'Treating us like garbage': New sanctions announced as many Iranian Americans feel fed up with Trump
Jason Nazmiyal, a well-known Persian carpet dealer based in New York, is used to America's bureaucracy in Iran.
For years, the Iranian-American businessman has expertly followed Washington's sanctions and export rules in order to sell his expensive antique carpets - woven works of art - around the world. But now, he says, the Trump administration has corrupted all dealings with Iran so that once simple business tasks have taken on a pointless and disorienting quality.
The 60-year-old Nazmiyal was recently prevented from buying a rug that was already in the US and has not been anywhere near Iranian soil for decades.
"This is the nonsense we have to deal with," he said. "It is going to be so difficult for us in the US and it is also difficult to see how the sanctions harm the Iranian government as opposed to its people," said Nazmiyal, who in 1978, a year before the Islamic revolution, brought Iran to the US left.
While some Iranian Americans fully support President Donald Trump, Nazmiyal is one of the numerous Iranian Americans who have no loyalty to the repressive regime in Tehran, but are fed up with a White House that has slandered their homeland and their family members banned the visit to the United States and fueled fears of a military conflict. From the Muslim ban to an endless stream of sanctions and saber rattling, they hear from their relatives suffering in Iran and feel increasingly hostile in their adopted home.
Jason Nazmiyal in New York City.
New sanctions, maximum effect?
The human cost of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran is most visible in Iran itself. After Trump withdrew the US from a nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers a little over two years ago, he gradually re-imposed sanctions on large parts of the Iranian economy, its diplomats, and its intelligence and security units.
The latest sanctions were announced on Thursday by the US Treasury Department against the Iranian financial sector. They could completely separate the Iranian economy from the outside world, except in extremely limited circumstances. They target 18 more banks, effectively locking down the entire Iranian financial sector and forcing it to rely even more on informal or illegal trade.
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"In the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, the US regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food and medicines," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in response. "The Iranians will survive this last atrocity."
Sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. GDP has shrunk sharply. Oil exports have fallen. The value of the Iranian rial has been cut in half, and alongside mass unemployment and the skyrocketing cost of living, inflation has gotten out of hand.
Official US policy is that humanitarian aid will not be sanctioned, but access to a range of critical medicines and health care products has become more difficult as imports have stalled. The sanctions have deterred many international banks from cooperating with Iran because they fear that they too could become involved in so-called secondary US sanctions.
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"The Trump administration's blanket maximum pressure policy has resulted in no bank in the world wanting to touch Iran at all, for whatever reason," said Ali Scotten, 40, a second-generation Iranian American who was born in Arizona and works as a consultant in Middle East issues.
He is worried about his relatives in Iran. "The daily cost of living has grown astronomically," Scotten said, adding that Trump's penal sanctions have tainted Iranians' views of the US.
Trump and his advisors say their strategy is aimed at forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, contain its ballistic missile program, and end its support for militant proxy groups in the Middle East.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump have repeatedly stated that these measures will ultimately force Iran to seek a new deal.
"Our campaign for maximum economic pressure will continue until Iran is ready to conclude a full-scale negotiation to address the regime's malevolent behavior," Pompeo said in a statement touting Thursday's sanctions. "The United States remains with the Iranian people, the longest suffering victims of the regime's predators."
The Iranian leaders have consistently denied the president's requests and urged the US to re-join the existing agreement. Iran says it doesn't matter if it is Trump or his potential successor, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who does so.
Iran's nuclear material
Critics say Trump's policies have failed.
Seasoned Iran observers like Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Tank Think Tank in Washington, DC, point out that Iran is now enriching uranium to a higher level than it has ever been since the Obama administration brokered agreement in 2015.
Iran could even soon have enough fissile missile material to make a nuclear weapon. And in the Persian Gulf and Iraq it has become more, not less, aggressive. As tensions between the US and Iran have risen to dangerous levels, US politics has also widened the divide between the US and its closest allies in Europe, something Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris did during her debate Wednesday night with Vice President Mike Pence addressed.
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Trump's approach to Iran was an "embarrassing mixture of economic sanctions, botched diplomacy and tough rhetoric," Slavin wrote in a recent analysis.
Some critics have suggested that the Trump administration's real goal in Iran is to overthrow the regime.
Sanctions are part of US-Iran relations
With Afshine Ash Emrani, a 52-year-old cardiologist in California and a full-necked Trump supporter, that would be fine.
Emrani came to the United States with his parents when he was 17, fleeing the persecution of Iranian Jews by the regime. He voted for Trump in 2016 and is now an even stronger supporter of the president, even though he doesn't like Trump's sometimes "blatant" rhetoric.
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He sees Trump's recent foreign policy victories - convincing the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel - as an important step in further isolating Iran.
"It will take a lot of power from the regime ... because now the entire region will be against them," he said. "I hope that this will be a stepping stone for regime change in Iran" and that the government will become friendlier to both Israel and America.
But for Sahand Mirzahossein, a 39-year-old Chicago native who works in the pharmaceutical industry, Trump's election brought nothing but fear and fear. When Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran's most powerful military leader, "it was terrifying," he said. "I thought this was war."
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Mirzahossein's parents left Iran after the revolution, and he now has few family ties there.
"I'm torn about which direction America is going because it's my home," he said. As a gay man, Mirzahossein said he also felt targeted by Trump's domestic politics, and he said it was "heartbreaking" to see the "overt hostility" towards the LGBTQ community and people of color.
According to the US State Department, an estimated 500,000 to one million people of Iranian descent live in the US, the highest number of Iranians outside of Iran. The largest Iranian-American communities are in California, followed by the metropolitan areas of New York and Washington DC.
A young U.S. citizen, originally from Iran, holds an American flag during a ceremony to receive her citizenship papers in Los Angeles on July 9, 2018.
A majority do not support Trump's policies, according to a 2019 poll by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), a non-partisan group that defends its interests. This poll found that two-thirds (66%) of the Iranian-American population believe that Trump "badly" handled relations between the two opponents.
More than 8 in 10 Iranian Americans said they were either directly affected by Trump's 2017 travel ban to several Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, or friends and family members who were affected. Iran visas have been routinely denied since the ban.
In contrast, when the PAAIA survey conducted the year before Trump took office in 2016, more than two-thirds (71%) rated the Obama administration's handling of US-Iran relations as "excellent" or " Good".
The poll revealed expectations that the nuclear deal could serve as a way to improve relations between the US and Iran - soured by decades of hostilities that began when the CIA helped orchestrate the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian leader in 1953. In 1979, amid the birth of In the Islamic Republic, 52 Americans were held hostage at the former US embassy for 444 days.
Economic sanctions have since become an integral part of the US-Iran history.
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Fear of discrimination
It's not just about the inconvenience of having to apply for visa waivers that has affected Iranian Americans under the Trump presidency.
The PAAIA survey found that 71% of Iranian Americans are concerned about increasing discrimination, and 63% have either experienced discrimination personally or know someone who is discriminated against because of their ethnicity or country of origin. A majority (62%) fear possible US military strikes against Iran, where they have many friends and relatives and have deep cultural ties.
Scotten, the Iranian-American from Arizona, said that just days after Trump's election in 2016, his mother and a friend migrated.
"They spoke Farsi and a lady berated them for speaking a different language," he said. It was the first time she was molested in her 40 years in the United States.
"It is a direct result of Trump's rhetoric against immigrants" and efforts to make Americans fearful of immigrants, he said.
For Nazmiyal, the Trump administration's Iran policy has brought great economic success as 75% of his sales are in Persian carpets and 40% of his business involves shipping them overseas. But for the Iranian-American and San Francisco-based Delfarib Fanaie, the bans have violated those who can least afford it: poor and vulnerable children.
A man walks past a mural painted on the outside walls of the former U.S. embassy in Iran's capital Tehran on September 29, 2020.
Fanaie runs Moms Against Poverty (MAP), an organization that sends humanitarian aid to disadvantaged children in Iran. MAP has an official license from the US Treasury Department that allows it to legally transfer funds from its bank in the US through the banking system in Canada to Iran and then on to a bank in Tehran.
Since 2008, MAP has built more than 175 schools, orphanages, health clinics and cultural centers in Iran.
However, Fanaie said that while MAP itself has had few problems with the U.S. Treasury Department, in 2020 the amount of humanitarian funds it is allowed to send to Iran under its export license has actually increased due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vast majority of the International financial institutions fear that Washington will sanction them if they do business with a US company that sends money to Iran.
The result of all this, Fanaie said, is that her organization needs to be "in constant contact" with the US Treasury Department to try to find obscure and mercury banking channels to send MAP funds to Iran, despite the US -Government insists it does not have created barriers for these channels.
"I worry every day that a (bank) that was available to us the day before is not there in the morning," she said.
"I mean, what's the point of having a humanitarian permit to help underserved children in Iran and then making it virtually impossible for most organizations to transfer those funds?"
Some Iranian Americans have gotten into conflict over the Trump presidency.
Darius Massoudi, 32, a Washington state public policy advisor and lawyer, said Trump was in some ways "the best US president ever" for taking such a tough line against a brutal regime. Human Rights Watch and other groups say Iran uses deadly force to suppress political differences, arbitrarily arresting, torturing and killing protesters who demand freedom of expression and assembly. Iran denies this.
At the same time, Massoudi says Trump's rhetoric made him unwelcome.
"There are some of us who believe we live in this country and that Trump treats us like trash," said Massoudi, referring to the travel bans and his belief that Trump has demeaned minority groups. Massoudi said he had briefly considered emigrating to Canada, where the Iranian diaspora is growing.
How would that change in a Biden presidency?
US intelligence services have concluded that Iran was trying to undermine Trump ahead of the US presidential election.
"Democrats are softer than Republicans," the Iranian newspaper Sharq recently stated in an editorial, according to the Atlantic Council.
"I'm very nervous about this election," said Mirzahossein. "Four more years of Trump mean ... honestly who knows."
But it's not clear that a Biden presidency would be a panacea for Iranian Americans, despite his pledge that if he was elected, he would work to get back on the Trump-abandoned nuclear deal.
Biden may want to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (as the nuclear deal is called) as soon as possible, but may not be able to automatically lift all Trump administration sanctions, as the Atlantic Council and others have pointed out. And Iran could see this as a sticking point before starting again with compliance with the nuclear deal that it stayed in during the US exit. Iran's top diplomat Zarif also recently said the country could possibly insist on US compensation for its treatment by the Trump administration.
"The question mark with Biden will be whether he has the courage to resume the deal in a way Iran deems necessary," said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a London-based news and research group focuses on Iran's economy.
"Some people close to Biden have suggested that the US may want to leverage the leverage created by the Trump sanctions," he said.
Batmanghelidj said Iran's difficulties in importing food and life-saving medicines were exacerbated by COVID-19, but he did not believe that Iran would be "forced into new negotiations" and the US would dictate "the terms" for its own re-entry Nuclear deal and that the Iranian economy, although in disrepair, can "hobble".
Arizona's Middle East advisor Scotten said helping Biden was a breeze as he promised to return to the nuclear deal and lift the Muslim ban.
"Obviously there has been 40 years of mistrust and rivalry between the US government and the Iranian government, so relations won't normalize overnight," he said.
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"(But) there is an absolute difference between day and night between the two candidates," he said. "And just like on a personal level, lifting the Muslim ban could (would mean) my family to visit us again," he added, saying that his mother's sister was unable to attend his father's funeral in 2018 because of the ban .
For Nazmiyal, who owns a collection of 4,000 antique and vintage rugs, the past few years have been about weathering economic and political frustrations. He believes the Iranian people will continue to suffer no matter who wins the November 3rd election. He has also developed a new strategy for dealing with the sanctions against Iran. After months of trying to find a workaround to buy the rug that hadn't set foot in Iran in more than 100 years: he gave up.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Trump administration sanctions Iran again; The Iranians in the US are fed up
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