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Against Nuke Deal Backdrop, Iranian-Americans View Protests With Caution

Many within the Iranian American Community are expressing their opinions and concerns about the recent protest in Iran      

What began in Iran as protests over economic stagnation quickly evolved into nationwide demonstrations against the regime. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets over two weeks in December and January to air their grievances, ranging from corruption and the misappropriation of funds to the absence of basic freedoms. It was the largest movement against Iran’s rulers—with chants of “death to the regime” heard across the country—since the so-called Green Revolution nearly a decade ago.

For Iranians living in the United States, the protests were both a time of reflection and concern, as many of their families, friends and former community members put themselves in harm’s way.

Morad Ghorban, Director of Government Relations & Policy at the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), explained that his Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group is keeping a close eye on developments, even as the unrest has died down.

“As an organization that serves the interests of Iranian Americans, we closely watched the protests in Iran,” he wrote in an email to The Media Line. “We support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people and their right to fulfill them according to the rule of law and respect for universal human rights.”

Ghorban, who estimates that 90 percent of Iranian Americans have family back home, revealed that the PAAIA has been working with U.S. officials to devise legislation that would express formal support for the Iranian opposition. The bi-partisan bill would also stipulate that Washington expedite the transfer of communications technologies to Iran in order to help activists circumvent regime-imposed censorship.

Majid Sadeghpour, the Political Director for the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), is likewise actively promoting the establishment of a free and secular Iran. “We work to educate policymakers and the public in this country about human rights violations and systemic effects of the extremist, Islamist, fundamentalist ruling regime, with the hope of informing this nation’s decisions regarding Iran.

“This includes,” he elaborated to The Media Line, “sponsoring or co-sponsoring events, policy briefings, picket lines and rally’s across the country in support of the Iranian people and in support of their aspirations for a secular, democratic, and free republic in Iran.”

According to Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, President of the American Iranian Council, while many Iranian Americans long for political change in Tehran, they are divided on how to achieve this and to what end. Some Iranian groups, he expounded, would like to see the re-emergence of a constitutional monarchy in Iran—which was abolished by the 1979 Islamic Revolution—whereas many would like for the country to become a true democratic republic. Still others would like to see gradual change, beginning with the regime’s implementation of reforms.

The recent protests have also refocused the spotlight on another major issue for Iranian Americans; that is, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Ghorban contends that despite President Donald Trump’s “fix it or nix it” position on the accord, most Iranian Americans do not want the White House to withdraw from the pact. “We believe American interests are best served by supporting the Iran nuclear deal and engaging with the Iranian people,” he stressed. “As long as Iran upholds its commitments, the U.S. should avoid measures that would derail the agreement and splinter international cooperation over Iran’s nuclear program.”

By contrast, Dr. Amirahmadi sees little value in the JCPOA both in terms of eliminating Iran’s nuclear program and enhancing relations with the West. “I would have supported Donald Trump’s [approach] if he had said [the deal is a bad one because it] does not propose normalization. I would have done everything in my power to help him [if he had pushed that point],” he told The Media Line.

Instead, President Trump has highlighted, in particular, the agreement’s so-called “sunset clauses” that remove restrictions on Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium, for example, in just over a decade from now. The U.S. leader also has pointed to the pact’s failure to hold Iran accountable for its involvement in conflicts throughout the Middle East, as well as the Islamic Republic’s perceived flouting of a United Nations Security Council resolution related to its ballistic missile program.

Nevertheless, Dr. Amirahmadi believes that there is still time forge a revised deal that will bring Washington and Tehran closer together. “The best thing would be for both sides to put their disputes on the table and to gradually, through a reciprocal process, settle all of them.”

Majid Sadeghpour’s OAIC also seeks a peaceful, as opposed to military, solution to the nuclear stand-off, but insists that a tougher line must be taken. “The Iranian people should be given moral and political support as well as encouragement,” he stressed to The Media Line. “The international community should also push back against Iranian regime activities in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.  Additionally, the regime should be cut off from the world banking system and slapped with arms sanctions.”

(Nate Nkumbu is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)