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Promoting diplomacy with Iran in LA

November 11, 2013

The Los Angeles Times published my letter to the editor on Friday urging our California senators to be leaders on promoting diplomacy with Iran:

Doyle McManus is right that we should be willing to take “yes” for an answer when it comes to negotiating with Iran.

Members of Congress such as Sens. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) who advocate more sanctions must face the real choice they are foisting on the American public: If they push through unnecessary, punitive policies that could torpedo talks with Iran, they are saying yes to another military intervention.

With Iran at the negotiating table, offering new tone and substance, there is no good reason to pass additional sanctions. Still, hawks in the Senate might try to attach the new sanctions to a bill coming to the floor this month.

California’s Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein must step up and push the leadership to block this vote and make sure we don’t squander the best opportunity we’ve had in years for a peaceful solution.

This followed two local lobbying meetings in LA on Thursday. We joined partners from Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, National Iranian American Council and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace to meet with staff for Sens. Boxer and Feinstein to urge them to work to block additional sanctions in the Senate and speak out for diplomacy with Iran. You can see a photo of some of our astute delegation in Sen. Feinstein’s LA office below:


Know the Score

October 15, 2013

After a ridiculous government shutdown, you don’t need me to tell you how important it is to hold Congress accountable. But I can point you toward a new tool to make it easier.

While the shutdown dominates the headlines, not everything Congress does happens in the spotlight. If we’re going to push Congress to be pro-peace, we need to know what’s happening under the radar—like the vote on funding nuclear weapons while good programs suffer we alerted you to this week.

That’s why I’m excited to share Know the Score, our new congressional accountability tool. We took the congressional voting record, our most popular resource, and made it even more useful. We’re tracking Congress in real time. Every time there’s a vote in Congress on peace issues, every representative’s record will be updated and the vote will be searchable on our site. Here are just a few of the things you can do with this tool:

We’ve seen what an informed, organized peace movement can do. We helped pull the US back from the brink of war with Syria by understanding the political landscape and flooding Congress with overwhelming opposition. With Know the Score, we can be watchdogs and make our voices count.

Let us know what you think about our new tool in the comments, and please share it with your friends so we can make sure Congress doesn’t operate in the shadows.

Diplomacy with Iran: the administration gets it, Congress…not so much

October 14, 2013

The opening for diplomacy with Iran gets its first big test this week with the resumption of the P5+1 nuclear talks. The signs look good following an encouraging couple of months since Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration as president of Iran.

One basic principle of diplomacy is that each side must gain something from the negotiations in order to get to a deal (seems obvious, but clearly isn’t to a lot of pundits).  After decades of harsh sanctions, sanctions relief is one of the most tempting incentives the US has to offer Iran. Thankfully, the administration is showing openness to sanctions relief in exchange for concessions with Iran.

Iran is expected to propose a moratorium on enrichment to 20 percent, a level that experts say is worrying, while restricting enrichment to the range of 3 percent to 5 percent that is used in commercial reactors. In return, it wants quick reciprocal gestures from the United States, a step that a senior American official said the Obama administration was prepared to take.

“We are quite ready to move,” said the official, who added that the American delegation to the talks, scheduled to start on Tuesday, includes top experts on the economic sanctions that have heavily damaged on Iran’s economy.

But the senior official also said that the United States and its partners in the talks would first wait to see if Iran was prepared to take concrete steps to constrain the pace and scope of its nuclear program, address its growing stockpile of enriched uranium and provide a new degree of transparency about its nuclear activities.

Unfortunately, many in Congress still seem stuck in a sanctions-only mentality without regard to what the actual path to a successful diplomatic solution looks like. Almost all freshman representatives signed a letter to President Obama calling for strengthening sanctions on Iran. The letter, ignoring the changes in the political landscape, says that “we must increase the intensity and accelerate the pace of our pressure on Iran” at exactly the wrong time for this sentiment. It contradicts the intelligence community’s conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program, saying “time is running out,” and puts unrealistic expectations on Rouhani. It’s unfair to condemn him for the lack for “substantive evidence” that Iran will address concerns about its nuclear program in a two-month window in which no serious diplomatic talks have even taken place.

A group of senators also weighed in with ostensible support for diplomacy today, yet they outlined unrealistic parameters for negotiations.

We support your efforts to explore a diplomatic opening, but we believe that the true test of Iranian sincerity is a willingness to match rhetoric with actions.  The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva.  Iran’s first confidence-building action should be full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and implementation of all Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to include immediate suspension of all enrichment activity.  If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress.  In short, the U.S. should consider, with the other members of the P5+1, a “suspension for suspension” initial agreement – in which Iran suspends enrichment and the U.S. suspends the implementation of new sanctions.

All credible experts acknowledge that Iran must be allowed some kind of enrichment program for a deal to succeed; this letter rejects that out of hand. The supposed carrot they offer is also ludicrous–in exchange for a major concession from Iran, we would not lift any of the existing sanctions, but would deign to hold off from passing more?

If Congress is going to fundamentally misunderstand the role of sanctions at this point, which are not an end in and of themselves, and the outlines of an effective diplomatic deal, they are better off keeping quiet and letting the administration pursue diplomatic talks unhindered.

You can take action here to tell your representative and senators not to take action that will undermine diplomacy with Iran.

Good start for diplomacy with Iran at UNGA

September 25, 2013

All eyes were on New York City this week as today marked the first time that Presidents Obama and Rouhani would come together and share their visions for diplomacy at the UN General Assembly. While there is still a lot of work to be done to get to a nuclear deal, both sides made it clear that the potential for productive negotiations is there.

President Obama expressed openness, and hit a couple of important notes—acknowledging the horrors Iran has experienced from chemical weapons attacks, and the US’s participation in the 1953 coup.

Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

Rouhani’s speech was carefully calibrated for his domestic audience as well as the global leaders in attendance, but he set a much different tone than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In this context, the Islamic Republic of Iran, insisting on the implementation of its rights and the imperative of international respect and cooperation in this exercise, is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency.

Iran seeks constructive engagement with other countries based on mutual respect and common interest, and within the same framework does not seek to increase tensions with the United States. I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly. Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.

There was quite a bit of hype before the UNGA about a possible meeting between Obama and Rouhani (which we joined in encouraging), but ultimately it was a step too far after more than three decades of tension. Kaveh Waddell writes in The Atlantic about why it’s OK that the two didn’t meet this time around:

For this reason, Iran experts are watching for any indication that Rouhani’s pitch for diplomacy is being undermined from home. Yesterday’s failed meeting is not that signal. The decision to pull out of the meeting, when viewed alongside serious conversations with another Western leader, a reassuring speech in front of the General Assembly, and a candid interview on CNN, does not contradict Iran’s stated commitment to international engagement. If Iran’s overtures were nothing more than symbolic, an empty gesture like a photo op with Obama would have been a low-risk move. But Rouhani’s calculated, measured approach to a historic détente gives reason to hope that the Supreme Leader is, for now, still behind him.

Important steps are still taking place, including the highest level talks between our governments in more than 30 years. The challenge now will be to build support for patient, effective diplomacy and make sure Congress doesn’t undermine it.



Action alert: on to the next war?

September 25, 2013

If at first you don’t succeed…

…try, try again to start an unnecessary and costly war.

That seems to be the thinking of some hawkish members of Congress who never met a war they didn’t like. Fresh off an amazing rebuke of military action in Syria, the saber rattling toward Iran is picking up.

Tell your representative and senators to oppose bills that bring us closer to war with Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) have announced that they plan to introduce legislation that would authorize using force against Iran.  They are even using our victory in stopping military action against Syria as their excuse, saying we need to put a scare into Iran and show them the US is serious about its threats.

This legislation couldn’t come at a worse time. At yesterday’s UN General Assembly, the US and Iran set a new tone in their relationship and committed to diplomacy. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Iranian Minister Javad Zarif—the highest level talks between our two countries in more than 30 years.

 Don’t let Congress torpedo diplomacy. Tell your representative and senators to oppose this dangerous legislation.

We stopped the bombs from dropping on Syria, and we can do the same for Iran—if we raise our voices now. Powerful groups are already trying to undermine the diplomatic effort, and there will be intense pressure on members of Congress to support these bills. Be the first one to tell them to say “no” to war with Iran.

Thank you for taking action.

Your voice at the UN: Iran petition delivery

September 23, 2013


This morning, our friends at Berim delivered over 100,000 petition signatures to a representative of the US’s UN delegation, urging President Obama to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and recommit to diplomacy with Iran. Berim, Credo, Win Without War and Just Foreign Policy all joined with Peace Action West to gather signatures at this crucial time for negotiations with the new Iranian government.

Thanks so much to all of you who signed the petition and shared it with your friends. Check out more photos of the petition delivery here.

You put the brakes on war

September 12, 2013

It’s astounding to watch a run-up to war come to a screeching halt. And it wouldn’t have happened without your efforts.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the media was discussing a strike on Syria as an inevitability. After you joined the clamor for a vote in Congress, President Obama surprisingly slowed down the rush to war and got ready to put the question to Congress.

Then things really got impressive.

The public sent a persistent, insistent message that couldn’t be ignored. We were on Capitol Hill this week while all of this was developing and visited over 70 House and Senate offices.Every one of them confirmed that they were flooded with calls and emails overwhelmingly opposed to military action.

The red flag thrown up by the American people, forcing a real debate, left time for the promising diplomatic opportunity that arose this week. On an evening when President Obama had planned to sell us a war, he instead announced that he had called on Congress to delay a vote while his administration works with the Russian government and other allies on a new proposal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

I cannot tell you how inspiring it is to be in the middle of the action and see your efforts reverberating in Congress. Thank you so much for the thousands of emails and phone calls that gave our arguments for peace a fighting chance.

This isn’t over yet. We must remain vigilant and push for the diplomatic solution to succeed, and block any new attempts to revert to military force. We will be keeping our ears to the ground and will let you know when your action is needed.

But for now, we should take a moment to celebrate the fact that we helped bring our nation back from the brink of war.

Thank you, from all of us at Peace Action West, for making this possible.


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