Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Post #416 - Voyage of the Argonauts

From our friends at NIAC, whose advocacy conference I will be attending on Saturday next:

http://www.niacouncil.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9025&security=1&news_iv_ctrl=-1

And a related posting on the same subject:

http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/all/John%20Limbert 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Post #415 - Behind the Hoopla

The following piece was published by Global Research following the Academy Award announcements.  It was written by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, a scholar, writer and researcher focusing on foreign policy, who has been active in the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII).

Sepahpour-Ulrich emphasizes the ways in which Hollywood has supported various administrations and the imperialist cause generally.  This fails to note the many memorable Oscar evening manifestations of counter-culture or progressive sentiments among actors and other members of the cinema community.  One thinks of Marlon Brando espousing the cause of Native Americans, and, most notably,Vanessa Redgrave standing up to "Zionist hoodlums."

Nor does it acknowledge this year's Oscar nomination for "Five Broken Cameras," a sympathetic documentary about a Palestinian, which was done by an Israeli/ Palestinian film-making duo.

It should be noted, too, that many Americans who are most sympathetic to Iran (returned Peace Corps volunteers, for example) have found the film she is discussing to be not far off the mark, in terms of its presentation of the milieu of post-Revolutionary Tehran, nor particularly unfair to the Iranians portrayed in the movie.
 
There are other criticisms that can be made.  For example, while it may be true that Hannukah was not portrayed on the big screen until the '50's, it is likely that the same could be said for Orthodox Easter, Cinco de Mayo and a Hindu puja.

Nevertheless, this piece offers an alternate view of the red carpet and the glittering stage -- which deserves a hearing primarily because the sanctions regime is having an impact on real, flesh-and-blood human beings who had no part in the taking of hostages in 1979, and who would sooner see movies together than throw bombs in our direction.  Historical dramas are no substitute for solid public education about foreign policy, even if done well.  A documentary about why we are doing what we are doing in 2013 vis-a-vis Iran would be a welcome addition to the many wonderful offerings of Hollywood.


Oscar to Hollywood’s “Argo”: And the Winners are … the Pentagon and the Israel Lobby


hollywood 
 
Foreign policy observers have long known that Hollywood reflects and promotes U.S. policies (in turn, is determined by Israel and its supporters).   This fact was made public when Michelle Obama announced an Oscar win for “Argo” – a highly propagandist, anti-Iran  film.  Amidst the glitter and excitement, Hollywood and White House reveal their pact and send out their message in time for the upcoming talks surrounding Iran’s nuclear program due to be held tomorrow -  February 26th.     

Hollywood has a long history of promoting US policies.   In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information (CPI) enlisted the aid of America ’s film industry to make training films and features supporting the ‘cause’.  George Creel, Chairman of the CPI believed that the movies had a role in “carrying the gospel of Americanism to every corner of the globe.”

The pact grew stronger during World War II, when, as historian Thomas Doherty writes, “[T]he liaison between Hollywood and Washington was a distinctly American and democratic arrangement, a mesh of public policy and private initiative, state need and business enterprise.” Hollywood ’s contribution was to provide propaganda. After the war, Washington reciprocated by using subsidies, special provisions in the Marshall Plan, and general clout to pry open resistant European film markets[i].

Hollywood has often borrowed its story ideas from the U.S. foreign policy agenda, at times reinforcing them. One of the film industry’s blockbuster film loans in the last two decades has been modern international terrorism. Hollywood rarely touched the topic of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s when the phenomenon was not high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in news headlines or in the American public consciousness. In the 1980s, in the footsteps of the Reagan administration’s policies, the commercial film industry brought ‘terrorist’ villains to the big screen (following the US Embassy takeover in Tehran – topic of “Argo”) making terrorism a blockbuster film product in the 1990s.

Today, whether Hollywood follows US policy or whether it sets it, is up for discussion.  But it is abundantly clear that Hollywood is dominated by Israelis and their supporters who previously concealed their identity.   According to a 2012 Haaretz article
“from the 1930s until the mid-1950s, Hanukkah never appeared on screen. This was because the Jewish studio heads preferred to hide their ethnic and religious heritage in attempting to widen the appeal of their products. Jews were thus typically portrayed as participants in an American civil religion, whose members may attend the synagogue of their choice, but are not otherwise marked by great differences of appearance, speech, custom, or behaviour from the vast majority of American”.
This is no longer the case.

In sharp contrast to its past, Hollywood “celebrated” Israel ’s 60th “birthday” [occupation] with a Gala called “From Vision to Reality”.  Israeli TV blog wrote of the Gala:  ‘Don’t Worry Israel, Hollywood is behind you’.   Actor Jon Voight said: “World playing a dangerous game by going against Israel”.   Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, was a longtime weapons dealer and Israeli intelligence agent who purchased equipment for Israel’s nuclear program (the book, “Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan,” written by Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman, recounts Milchan’s life story, his friendships with Israeli prime ministers, U.S. presidents and Hollywood stars).

It is important to understand Hollywood not only in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry, but the propaganda aspect of it and as one of  the most powerful and universal methods of spreading ideas through visual propaganda.  “Propaganda is defined as a certain type of messaging that serves a particular purpose of spreading or implanting a particular culture, philosophy, point of view or even a particular slogan”.   With this capability, Hollywood owns the world of ideas on a scale too large and too dangerous to ignore – see this excellent example by Gilad Atzmon – Hollywood and the Past.
Atzmon writes:
“History is commonly regarded as an attempt to produce a structured account of the past. It proclaims to tell us what really happened, but in most cases it fails to do that. Instead it is set to conceal our shame, to hide those various elements, events, incidents and occurrences in our past which we cannot cope with. History, therefore, can be regarded as a system of concealment. Accordingly, the role of the true historian is similar to that of the psychoanalyst: both aim to unveil the repressed. For the psychoanalyst, it is the unconscious mind. For the historian, it is our collective shame.”
As Hollywood and the White House eagerly embrace “Argo” and its propagandist message, they shamelessly and deliberately conceals a crucial aspect of this “historical” event.  The glitter buries the all too important fact that the Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran , proceeded to reveal Israel ’s dark secret to the world.  Documents classified as “SECRET” revealed LAKAM’s activities.  Initiated in 1960, LAKAM was an Israeli network assigned to economic espionage in the U.S. assigned to “the collection of scientific intelligence in the U.S. for Israel ’s defense industry”[ii].

As it stands, the purpose of the movie and its backers was to push the extraordinary revelations to the background while sending a visual message to the unsuspecting audience – to lay the blame of the potential (and likely) failure of the upcoming negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program on the Iranians — the gun-wielding, bearded Iranians of “Argo” who deserve America’s collective punishment and the crippling, deathly sanctions.
 


Monday, February 25, 2013

Post #414 - Novel Idea: Listen to Those Who Know What They're Talking about

No comment required:

 

Former Hostages Call for Diplomacy to Prevent War & Nuclear Armed Iran


Washington DC – February 15, 2013– News Release - While Ben Affleck’s Oscar-nominated film Argo has refocused attention on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, two former hostages argue that the lessons of the crisis are very relevant to modern U.S. policy toward Iran. As the U.S. restarts talks with Iran on February 26, former U.S. hostages Amb. Bruce Laingen and Amb. John Limbert are calling for sustained and comprehensive diplomacy to prevent war and an Iranian nuclear weapon.


WHO: Ambassador Bruce Laingen– Amb. Laingen (ret.) was the ChargĂ© d’Affaires, the senior U.S. diplomat in Tehran, when he and 51 other diplomats were taken hostage by the Iranians for 444 days. After his return, Amb. Laingen served as the vice president of the National Defense University. Amb. Laingen served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and in the Foreign Service from 1949-1987. He is an ex-officio officer on the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy and chronicled the Iran hostage crisis in his memoir: Yellow Ribbon: The Secret Journal of Bruce Laingen. He is the recipient of the Department of State’s Award for Valor, Department of Defense’s Distinguished Public Service Media, the Presidential Meritorious Award and the Foreign Service Cup.

Ambassador John Limbert – Amb. Limbert (ret.) served as the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran during the first Obama Administration and is the author of Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History and Iran: At War with History. Amb. Limbert served as political officer to Tehran and was also taken hostage during the 1979 crisis. His Foreign Service career also included duties in Algeria, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates and as Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He is a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and an advisory council board member of the National Iranian American Council. Amb. Limbert holds the Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State’s highest award, and is fluent in Persian.

WHAT: Press Conference
WHEN: February 25, 2013 at 11 AM
WHERE: Cannon House Office Building Rm. 441, Capitol Hill
WHY: As the world prepares for intensive talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Kazakhstan on February 26th and the Oscar-nominated Argo puts the Iran hostage crisis back in the spotlight, two former hostages will discuss the necessity for sustained diplomacy based on a ‘quid pro quo’ approach to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and end the vicious cycle of U.S.-Iranian confrontation that has continued since their release from captivity 32 years ago.


RSVPs optional for press and congressional staff, required for members of the public: Kathy@fcnl.org

####


The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington, is a non partisan Quaker lobby in the public interest. FCNL works with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from every state in the U.S. to advocate for social and economic justice, peace, and good government. www.fcnl.org

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a Washington-based non-profit think tank working to reduce the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled across the globe, increase international nonproliferation programs targeted at preventing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism, redirect U.S. military spending to address 21st century security threats and halt the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons. www.armscontrolcenter.org
 

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage. NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers. www.niacouncil.org

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Post #413 - Tossing Br'er Rabbit in the Briar Patch

This piece by Jonathan Tirone ran on Bloomberg 2/15/13):



Iran’s Nuclear-Technology Gains Suggest Sanctions Are Backfiring


International sanctions designed to punish Iran for its nuclear program may be counter-productive, said scientists and security analysts tracking the decade-long dispute over the Persian Gulf nation’s atomic work. 

While trade and financial sanctions have choked off Iran’s access to materials such as aluminum and maraging steel used to make its first generation of nuclear equipment, they have spurred the Islamic Republic to find its own solutions for subsequent technological innovations. Now, Iran is positioned to both build better nuclear devices and export them. 

“The serious consequence of all of these sanctions are that you drive the indigenous production of these parts,” Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a physicist at the Monterrey, California- based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote in response to questions. “This means the proliferator learns more about the technology and so now they don’t only know how to produce the parts, but they could also sell them to other states.” 

As embargoes strangle Iran’s ability to import high-quality metals and fibers needed to build nuclear components, the country’s own resources, including oil, sand and zinc, mean it can overcome technical hurdles. Last month, Iran notified United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors it would begin installing 3,000 domestically built centrifuges that can produce more enriched uranium in less time. 

Raw Materials 

“Most technologies in use are decades-old, well-proven, well-published concepts,” said Andreas Persbo, executive director of the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA. “The key thing is to get access to the raw material. If you have the raw material, and a talent base to process them, you can construct whatever you need.” 

Iran, with the world’s fourth-biggest proven oil reserves, began in 2011 to make its own carbon fiber, the strong, light material used in wind turbines, airplanes and centrifuges. Like the uranium-enrichment market, which is led by a handful of companies such as Urenco Ltd., Areva SA and Rosatom Corp., carbon-fiber production is driven by a few multinational businesses including Hexcel Corp., BAE Systems Plc and Toray Industries Inc.
 
“While the sanctions regime certainly slowed down Iran’s technological progress initially, it has also made Iran self- sufficient in a number of key areas,” said Yousaf Butt, a physicist and nuclear non-proliferation analyst who advised the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Iran’s nuclear work. “Iran is likely the most technologically advanced nation in the Middle East, aside from Israel.” 

Self-Sufficient 

The Islamic Republic has also achieved self-sufficiency in other vital technology areas touched by sanctions. The country manufacturers and sells Fomblin oil, a lubricant used inside centrifuges, on world markets. At a September IAEA meeting in Vienna, Iran displayed a copy of a domestically made nuclear- fuel panel destined for a research reactor in Tehran. 

“If in the past the country needed finished products and technologies for its program which squarely fell under sanctions, now the required level of imported inputs is continuously going down to more simple and basic items which Iran still needs but can upgrade on its own,” according to Igor Khripunov, the Soviet Union’s former arms-control envoy to the U.S. who is now at the Athens, Georgia-based Center for International Trade and Security. 

Kazakhstan Meeting 

Iran, which maintains its atomic program is peaceful, has ruled out suspending its activities as the UN Security Council demands. It’s willing to discuss its nuclear work when it meets world powers in Kazakhstan next week, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Feb. 4. Talks between Iran and IAEA officials that concluded Feb. 13 in Tehran failed to clinch a deal that would give investigators wider access to alleged nuclear sites. 

While Iran allowed wider access to sites, including centrifuge-manufacturing workshops, until 2005, it reversed course after accusations about its nuclear work escalated. The first UN sanctions were imposed in 2006. The country hasn't restricted IAEA access to sites it’s legally bound to let inspectors visit. 

Diplomats should focus on returning to greater transparency of Iran’s nuclear facilities rather than trying to enforce a ban on enrichment, said Paul Ingram, executive director of the London-based British American Security Information Council, a policy-advisory group. 

“Iran has a sophisticated economy relative to most states outside of North America, Europe and the Far East, so it should be no surprise that they can develop the technologies to substitute for sanctioned materials,” Ingram wrote in reply to questions. “The experience of sanctions proves this time and time again.” 

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.
 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Post #412 - What Brings Us Together

I could see this coming, as soon as the news broke about the International Olympic Committee's decision:

http://news.yahoo.com/us-iran-common-ground-olympic-wrestling-105819856--oly.html

Post #411 - Alternate Realities

The following was posted yesterday on a U.S. blog, Voices from Russia (not to be confused with Voices OF Russia, which comes from over there):

http://02varvara.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/ayatollah-ali-khamenei-iran-not-seeking-nuclear-weapons/

Friday, February 15, 2013

Post #410 - Who Goes First?

This was posted recently by NIAC:

Diplomats: "Suspension or Ending of Sanctions" Necessary for Successful Iran Talks


James Jeffrey
Washington, DC - With fresh negotiations between Iran and six world powers set to take place in Kazakhstan on February 26, two former U.S. ambassadors told a Washington Institute for Near East Peace forum this week that successful talks will require flexibility on sanctions.

“First of all, it requires us to put serious things on the table that we haven’t done yet, that would be suspension or ending of sanctions, particularly the most effective ones, the oil ones," said Ambassador James F. Jeffrey. In return, he said that Iran would have to “step by step, eliminate the possibility of breakout with enriched uranium.”

Ambassador Thomas Pickering also said a “win-win” approach was necessary and warned that, with the ratcheting up of sanctions, there must be a greater effort to  negotiate. “Sanctions are like putting a guy in a pressure cooker and then tying down the valve. And the valve here is negotiations."
 
He noted that some in Washington were advocating for a “big-for-big” grand deal over Iran’s nuclear program, but said such an approach would take time and difficult to achieve given the lack of trust between the parties. Instead he urged for a preliminary "small package" to build trust that would involve Iran capping uranium enrichment to lower levels in exchange for sanctions relief.

However, Pickering said, while the U.S. could promise to halt any new sanctions under such a deal, easing existing sanctions would be logistically difficult. “Our sanctions process is difficult to reverse--they built the car without a reverse gear.” Instead, he said, “we have the Europeans who can perhaps take some sanctions off, some financial transactions, even some petroleum transactions.”

Post #409 - Fact and Obfuscation

A brief, but important piece from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

http://www.fair.org/blog/2013/01/31/irans-nuclear-weapons-program-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=irans-nuclear-weapons-program-again

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Post #408 - Lessening of Tensions

This appeared today on Reuter's:

Iran says it is converting uranium, easing bomb fears

 

A security officer stands next to a banner hung on the entrance of the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF), before a ceremony to form a human chain by Iranian students showing their support for Iran's nuclear program, in Isfahan, 450 km (280 miles) south of Tehran, November 15, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl



By Yeganeh Torbati
DUBAI | Tue Feb 12, 2013 8:39am EST


(Reuters) - Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that it was converting some of its higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel, a move that could help to prevent a dispute with the West over its nuclear program hitting a crisis in mid-2013.

Conversion is one way for Iran to slow the growth in its stockpile of material that could be used to make a bomb. That stockpile is currently projected to reach a level intolerable to Israel in mid-year, just as Iran's room for negotiation is being limited by a presidential election in June.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was asked at a weekly news conference about a Reuters report that Iran has converted small amounts of its 20-percent enriched uranium into reactor fuel.

"This work is being done and all its reports have been sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a complete manner," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
It was Iran's first acknowledgment that it had apparently resumed converting into fuel small amounts of uranium enriched to a concentration of 20 percent fissile material.

Iran's production of that higher-grade uranium worries the major powers because it is only a short technical step away from the 90-percent purity needed for a weapon.

On-off negotiations with the major powers and four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to stop its enrichment activities, and the IAEA has been refused full access to investigate other suspect elements of the nuclear program.

Iran denies that it is seeking a weapon and says its nuclear program serves only peaceful purposes such as electricity and the production of medical isotopes.

CRITICAL MASS

But Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, has indicated that Iran's stockpile will reach a level in June at which it considers it must attack to stop Iran acquiring enough fissile material for a bomb. With a presidential election taking place that month, Tehran's room to make concessions to foreign powers is limited.

A U.S. official sought to reassure Israel this week on the determination of President Barack Obama, due to visit the region shortly, to curb Iran's nuclear program, according to an Israeli official who declined to be named.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, "reiterated the Americans' commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran, and their worries about regional proliferation, were Iran to go nuclear", said the official, who met Gottemoeller.

Iran averted a potential crisis last year by converting some 100 kg of its 20-percent enriched uranium into fuel, suggesting to some that it was carefully keeping below the threshold set by Israel, while still advancing its nuclear technology.

It is not believed to have enriched uranium beyond 20 percent. A fuller picture is unlikely until a new IAEA report on Iran's nuclear activity, due by late February.

Separately, officials from the IAEA are due to hold talks in Tehran on Wednesday in the hope of restarting their long-stalled inquiry into Iran's nuclear program.

The U.N. agency, whose mission is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, has been trying for a year to negotiate a so-called structured approach with Iran that would give its inspectors access to sites, officials and documents.

The IAEA especially wants access to the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran where it believes explosives tests relevant for nuclear weapons development may have taken place and been subsequently concealed, allegations that Iran denies.

"READY FOR DEAL"

Mehmanparast said Iran was ready to come to a "comprehensive agreement" with the IAEA if Tehran's nuclear rights were recognized. Part of this agreement could include a visit to Parchin, he said.

But Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, on Tuesday criticized the IAEA's handling of documents related to Iran, signaling the continued mistrust between the agency and Tehran.

"Unfortunately their system is not sufficiently secure," Abbasi-Davani said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). "They need to be more careful in their interactions with Iran."

Last year Abbasi-Davani accused the U.N. agency of a "cynical approach" and mismanagement, and said "terrorists and saboteurs might have intruded" into the agency.

Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, are due to hold a new round of talks on the nuclear program in Kazakhstan on February 26.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the powers were ready to respond if Iran came to the talks prepared to discuss "real substance".

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, visiting Moscow, said Iran was "counting on there being positive and constructive steps made to resolve this problem at the upcoming meeting".

In Tehran, Salehi's spokesman Mehmanparast responded to news that North Korea had conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of existing United Nations resolutions by saying: "We need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons."

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Post #407 - The View from Moscow

This appeared (2/11/13) on Voice of Russia/Interfax, under the title "Russian warns against military strike on Iran":

A military attack on Iran will only strengthen the resolve and grass-root support of nuclear bomb proponents in the country, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin has warned.

 

“I share the opinion that a strike [against Iran] will only play into the hand of those vying for the creation of a nuclear bomb. It would be rather an irrational and dangerous step,” Mr. Churkin said in an interview.

Russia’s UN official said he hoped that common sense would prevent the US from attacking Iran. He stressed that none of the P5+1 group members believed Tehran had made its final decision to build a nuclear bomb.

“As long as the decision isn’t final, there remains a leeway for political dialogue. A military attack will torpedo Iran talks and nullify the possibility for the renewal of political negotiations,” Mr. Churkin said.

Claims that the US is providing Syrian insurgents with so-called “non-lethal” weapons don’t relieve Washington of any responsibility for murders carried out by armed anti-Assad fighters, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin has said.

The US is an extremely powerful state that enjoys enormous authority in such countries as Qatar, the chief arms supplier of the Syrian opposition, Mr. Churkin stressed.

If the US wants to remain consistent with its policy, it should restrain those countries from providing Syrian rebels with deadly weapons, he added.

The Russian diplomat voiced Moscow’s concern over rumors of a chemical threat in Syria. “We believe there’s been too much scaremongering… which makes you feel that someone is looking for a pretext to invade Syria. We are afraid the opposition may be tempted to use chemical weapons in their interests,” he added.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Post #406 - Pressure or Punishment?

The following post on the website of the National Iranian American Council, entitled "Organizations Call for Obama to Allow Medicine and Humanitarian Trade with Iran," appeared 2/7/13.

Washington, DC - Twenty-five organizations called on President Obama yesterday to ensure that existing U.S. sanctions on Iran do not block access for medicine, food, and basic humanitarian goods for Iranian civilians. In a letter led by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and signed by NIAC and other anti-war, human rights, and humanitarian organizations, the groups urged the President to exempt humanitarian transactions from sanctions against Iran’s banking sector.

While Obama Administration officials have reiterated that sanctions on Iran do not specifically “target” medicine or food, the broad measures aimed at Iran’s economy--combined with the Iranian government’s failure to manage the situation--have led to widely reported medicine shortages inside the country.

The letter to the President notes that, although food and medicine are technically exempt from sanctions passed by Congress and enforced by Treasury, the White House has imposed sanctions on Iranian banks by Executive Order that make no such humanitarian distinction. So, while actual humanitarian goods are not prohibited for sale to Iran, most of the banking channels through which those goods can be sold are indeed blocked by sanctions. As a result, there remain few legal banking channels through which to conduct medicine and food sales, family remittances, and other permissible transactions. And private companies and banks are increasingly unwilling to invest the resources and take the risks required to navigate those channels.

In response to the growing reports of medicine shortages in Iran and the sanctions’ negative humanitarian impacts, the U.S. Treasury did release a guidance yesterday aimed at clarifying ambiguities and providing reassurance to businesses and banks regarding humanitarian exports to Iran.

The document notes that non-U.S. banks are allowed to facilitate transactions of humanitarian goods and other items that have been exempt from sanctions, though it reiterates that those transactions cannot include financial institutions designated under WMD or terrorism sanctions--which means they cannot involve any major Iranian bank.

At the same time, European Union sanctions similar to U.S. sanctions against major Iranian banks are coming under increasing scrutiny. An EU court yesterday ruled that the body had not properly demonstrated Bank Saderat’s linkage to Iranian WMD programs, and thus ruled that the sanctions on the bank must be removed. A similar ruling was issued by another EU court the previous week regarding Bank Mellat, in addition to prior rulings against sanctions on a private Iranian bank. The EU can appeal the decision.

The letter to President Obama is included below and a PDF is available at the website of the Friends Committee for National Legislation.

February 4, 2013
SUBJECT: Open Channel for Food and Medicine to Iran

Dear President Obama,

We write to express our deep concern for Iranian civilians who have not been able to access life-saving medicines and humanitarian goods inside of Iran, which has been caused in part by U.S. sanctions against Iran. We urge your Administration to take all necessary steps to ensure that licensed humanitarian goods are not prevented from reaching the people of Iran as a result of U.S. sanctions imposed on the Iranian banking sector.

Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, expertly summarized the crux of this problem posed by U.S. sanctions. Referring to U.S. sanctions on the banking sector that block purchases of humanitarian goods, he explained on October 1, 2012: "we issue licenses for sales of food and medicine to Iran, but it is not legal for them to pay for it." Various recent reports have illustrated the grave impact that the shortages of life-saving medicines and humanitarian goods inside Iran have had on ordinary civilians:

In an October 2012 report on the human rights situation in Iran, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spelled out how sanctions block Iranians from accessing food and medicine, noting that "Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions. Owing to payment problems, several medical companies have stopped exporting medicines to the Islamic Republic of Iran, leading to a reported shortage of drugs used in the treatment of various illnesses, including cancer, heart and respiratory conditions, thalassemia and multiple sclerosis.” 

On November 23, 2012, the BBC reported: “Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies in Iran are running out of medicine as the government cuts health funding because of international sanctions, putting the lives of thousands of people at risk.”

Recent reports by The Financial Times, Al Monitor and the International Civil Society Action Network indicate that a growing number of Iranians do not have access to life-saving medicines. As this legislative record makes clear, Congress has established some protections to help humanitarian goods reach the people living under sanctioned regimes. Under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) the export of licensed medicines, medical devices, agricultural commodities, and food are exempt from sanctions. Congress has explicitly reaffirmed this policy in four acts authorizing sanctions on Iran which you have signed into law, including the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010; the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

While congressional sanctions distinguish between sanctionable activities and exempt humanitarian transactions, executive order sanction 13382 affects all of Iran’s largest banks and does not specify an exception for humanitarian transactions. In addition, the humanitarian licenses issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) expressly prohibit not only the direct involvement of these banks, but also their indirect involvement. We appreciate your Administration issuing new regulations on October 22, 2012 that allow U.S. companies to sell certain medicines and medical supplies to Iran without first seeking a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. However, as the New York Times recently reported, “the exporters [of medicines] still face troubles getting paid” and a result, “virtually no American or European bank wants to be involved in financial transactions with Iran.” To ensure that Iranian civilians are not barred from accessing food and medicine, humanitarian transactions must be exempted from banking sanctions.

The current impasse with Iran over its nuclear program should not prohibit the export of life-saving medicines which millions of Iranian civilians depend on. We urge your Administration to take all appropriate steps to ensure authorized humanitarian transactions regarding Iran are not obstructed by U.S. sanctions. As a first step, we hope that your Administration would provide a clear statement that it is not the policy of the United States to in any manner prohibit permissible humanitarian transactions.

Sincerely,

American Friends Service Committee
Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
Center for Interfaith Engagement—Eastern Mennonite University
Church of the Brethren
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions and State Repression
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Just Foreign Policy
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
National Iranian American Council
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Peace Action
Peace Action West
Peace X Peace
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Progressive Democrats of America
The Peace Alliance
The Student Peace Alliance
United Methodist Church—General Board of Church & Society
Women’s Action for New Directions
Cc: Vice President Joseph Biden
Secretary of State John Kerry
Acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin
National Security Advisor Thomas Donilin
Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Robert Hormats
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman
Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs Lael Brainard
Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions Peter Harrell
Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Adam Szubin