Atlantic Council Report on Iran Sanctions and People to People Exchanges

April 11, 2013, Washington, D.C. – The Atlantic Council issued a new report on April 4th outlining U.S. foreign policy goals regarding Iran, and suggesting steps the Obama administration can take to achieve them.  The report, Time to Move from Tactics to Strategy on Iran, was issued by the Washington-based think tank’s Iran Task Force, chaired by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat. 

The report emphasizes the number one U.S. priority regarding Iran: to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. To enhance the chances of diplomatic success, the report recommends that the Obama administration provide Iran with a plan for graduated sanctions relief in return for a verifiable cap on its uranium enrichment and transparency on any past or possibly continuing weapons related programs.   The report maintains that the U.S. must maintain a credible military option, as a measure of last resort. 

The report also acknowledges an underlying dilemma regarding sanctions—how to make sure they are effective while simultaneously minimizing, as far as is possible, their negative effects on the people of Iran.  To accomplish this, the report recommends that the Treasury Department “designate a small number of U.S. and private Iranian financial institutions as channels for payment for humanitarian, educational and public diplomacy-related transactions carefully licensed”  by OFAC, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The report notes that these measures, if implemented, could have far-reaching implications for attempts on the part of the U.S. to reach out to ordinary Iranians and diminish the Iranian government’s use of sanctions as a way to scapegoat its inability to meet the needs of its people.  Direct banking channels will help facilitate transactions, which will ease the flow of food and medicine to Iran and allow for family remittances in a manner that is more transparent and less prone to illicit transfer methods that are harder to track and can lead to abuse by harmful figures.    

In addition, the report recommends that the U.S. attempt to engage the Iranian people in “academic, cultural, and sports exchanges.” In order to facilitate travel by Iranians to the United States, the report proposes that the Obama administration open a U.S. interests section in Tehran, similar to the one Iran currently operates in Washington, D.C. By doing so, Iranians would no longer have to travel to Armenia, Turkey, or the United Arab Emirates to get visas to travel to the United States.  The creation of a U.S. interests section would be in line with Iranian American public opinion.  In a poll commissioned by the Public Affairs of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) in 2011, 73% of Iranian Americans stated they favored the establishment of U.S. interest section in Iran that would provide consular services and issue U.S. visas, but would not constitute the resumption of diplomatic relations. 

Click here to read the Atlantic Council report. 

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