Iranian American activists who staged a rare sit-in outside the State Department to oppose potential U.S. monetary incentives to Iran to slow the progress of the Iranian nuclear program say they are optimistic about a dialogue they started with the Biden administration.
In a statement sent to VOA on Friday, the nonpartisan and nonprofit National Solidarity Group for Iran (NSGIRAN) said it is “optimistic that the State Department has opened a channel of communication with us, and hopeful that hearing the concerns and perspectives of Iranians inside and outside Iran will help the U.S. craft policies toward the Islamic regime that take those concerns and perspectives seriously and consequentially into account.”
NSGIRAN said its organizer, Siamak Aram, and another member of the group attended a Thursday meeting at the State Department with an official of the department’s Iran desk, whom the group declined to identify. It was the second meeting that NSGIRAN said it had with the U.S. official since it began a sit-in outside a State Department entrance on June 3. It said the first meeting took place at the State Department on June 5.
The activists ended the 14-day sit-in on June 16, a day after a State Department spokesperson publicly acknowledged the protest for the first time and confirmed the group’s first meeting with the U.S. official.
"It’s safe to say that everyone who works in the State Department is aware of the demonstrations. We all drive by them or walk by them every day when we come into the building," spokesperson Matthew Miller told a June 15 news briefing in response to a question about the sit-in. "We will continue to engage with them as appropriate," he added.
In a Friday statement shared on Twitter, NSGIRAN said it used the second meeting with the U.S. official to reiterate demands chanted by Iranian diaspora protesters in the U.S. and around the world in the nine months since the start of a protest movement in Iran against authoritarian Islamist rule: “NO to the revival of the JCPOA and NO to any other agreements with the Islamic Regime that might infuse the Regime with funds.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a 2015 agreement that Iran reached with world powers to limit its nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for international sanctions relief. The U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, who said it was not tough enough on Iran. His successor, President Joe Biden, has sought to revive the deal through diplomacy with Iran, which retaliated for Trump’s pullout by starting to exceed the agreed limits on Iranian nuclear activities in 2019.
Tehran denies Western and Israeli allegations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian energy program.
NSGIRAN’s Aram discussed the impact of the group’s latest protest in this week’s Flashpoint Iran podcast. He spoke to VOA at the protest site on the final day of the sit-in.
The following transcript of Aram’s interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: How receptive are State Department staff to your message?
Siamak Aram, National Solidarity Group for Iran: It is very clear for this building now, who we are and why we are here. On the third day of the sit-in, we asked for a meeting with the director of the Iran desk and we had a conversation. I questioned the reason behind this dialogue that they have [with Iran]. While the regime in Iran keeps oppressing the Iranian people who are fighting against them, why are you [the Biden administration] helping them and trying to give some funds to them?
VOA: The Biden administration has said it is using diplomacy to reduce the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon and to address Iran's other malign behaviors, rather than to help Iran oppress its own people. Is this the kind of response that you got from them?
Aram: We had some sources that they [the administration] are going to release some funds [to Iran]. They did not accept or reject [this possibility] at that [first] meeting.
VOA: Are you referring to a $2.7 billion Iraqi debt that the U.S. said on June 14 it would allow Baghdad to repay to Iran in relation to their energy agreements?
Aram: I questioned that as well, asking how are you going to make sure that the [Iraqi payment] is not going to violate U.S. sanctions [against Iran], and that Iran will not have access to the actual money. And the State Department said it will make sure that it follows all the regulations related to the sanctions.
VOA: You are concerned that any money Iran gets from other countries can be used for malign purposes rather than humanitarian purposes. You also have another meeting coming up at the State Department. What do you realistically hope to achieve?
Aram: It looks like this building bases its decision-making on some Iranian diaspora organizations that help the Islamic regime. We wanted to make sure they hear another voice to explain to them what is happening in Iran, because we believe they have no good analysis about the protesters in Iran. I believe that we were successful.
This was the first time that a group like us actually did something like this. We know that some other opposition groups and individuals tried to communicate with this building, and especially the Iran desk, and had no success. But now, we want to keep this channel open and inform the State Department about what is happening in Iran and the diaspora. They told us that they monitor all of our statements and social media accounts. So they know us and our concerns. But we wanted them to make sure they hear us from this close to this building.