National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington, DC - The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), along with twenty peace and security organizations, issued a joint letter on May 1st, commending the White House for its bold diplomatic strategy for engaging Iran - including its rejection of calls from outside groups to impose deadlines for diplomacy and to impose sanctions before diplomacy is given a chance to succeed. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is holding its annual conference in Washington this week, has made passage of new sanctions legislation its top priority.
Unlike previous administrations, the Obama White House has taken the emphasis off new sanctions and instead focused on the forthcoming diplomatic effort, viewing the two as contradictory rather than symbiotic, in the view of the groups.
NIAC coordinated an effort with 20 other peace, security, religious, and conservative groups to support the President's diplomatic strategy and oppose sanctions legislation that will render negotiations more difficult. The legislation is currently under consideration in the House and has been a key rallying point for AIPAC this week.
The letter said the bill "targets many of America's closest allies" by sanctioning some of their "most important companies," and said it reflected the "'go-it-alone' approach that has done such damage to America's standing in the international community."
"Building support for new sanctions now - before Obama's policies have been given enough time to succeed - leaves the impression that America is not serious about engagement," said Patrick Disney, Acting Legislative Director for the National Iranian American Council. "This will make negotiations less likely to take place, with dire consequences in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region."
"The White House is taking the right approach," said NIAC President Trita Parsi. "Analogous events like Nixon's trip to China and Clinton's Camp David peace accords took years of preparation. To say we're going to only give a few months to such a momentous effort would be self-defeating," said Parsi.
Parsi pointed to a statement last week by White House National Security Council spokesperson Mike Hammer as a particular point of encouragement. In the statement, Hammer emphasized diplomacy "will take some time" and rejected the notion of deadlines. "It's not appropriate at this time to be trying to establish timetables for this, but rather, to see how the engagement can move forward," said Hammer.
"We are very concerned about the Iranian government's behavior in a number of areas," Parsi said, "which is exactly why sustained, multilateral engagement is so critical. We must work with our allies rather than against them."
Text of the letter
May 1, 2009
To: Members of the United States Congress
We write to express our concern with the most recent legislation to expand sanctions against Iran, H.R. 2194/S. 908.
America's Iran strategy has focused exclusively on sanctions, threats, and isolation for three decades. Yet, with all the economic pain the sanctions have imposed on the Iranian economy, there has not been a single instance in which that pain has translated into a desirable change in Iranian policy. As a result, we now face a more powerful and problematic Iran than ever before.
Despite this strategy's past failures, some in Congress are again proposing unilateral sanctions in the hope that threatening stronger pressure down the line might alter Iran's problematic behavior. We believe this approach does not offer a solution and will in fact prove to be counterproductive to President Obama's diplomatic effort.
Building support for new sanctions now--before diplomacy has been given enough time to succeed--will suggest that America is not serious about engagement and will actually make negotiations less likely to take place. Just as we are unwilling to let Iran use talks to stall for time, Tehran will not come to the table if we appear to be simply "going through the motions" of diplomacy in order to justify harsher sanctions. Just by introducing this bill, and gaining support for it, Congress risks undermining President Obama's diplomatic strategy.
Additionally, this legislation targets many of America's closest allies, calling for severe punishments on some of their most important companies. But now is the time when we need their help more than ever, both to deal with Iran and to overcome the global recession.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona described the rationale for this legislation by saying:"You can do business with Iran's $250 billion economy or our $13 trillion economy, but not both." This is exactly the type of "go-it-alone" approach that has done such damage to America's standing in the international community. The United States cannot solve this problem alone; we need the cooperation of our allies and the rest of the global community.
Only through committed, multilateral and sustained diplomacy can the conflict with Iran be resolved. We stand ready to work with you as you pursue this critical issue.
American Conservative Defense Alliance
American Friends Service Committee
Bipartisan Security Group
Council for a Livable World
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Security Institute
Just Foreign Policy
Mainstream Media Project
National Foreign Trade Council
National Iranian American Council
Open Society Policy Center
Pax Christi USA
Peace Action West
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Voters for Peace
Women's Action for New Directions
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