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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Washington Brief: A Recap of News from the Hill and Beyond (Oct. 16 - Nov. 10, 2016)

United States Condemns Iran for ‘Unjustly’ Sentencing Two Americans

The United States is “deeply concerned” regarding recent news reports that Iran sentenced two dual Iranian-American citizens—businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF representative and governor of Iran’s Khuzestan province—to ten years in prison for allegedly spying for and cooperating with the United States.  

“We are deeply concerned about reports that U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi have each been sentenced to 10 years in prison,” said the U.S. State Department in a press statement. “We join recent calls by international organizations and UN human rights experts for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi, so that they can return to their families.”

Siamak Namazi is believed to have been arrested in October 2015. His father was detained in February 2016. Siamak’s arrest was the first such action against an American citizen in Iran since the January prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Key foreign policy leaders in Congress also spoke out against the sentencing.   

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) called the sentencing “unjust,” stating that, “Once again Iran has made a mockery of its own legal system in convicting wrongfully detained Iranian-Americans. It appears the trials violated every basic international standard – carried out in secret with no transparency, no evidence, and no representation. They were a complete and total sham.”  

Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said he is “alarmed by news that Siamak and Baquer Namazi have been unjustly sentenced to 10 years prison in Iran,” and called for their “immediate release.”

Members of Congress to UNESCO: Reject Resolution Diminishing Jewish and Christian Ties to Jerusalem

On Oct. 24, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee urging it to oppose “The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls” resolution, which denies Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. The committee adopted the measure on Oct. 26.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Joe Manchin (D-WV); and Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY).

“UNESCO’s mission is to build intercultural understanding through protection of heritage and support for cultural diversity,” wrote the lawmakers, “This unnecessarily divisive and selective resolution undermines the very purpose and integrity of UNESCO by seeking to rewrite Jerusalem's history, rejects Jerusalem's multi-cultural heritage, and undercuts Jerusalem's extraordinary diversity.”

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Cruz led a similar bipartisan, bicameral letter on Oct. 10 to UNESCO’s Executive Board in regards to a separate resolution concerning Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem. The resolution, however, was adopted—24 countries voted in favor, 26 abstained and 6 voted against. Since then, Italy, Brazil and Mexico have voiced concern over the resolution’s language.

Separately, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) spearheaded a letter on Oct. 26 to President Barrack Obama. The letter calls on the U.S. to suspend its ties with UNESCO in response to the organization’s adoption of “one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions.”

Joining Sen. Rubio were Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), David Perdue (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“Recent UNESCO resolutions that deny Jewish and Christian ties to holy sites in Jerusalem not only reinforce the necessity of withholding American funding from this counterproductive U.N. organization, but also call into question future U.S. membership in UNESCO,” wrote the lawmakers.

U.S. State, Treasury Departments Designate Hezbollah Financiers and Operatives

On Oct. 20, the U.S. State Department designated one individual as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and the Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on four individuals and one organization, all for their connection to the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah.

As a result of these designations, all U.S. property and interests subject to these individuals are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

The U.S. Treasury Department—pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224—and Saudi Authorities jointly designated Yosef Ayad, Muhammad al-Mukhtar Kallas, Hasan Jamal al-Din, Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar and Global Cleaners S.A.R.L.

Ayad, Kallas, and al-Din all played key roles in providing financial services to Hezbollah and had ties to Hezbollah External Security Organization (ESO) member Adham Tabaja, whom American and Saudi authorities already sanctioned for his activities in support of Hezbollah. The ESO is responsible for planning and executing Hezbollah terrorist attacks around the globe.

Global Cleaners S.A.R.L. was designated for being managed by Tabaja. The company holds several contracts to provide sanitation services in Baghdad, Iraq.

“Today’s joint action with Saudi Arabia underscores the strength of U.S. and Saudi cooperation in disrupting Hezbollah’s worldwide commercial and financial infrastructure,” said Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin. “Hezbollah continues to plan, coordinate and execute terrorist attacks around the world, and Treasury will continue to aggressively target Hezbollah and those supporting its terrorist activities.”

Hamdar, a member of Hezbollah’s ESO, was also designated by the Treasury Department for terrorist activities. He was arrested in Lima, Peru in October 2014 on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks on popular Peruvian tourist spots. 

In a coordinating effort, the State Department designated Haytham ‘Ali Tabataba’i as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under E.O. 13224. According to the State Department, Tabataba’i has commanded Hezbollah Special Forces in Syria and reportedly in Yemen.

“The imposition of sanctions by the United States against terrorists is a powerful tool,” said the State Department in a press release. “Today’s actions by the U.S. government notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Haytham ‘Ali Tabataba’i and the individuals and entities designated by Treasury are actively engaged in terrorism.”

Senators Demand Answers on American Aircraft Sales to Terrorism-Linked Iranian Airline

On Oct. 13, Sens. David Perdue (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter pressing the Obama Administration for answers about its decision to approve licenses for the sale of nearly 200 commercial aircraft to Iran Air, an airline the U.S. government sanctioned years ago for transporting rockets and missiles on behalf of Iranian entities known to support terrorism and regional instability.

“To date, we have seen no proof of a change in the conduct that prompted the initial sanctions on Iran Air,” wrote the senators. “In fact, we have seen evidence to the contrary. Open source reports have shown that Iran Air continues to fly from known IRGC bases in Iran to Syria. While Mahan Air—which remains under U.S. sanctions—has been the primary airline for sending military supplies and personnel to Syria, Iran Air has flown dozens of similar routes.” 

“Specifically, we are concerned that Iran Air could allow airlines that remain under sanctions to use these planes through informal arrangements, thanks to the recently-granted licenses,” continued the senators. “The combined Airbus and Boeing deals will provide Iran Air with nearly 200 planes—a huge leap from its current fleet of 36 aircraft. Even assuming that Iran Air significantly expands its routes over the next decade, 200 planes are more than the airline can reasonably absorb. As a result, it is not unreasonable to suspect that Iran will allow other Iranian carriers—including those that are still sanctioned—such as Mahan Air, to use these planes through informal arrangements.” 

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Visits Israel

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew arrived in Israel on Oct. 28 for a three-day visit which included meetings with several Israeli government officials and private-sector leaders. The visit to Israel was part of a six-day trip that also included stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. The Treasury Department issued a statement ahead of his stop in Israel saying that Lew intended “to discuss policies to promote shared economic growth and stability, to combat terrorist financing and to advance regional and global cooperation.”

Secretary Lew met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon while in Israel for discussions on bilateral economic issues, implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and continued sanctions against Iran. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro characterized the talks as “productive” and stated, “It may be [Lew’s] last visit to Israel in his current job, and I have appreciated his friendship and his steadfast commitment to close U.S.-Israel ties.”

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