Tehran talk

U.S. partisanship is killing opportunities for progress on Iran policy, former U.S. diplomat says

‘One congressional staffer said it to me so well: Iran policy is all about virtue signaling. Iran policy is domestic policy, it’s not foreign policy,’ Goli Ameri told Jewish Insider

Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - OCTOBER 20: U.S Assistant Secretary of States for Education and Cultural affairs Goli Ameri speaks during a press conference on October 20, 2008 at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq.

Goli Ameri, a former assistant secretary of state who grew up in Iran, argued that partisanship in the U.S. is the major impediment to any substantial progress on Iran policy that could truly help the Iranian people.

Ameri, who serves on the board of trustees of Freedom House and on an advisory board of the Rand Corporation, told Jewish Insider in a conversation on the lawns of the Aspen Meadows complex during last week’s Aspen Security Forum that “the reasons why things are constantly at a standstill on Iran is because there is such partisanship in Congress.”

“One congressional staffer said it to me so well: Iran policy is all about virtue signaling. Iran policy is domestic policy, it’s not foreign policy,” Ameri, who served under former President George W. Bush, said. “If you’re a Republican, you need to be a hawk on Iran. And if you’re a Democrat, you need to be all about making nice-nice and negotiations. There’s never been a happy medium. Of course, the people who advise Republican or Democratic administrations are either hawks, or they’re complete peacemakers.”

She argued that neither position is conducive to formulating an effective Iran policy, which requires coming together and utilizing “all tools of foreign policy,” including diplomacy backed by strict enforcement of Iran sanctions, which she argued has not been forthcoming under the Biden administration. She also criticized China and Gulf countries for maintaining — and in some cases escalating — relations with Iran, undermining sanctions.

Ameri said that the Iranian people are looking for change but have few options for effecting it: Elections are not a viable method of toppling the regime and armed uprising is also infeasible and unattractive. She argued that punishing sanctions that choke off the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the most effective way to help the Iranian people in their fight against the regime, even if such sanctions also have a negative impact on the Islamic republic’s civilian population.

“Are you going to endure water-drop torture, or are you going to tear off the BandAid and move on the to next stage of civilization and your country?” she said, describing the choices the Iranian people face.

Ameri described Iran’s nuclear program as the lynchpin of the regime’s strategy — “their ticket to longevity.” She said Iranian leaders have learned lessons from Libya, North Korea and even Ukraine.

“You give up your nuclear warheads in return for security guarantees and economic help, and look what happens, they get invaded,” she said. “They see what happened to North Korea… the Kim dynasty has been there for 60 years.”

Ameri emphasized the need for stronger sanctions enforcement — which she said has been an issue across multiple presidential administrations — calling specifically for greater funding from Congress for the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control. She also said that U.S. officials need to be more proactive and aggressive with China and Gulf allies such as the United Arab Emirates, which have been lax in their own sanctions enforcement.

She additionally emphasized the need for more effective soft-power diplomacy, including having U.S. officials speak directly to the Iranian people and offer support. 

Ameri pointed to efforts to connect Iranian dissidents to the Starlink satellite communications system last year as one example of the U.S.’ failure to follow through and fund projects that could help the Iranian people.

“OK, it’s great, you’ve taken away some of the restrictions. But where’s the funding?” she asked. “We’re talking on a massive scale, there is not enough funding allocated by the U.S. government, or by Congress, that can help this process. And the little funding that exists [for] Iran, those that are responsible for disbursing it are sitting on the sidelines.”

Additionally, she said, “it’s time for the Europeans to step up,” particularly by taking a harder line toward the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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