resolve regional challenges.

Congress Must Rein in Trump’s War Cabinet

Trump has stacked his cabinet with Iran warhawks, withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal that is successfully guarding against Iranian nuclear weapons and – according to recent reports – Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton and the President himself sought plans from the Pentagon to attack Iran.

These developments are dire and, barring Congressional intervention, the U.S. may launch yet another ill-advised war of choice that could haunt the U.S. and Middle East for generations.

The 116th Congress must investigate the Trump administration’s war plans for Iran, impose legal and political restraints to block an unconstitutional war with Iran and take steps to salvage the nuclear accord.

Bolton Asked for War Options Against Iran

  • John Bolton asked the Pentagon to prepare options to strike Iran in September – an act of war that has not been authorized by Congress.
  • The options considered reportedly included “a cross-border airstrike on an Iranian military facility” as well as “options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well.”
  • The response rattled national security officials, with one former official warning that it was “mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”
  • voicing deepening fears” that Bolton “could precipitate a conflict with Iran.”

Mattis Scuttled Bolton’s War Push

  • The strikes were contemplated after two attacks in Iraq attributed to Shia militias tied to Iran – neither of which led to damage or casualties. It is unclear if Iran knew of the attack or to what extent it is tied to the militias involved.
  • In one attack, “mortar bombs landed inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy is located.” A second involved a rocket attack on the airport near Basra, near to where the U.S. consulate was located. That incident followed raucous protests in Basra that led to the torching of the Iranian consulate.
  • U.S. officials warned it would hold Iran accountable, saying “Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.”
  • The push to strike Iran directly over this murky affair was strongly opposed by former Defense Secretary James Mattis and other Pentagon officials, who argued successfully that the attacks were “insignificant.”

The President Reportedly Pushed Mattis to Sink Iranian Ships

  • In 2017, “Trump repeatedly asked his national security team for plans to blow up Iranian fast boats” patrolling the Persian Gulf.
  • Following a promise on the campaign trail to shoot Iranian ships “out of the water,” Trump was “incredulous” that the U.S. hadn’t sunk Iranian boats that have often had close run ins with U.S. ships, which he thought was a “humiliation and sign of weakness.”
  • Fortunately, 2017 saw fewer run ins between Iranian and U.S. vessels in the Persian Gulf, as the sinking of an Iranian ship could spark a major regional conflagration.

Trump Is Seeking to Kill the Iran Nuclear Deal

  • Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and snap back sanctions – which was finalized in November – puts at risk severe limitations and comprehensive inspections over Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Iran has warned that it could respond to the provocation by expanding its nuclear program or limiting the access of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • By killing Iran’s benefit from the deal, the Trump administration appears to be baiting Iran to escalate its nuclear program – which Bolton could use to put his war plans in motion.
  • By targeting our allies with sanctions for seeking to uphold a UN Security Council-endorsed agreement that the U.S. negotiated, Trump has undermined U.S. leadership and sapped America’s diplomatic power.
  • In order to forestall a push to war, re-secure vital nonproliferation safeguards and restore U.S. diplomatic credibility, Congress should push for the U.S. to return to compliance with the deal.

Trump Has Assembled A War Cabinet

  • Bolton previously published an op-ed entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” and promised a cult-like group that was designated as a terrorist organization until 2011 that they would celebrate regime change in Iran by the end of 2018.
  • Mike Pompeo pushed 2,000 bombing sorties on Iran as an alternative to nuclear negotiations in 2014, suggested that the U.S. pursue regime change in Iran, and  encouraged Trump to first decertify and then kill the nuclear accord.
  • James Mattis, the so-called “adult in the room,” is no longer there to push back on ill-advised military strikes in Iran.
  • Trump himself has tweeted in all caps against Iran, warning “YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”

Trump Has an Expansive View of War Powers

  • The Trump administration did not seek Congressional authorization prior to launching strikes on the Assad regime in Syria both in 2017 and 2018.
  • In later justifying its strikes, the Trump administration stated that the action did not risk rising up to the level of a “war” and that the administration could conduct strikes in the national interest, thus the administration did not seek approval from Congress.

Congress Must Rein in Trump on Iran

  • Failure to rein in Trump and his war cabinet could lead to a military confrontation with a nation of 80 million that is nearly four times the size of Iraq.
  • Congress should investigate Bolton’s request for war options against Iran as well as the murky events in Iraq that precipitated the request. Sec. Mattis is no longer in a position to scuttle Bolton’s half-baked plans for war.
  • Congress should impose political and legal restraints on the administration’s ability to start a war with Iran. Last year, legislation was introduced (the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act – S. 3517/H.R. 7277) to prohibit the Trump administration from using funds to launch a war against Iran without Congressional approval.
  • Congress should push for a return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal in order to shore up vital nonproliferation safeguards and restore American diplomatic credibility.
  • The American people do not want another war under a reckless administration – the 116th Congress must act without delay to rein in Trump on Iran.

House NDAA Clarifies Trump Has No War Authorization for Iran

 

 

 

 

Jamal Abdi, Executive Director of NIAC Action, issued the following statement after the House of Representatives passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) clarifying that the use of armed forces against Iran is not authorized by Congress:

“The House of Representatives just made clear that the President does not have authorization from Congress to launch a war against Iran. This is vital, as the elevation of Iran warhawks in John Bolton and Mike Pompeo and the violation of the Iran nuclear deal has put another disastrous war of choice in the Middle East back on the table.

“Trump himself has hinted at military action against Iran and both he and Pompeo have taken a page from the Iraq war playbook by falsely linking Iran to al-Qaeda. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Walter Jones (R-NC) deserve tremendous credit for taking a stand for peace and Congress’ Constitutional war-making authorities by introducing the amendment and ensuring its passage in the House. Now, the Senate should make sure that this clear statement of fact is included in the final version of the NDAA.

“This is a welcome step, but far more political and legal constraints are needed to ensure Trump, Bolton and Pompeo cannot put their war plans into place. The Trump administration has shredded norms and constraints across the board, and with Iran that is no exception. Unless lawmakers want to see the mistakes of the Iraq war repeated, they need to step up and rein in the Trump administration on Iran across the board.”

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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

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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