July 19, 2012, Washington DC – Yesterday, the staff, members of the Board of Directors, and numerous Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) members were, amongst a number of other civic organizations and individuals invited to participate in a Roundtable discussion with Iranian American Community leaders hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement. The meeting, which was held in the Executive Office Building, featured several key Administration officials who provided an overview of a range of foreign policy and domestic initiatives relevant to the Iranian American community and presented an opportunity for community members to share their views as part of the White House’s efforts to increase civic engagement across the country.
The predominant theme of the meeting was the current relationship between the U.S. and Iran and the community’s concerns regarding the human rights situation in Iran. Numerous attendees cited PAAIA’s recent surveys that show that two-thirds of Iranian Americans believe that the promotion of Human Rights and Democracy in Iran is the most important issue pertaining to U.S.-Iran Relations and that those surveyed prefer a secular Democratic Iran. Other participants raised concerns about the potential impact that military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities will have on the people of Iran. PAAIA’s 2012 survey indicate that more than half (53%) of Iranian Americans believe that a military strikes could actually strengthen the government of Iran. Administration officials emphasized the President’s focus on a diplomatic resolution over Iran’s nuclear program as well their increased focus on the human rights situation in Iran. The issue of the U.S. and international sanctions regime against Iran, which has inadvertently impacted both the Iranian and Iranian American populations, were also discussed at length. Of concern to the attendees is the ability of Iranian Americans to provide humanitarian assistance to Iran under current Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations. Administration officials provided a general overview on how current regulations impact humanitarian assistance to Iran, noting that medicine and food items were not controlled by sanctions regulations but that other humanitarian assistance or transactions require licensing from OFAC.
Other topics of discussion centered around the Administration’s initiatives to promote social innovation and civic participation as it relates to the Iranian American community as well as the impact of Health reform and the White House’s Business Council initiative.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, was the highest ranking member of the Administration who met with the attendees. She emphasized the importance that her office, the Office of Public Engagement and President Obama, place on outreaching to, understanding, and responding to the needs of the Iranian American community and re-iterated the importance of the community’s continued communication with her office as well as other individuals within the Administration on issues of concern.
Cyrus Amir-Mokri, former PAAIA Board Member, and current Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the Department of Treasury, closed the meeting by emphasizing the importance of public service and maintaining the image of Iranian Americans in this country as vibrant, productive, and successful immigrants and citizens.
The following were some of the other organizations that participated in the Roundtable:
- Columbia University’s Encyclopaedia Iranica
- Iranian Alliances Across Borders
- Iranian American Muslim Association of North America
- PBS Frontline: Tehran Bureau
- Progressive Jewish Alliance
- National Iranian American Council
- West Asia Council
PAAIA would like to thank the White House Office of Public Engagement for its initiative to engage the Iranian American community and looks forward to working with the Administration in encouraging the community’s active participation in the American civic process.