The provisions the administration is considering for the Visa Waiver Program that would exempt Iranian dual nationals from having to obtain a visa pose both a security risk to the U.S. and a threat to the sanctions regime in place against Iran, according to testimony from a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday. Emanuele Ottolenghi, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Congress that Iran “has long relied on Iranian nationals who are dual passport holders to pursue illegal activities, including terrorism, illicit finance, and procurement of technology for its ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons programs.” He explained that not every dual national of Iran is an agent, but “virtually all agents of the Iranian regime who over the past decade were involved in conspiracies to commit acts of terrorism, illicit financial activities, nuclear and ballistic procurement, were dual passport holders.” Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin reported on Wednesday that based on a policy memo he had obtained, the State Department has been “pressing to exempt all dual-nationality Iranians who are outside of Iran, in the hope of encouraging political change inside that country.”
In December, Congress worked with the administration to enact changes to the existing Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows citizens of 38 nations, mostly European, to travel to the US without a visa. The result was the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 18. The changes to the VWP prevent those who also hold citizenship of a state sponsor of terrorism, including Iran, from traveling to the U.S. without a visa and require a visa for anyone who has traveled to those countries since March 1, 2011.
After the bill was signed into law, Iran criticized the U.S., claiming that the new rules were in violation of the nuclear deal signed last July. In response, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif promising to provide waivers so as to not “interfere with legitimate business interests in Iran.” On January 21, 2016, the administration acknowledged that it would provide waivers to the law and is considering eight categories of people to exempt, including those traveling for "legitimate business." Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-Texas) stated, "Let me be clear: nowhere does the law include this authority. In fact, Congress explicitly rejected the waivers requested by the White House.” The two exemptions provided in the original legislation are for national security and law enforcement purposes.
Members of Congress have blasted the administration’s attempts to circumvent the law. Chairman McCaul told Rogin, “The president has decided he is going to break this law -- and he plans to do so, in part, to accommodate the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, Iran. I believe this decision could have serious consequences for our security and -- perhaps more importantly -- far-reaching consequences for our democracy.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that “Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon,” directly contradicting the Obama administration’s assertion that the nuclear deal blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb, the Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday.
Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. intelligence community does not know “whether Iran will build a nuclear weapon in the wake last summer’s nuclear deal,” adding that Iran’s “political will” has therefore become the central issue at hand. His testimony reflected the conclusions presented by the intelligence community in its latest Worldwide Threat Assessment (.pdf).
“Iran probably views the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a means to remove sanctions while preserving some of its nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure,” Clapper noted.
While Clapper reiterated the Obama administration’s controversial assertion, which has been questioned by outside experts, that it would now take Iran about a year to build a nuclear weapon due to the JCPOA, he also acknowledged that Tehran continues to advance its ballistic missile program. “Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering [weapons of mass destruction], and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East,” he observed.
Iran’s ongoing development of ballistic missiles contravenes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which formalized the nuclear deal and called on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles.”
According to the Worldwide Threat Assessment, Iran remains the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism and “continues to exert its influence in regional crises in the Middle East through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its terrorist partner Lebanese Hizballah, and proxy groups.” The report further emphasized that Tehran and its proxies “remain a continuing terrorist threat to US interests and partners worldwide.” (via TheTower.org)
Brainnovations, the country’s first accelerator for brain-related startups, recently graduated its first class of eight companies. The accelerator — part of Israel Brain Technologies – summed up the first cycle with an open call for Cycle 2 of Brainnovations, set to take place May-July 2016. “We are now at a unique point in time at which technology can be used to address brain challenges and diseases – from Alzheimer’s to brain trauma and everything in between – as never before. Our objective at Brainnovations is to bring great ideas in the brain-tech arena to fruition, and to help entrepreneurs navigate the complex path to launching initiatives in the medical arena,” Yael Fuchs, Brainnovations program manager, told ISRAEL21c. “The first cycle of Brainnovations exceeded our expectations, and the eight teams we selected made tremendous progress. We now look forward to bringing everything we learned in the first cycle to the next group of startup teams, and are very excited at the prospect.” The accelerator program comprised three months of lectures, mentoring, and networking. Over 150 investors and mentors recently came out for Brainnovations Demo Day at the Google TLV headquarters to hear from the first class about the technologies they’re developing for Alzheimer’s, depression, spasticity, stroke, brain tumors and other neurodegenerative diseases. (via Israel21c)