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Meeting at the U.S. Mission to the UN with Joshua Black February 25, 2011
Report by Madelyn Hoffman
(photo by Danny Postel)

Madelyn HoffmanOn Friday, February 25th, a delegation of 12 human rights and peace activists organized by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD), met with Joshua Black, Chief of Sanctions for the United Nations, at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. The scope of his work includes Iran. The goal of CPD is to promote a democratic, just and peaceful foreign policy.

The purpose of the visit was to deliver a packet of 1164 signatures on a petition opposing comprehensive economic sanctions and on-going threats of military action against Iran and calling for support of grass roots efforts to bring democracy to Iran. What was expected to be a 45-minute meeting turned into 105 minutes of discussion about the delegation’s concerns and the policy of the United Nations.

For Kathy Kelly of Voices of Creative Non-Violence, this was her first visit back to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations since the last of 42 days of fasting against the sanctions on Iraq back in 2001. She remarked following the meeting that the CPD delegation received 500% more time with a representative of the US Mission to the UN than Voices in the Wilderness had been given after 150 days of fasting and seven arrests outside U.S. Mission to the UN offices.

After each of the 12-person delegation introduced themselves, Joanne Landy, CPD Co-Director, described the purpose of the visit and placed it within the context of rapidly changing and inspiring events throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Her remarks were followed by Steve Shalom reading from his detailed, clear and powerful statement, which presents a compelling case against broad-based sanctions and military threats against Iran. Those who oppose such sanctions include the leaders of Iran’s Green movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Fatemeh Karroubi, leading Iranian pro-democracy dissidents like Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji, and the National Iranian-American Council. While the U.S. government claims to be opposed to such broad-based sanctions, the statement reads: “…U.S. sanctions are about as targeted as dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima was targeted.”

According to Steve Shalom’s statement, “the whole logic of the sanctions is to put pressure on Iranian leaders by causing extreme suffering among the Iranian population. And this is morally unacceptable.” At the same time, the presence of the sanctions allows Ahmadinejad to blame the country’s problems on the United States, provides an excuse for the regime to crack down on dissidents and increases support for a nuclear program, as a way to stand up to those who threaten their security.

Additionally, Steve noted, while the tone of the Obama administration is less bellicose than that of the Bush administration, the military threats against Iran have yet to cease. The Nuclear Posture Review has not been amended to end the exclusion of Iran from the U.S. guarantee not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power. And the Obama administration has yet to retract the statement that in dealing with Iran “all options remain on the table.”

Joshua Black responded by outlining what he saw as the areas of agreement between the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the CPD delegation. One area of agreement, according to Joshua Black, is the belief that really tough problems are best resolved through negotiations, a commitment to dialogue and a commitment to change the tone of communications between the U.S. and Iran.

A second area of agreement, according to Joshua Black, is the belief that nuclear weapons are awful and horrible and should be eliminated. He proceeded to praise the Obama administration for going further, doing more and having a more comprehensive vision of nuclear disarmament than his predecessor, citing Obama’s Prague speech and his support for the new START Treaty.

Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director of New Jersey Peace Action, acknowledged those accomplishments, but stated that they were undermined by the administration’s pledge to give $184 billion toward nuclear weapons modernization. Peace Action is just as committed to opposing that $184 billion pledge as it was to supporting new START Treaty ratification.

Joshua Black responded by saying that the concession was a result of politics, and that he believed the compromise was necessary for new START Treaty ratification. Joanne Landy noted that the original version of the new START proposed by the Obama administration had already included provisions to upgrade the U.S. missile “defense” system, and that the Administration had never forcefully argued against the assumption that upgrading nuclear weapons and missile “defense” was the right course for the United States. As on so many international and domestic issues, Joanne said, the Administration has ceded the grounds of debate to the right.

A third area of agreement, according to Joshua Black, is that relationships between countries should be governed by rules consistently applied. Joshua Black claimed that some of this attention to rules has been restored under the Obama administration. Black acknowledged that this was often a grey area, filled with examples of double standards, but important nonetheless.

He said that the U.N. is not supportive of comprehensive economic sanctions, citing Iraq and Haiti as two prime examples of sanctions causing great humanitarian suffering for not good ends. He also said that there is no military solution to the issue of Iran and nukes. However, the position of the U.N. is that targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, equipment transfers and travel bans, are needed to prevent Iran from moving from nuclear energy for civilian purposes to using nuclear energy for military purposes. He cited an IAEA report that Iran was planning for nuclear design and enrichment of uranium.

Black emphasized that the broad-based sanctions were imposed by the U.S. Congress, not the U.N. and that we should raise our objections to our legislators. He blamed the on-going military threat from nuclear weapons development on the corrupt political process in Washington, not the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

It was here that Joanne Landy said that the U.S. Mission is representing U.S. policy, and that the distinction between Washington and the Mission was meaningless. Black responded "You're on to my dodges and ducks."

Other comments from the CPD delegation included:

Rosemarie Pace asked where the component of faith was in the discussion, as some Muslims see nuclear weapons as against Islam.

Bitta Mostofi also spoke eloquently about the effect of sanctions. The United States banned certain software and hardware that would have been useful precisely for the Iranian people to connect with each other; some of these bans have been lifted, but others still remain in place. The sanctions have also prohibited the export to Iran of parts needed for Iran's domestic air fleet, made up of older Boeing aircraft. Therefore, when an Iranian plane crashes the Iranians blame the sanctions. The combination of being surrounded by countries with a U.S. military presence and the on-going crippling sanctions has turned public opinion against the United States. In addition, Bitta wondered why discussions about Iran almost always focus on the nuclear issue, rather than the human rights issues and thought that should more of a focus be given to human rights issues, it might change the way foreign policy was conducted and/or the way we looked at Iran.

Lastly, when Joshua Black seemed to say that U.S. foreign policy toward Iran reflected the desires of the American people, the entire delegation seemed to agree: we need political leaders who can create a new reality, not continually compromise with reality by accepting the logic of the neo-conservatives.  Unfortunately, Josh Black was unable to answer the question posed by Bitta Mostofi: What can we do to help change the direction of the U.S. foreign policy toward Iran?
When the meeting was over, members of the delegation walked a few blocks over to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.