With the recent talks between Iran and six of the world’s major powers on the Iranian regime’s pursuit on nuclear weapons, countless Jewish and non-Jewish groups in the U.S. are calling for local and state officials to turn up the pressure on the Iranian regime by enforcing tough federal sanctions. Specifically, the New York-based “United Against a Nuclear Iran” (UANI) has worked with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Southern California groups to call on L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti to ban ships that have docked in Iranian ports from docking in the Port of Los Angeles. With this move activists believe the Iranian regime will be squeezed economically even further to stop their nuclear weapons pursuit. Unfortunately since his election earlier this year Garcetti has remained silent on whether to impose these sanctions for the Port of Los Angeles despite calls from countless Jewish groups and other human rights activists in the city. His office did not return calls to this reporter asking for comments as to why the mayor has not taken any stance on Iran sanctions and the Port of Los Angeles.
I recently had a chance to chat with David Peyman, an Iranian Jewish activist and senior advisor to UANI about the calls for Iran sanctions to be imposed on the Port of Los Angeles. The following is a portion of our conversation…
Why has UANI, the AJC and other Jewish community groups joined forces to push for this new call to pressure the Iranian regime financially with issues of ships docking at Iranian ports and also docking at the port of L.A. port?
There is a global consensus that enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Iran is having a severe impact on the Iranian economy and has forced Iran to the negotiating table to resolve the nuclear issue. It is still unclear whether the Islamic Regime is ready to abide by U.N. Resolutions and cease all enrichment activity, which is the only way to ensure they will not have a nuclear weapon break-out capability. But what we do know, is that more economic pressure is precisely what is necessary to raise the costs and make it worthwhile for Iran to abide by their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Resolutions. I wrote in the Jewish Journal in 2008 “Sanctions only work if they are enforced” that we not only need strong sanctions to force Iran to give up its program, but that those sanctions must be enforced. Finally, several years later, President Obama started enforcing sanctions and empowered state and local governments to do the same under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act. Los Angeles is a major U.S. trading hub and ships that conduct business with Iran use the L.A. Port. We are asking the mayor and the Port Authority to force companies to make a decision between doing business with a terrorist regime seeking nuclear weapons—a regime that killed hundreds of U.S. marines and swore the destruction of Israel—or the Port of L.A. That’s an easy choice.
Has any specific piece of actual legislation on the ports and Iran been introduced at L.A. City Hall or at the state legislature yet?
No legislation is needed. The mayor must simply make his voice heard and demand that the Port Authority—whose members are appointed by the mayor—vote to restrict ships docking in Iran or conducting business with Iran from using our port. United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), founded by notable foreign policy figures Ambassador Dennis Ross, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former Clinton CIA Director Jim Woolsey, and former U.N. Ambassador Mark Wallace, along with major American-Jewish organizations, including the AJC, ADL, and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Congregations wrote the mayor several months ago to request his support for this initiative. Unfortunately, the mayor did not even respond.
Following Iran’s President Rouhani recently visiting NY for his UN speech and talking about openness to negotiations and friendship the U.S. on the nuclear issue, there seems to be an effort on the part of the Obama administration to hold off on implementing any new sanctions on Iran. What do you say to critics of UANI who say, give this new Iranian president who is a "reformist" a chance on the nuclear issue before squeezing the regime anymore?
Actions speak louder than empty words. The Iranians are masters of delay, deceit and development of a nuclear bomb. President Rouhani publicly took credit for the successful ploy of talking to the West while advancing the nuclear weapons program when he was chief nuclear negotiator. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was only half right when she said “we know that deception is part of the Iranian DNA.” Actually, Iranians don’t view their negotiating method as “deception.” Rather, it is part of the bazari negotiating approach completely foreign to the West. Iranians approach negotiations as a zero-sum affair and any negotiating method that achieves their goal is most certainly acceptable. After all, this is the bazaar. So for a deal to have any chance of success, Iran must fully disclose and dismantle its program and provide unfettered access to inspectors. This is what the Libyans did, and sanctions were quickly dropped thereafter. So Iran knows very well that the U.S. has no problems with dropping sanctions, because we did it with arch-terrorist Kaddafi. So if Iran wants to be transparent and honest, it does not require much effort and its intentions will be quickly evident. Until then, we must continue to increase the costs—during the negotiations—until they outweigh the benefits of Iran’s “deception.” Short of a military attack, the only costs are economic sanctions, and perhaps increased U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf and some kind of naval blockade or inspection of Iranian commercial ships.
How do you respond to critics of sanctions on Iran such as NIAC who claims that the sanctions only hurt the people of Iran and not the regime and therefore should not be implemented?
The Iranian street is telling us otherwise. They are telling us to keep the pressure on this regime and not be deceived by ruthless clerics who have killed and tortured thousands of innocent Iranians. Those that suffer under the hands of this radical theocracy know its brutality and duplicity better than anyone. They also know they will never live to see a day of freedom if this regime possesses nuclear weapons. So until such time that we can verify that this regime has dismantled its program, the street wants sanctions in place, despite the pain. The evidence speaks for itself. When we increased economic pressure, the most liberal candidate who sought engagement with the West got elected. When we extended a naïve hand, we got the Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad.
I understand that some prominent California legislator such as Speaker John Perez, imposing Iran sanctions for the ports because it will hurt California's already struggling economy in this recession. How do you respond to critics that say this sanctions move is ill timed and could hurt us economically in California?
First, there is no evidence that ships will stop porting in L.A. if they are forced to make a decision between us and Iran. Second, even if ships do decide to forego the U.S. for Iran, there is no evidence that it will have a significant impact on our economy or jobs at the port. We are speaking of a handful of ships. But most important, there is something called morality and a clear ethical compass. The means by which we support our economy are as important as the ends. If those means are dyed with the blood of innocents murdered by the Iranian regime, like our brave Marines in Beirut or our troops in Khobar Towers, or those means are tainted by money feeding a nuclear program run by a terrorist regime, then we must re-evaluate our priorities and who we elect to office. I hope that the Mayor does not share Mr. Perez’s short-sighted and confused view. But we have not heard from the Mayor, so we don’t know.
The calls in the U.S. for imposing Iran sanctions on the ports seems to be stemming human rights activists who believe the Iranian regime is responsible for a major human rights crisis against women, LGBT, labor unions and religious minorities. Can you please comment on this as well?
Iran continues to execute more of its own citizens per capita than any country in the world, including those convicted for the “crime” of homosexual conduct. Since Rouhani’s inauguration on Aug. 4th, at least 125 Iranians have been executed. The tragedy with Iran is that even if we get a deal on the nuclear issue and lift sanctions, this regime will continue to torture and execute its own people. One hopes that with the resolution of the nuclear issue and new economic opportunities, the contrived fallacy of a Western Great Satan will evaporate among all sectors of the Iranian population, and the people will rise in another Green Revolution—this time supported by the West—to oust corrupt clerics whose sole legitimacy is derived from protecting the people against this polemic. But if we don't have a resolution on the nuclear issue and we must resort to military force, perhaps the millions who rallied against the regime during the Green Revolution will use the opportunities presented by a military attack to remove this brutal regime from power. On this point, it is also important to note that we must respect the wishes of the Iranian people in an open democracy, even if it leads to some kind of Islamic state system. Some limited role of Islam in government must not necessarily be mutually exclusive from a democratic state that respects the rights of its people and international laws; just as a Jewish state can be a model for democracy and prosperity. There are and have always been liberal clerics in Iran. I am confident that the same Persians that gave the Jews the freedom to return to their beloved Jerusalem under King Cyrus will elect liberal-minded leaders that respect divinely granted rights and international norms. The point is that when Iranians can pick their system of government and their leaders freely, they will pick those who protect civil liberties and respect international laws. Iranians are not the Palestinians of Gaza. A free election will yield liberalism, not Hamas terrorism.
(UANI senior advisor David Peyman)
For more information on UANI's efforts to push for tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime, visit their site www.uani.org