Leaders in the U.S. House are rebuking the Obama administration over plans by executive agencies to circumvent a new anti-terrorism law after Iranian officials raised objections to the measure. A letter sent by top members on Thursday accuses the White House of a “flawed and deeply troubling implementation” of the new law that “renders both the terms ‘national security’ and ‘law enforcement’ virtually meaningless.” The letter is signed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R – Calif.); House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R – Calif.); House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R – Va.); House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R – Texas); and the author of the anti-terror law, Rep. Candice Miller (R – Mich.).
At stake is implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which was passed in December and tightened visa restrictions to ban visa-free travel for individuals who had recently traveled to, or are citizens of, state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran. President Obama signed the law on December 18.
The law triggered a backlash among Iranian officials, who claimed that the anti-terror measures violated the nuclear deal reached in July. In response, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif promising to provide waivers so as not “interfere with legitimate business interests in Iran.” The administration confirmed last week that it will indeed waive the new visa requirements for persons who have traveled to Iran and Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes,” on a case-by-case basis. State Department Deputy spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters that the exemption was not for national security purposes, but for business.
The administration’s efforts to circumvent the law had already raised congressional objections. In an earlier letter by the same five lawmakers, the members emphasized that “[n]ot only was such an exemption [business-related] from the law not included in the legislation, it was specifically discussed during bill negotiations with Administration staff and expressly refused by Members of Congress despite the inclusion of two other exemptions.” In the newest letter they maintain that the exemptions are “contrary to the plain language of the statute.”
The administration’s actions have more broadly raised concerns that the nuclear deal constrains the U.S. in responding to Iranian aggression. Lawmakers told Kerry that it was “beyond belief” that the concerns of Iranian officials “would supersede a newly-enacted U.S. law designed to protect the American people from terrorism.” Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitz told Bloomberg View, “If the United States Congress cannot implement a more secure visa procedure for those who travel to state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, then the Iran deal ties the hands of lawmakers to a greater extent than even deal critics feared.”
As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with French President Francois Hollande and signed major business deals in Paris, thousands marched in protest of human rights abuses carried out by the Tehran regime, Reuters reported on Thursday. Rouhani’s visit to France was the first by an Iranian president since 1999.
While the countries hailed the commercial agreements “as symbols of thawing relations,” an estimated 3,000 protesters took to the streets to condemn the deteriorating human rights situations in Iran under Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 as a reformer.
An activist from the feminist group FEMEN dangled from a bridge in a mock hanging to draw attention to the soaring execution rate in Iran, which leads the world in per-capita hangings and is one of the only countries to use the death penalty against minors. According to a new report by Amnesty International, at least 73 juveniles were executed by Iran between 2005 to 2015, while 160 remain on death row.
Among the deals announced was the sale of 118 Airbus jets to Iran and an agreement with the French corporation Total to purchase some 200,000 barrels of crude from Iran. Shipping, agriculture, and water management agreements were also reached.
France was Rouhani’s second and final stop on his European trip. Earlier this week, he visited Rome boost business ties with Italy, where he denied that Iran was a leading sponsor of terrorism and claimed that American hostility toward Iran was driven by the “Israel lobby.”
Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Maria Terzi wrote on Wednesday that the nuclear deal would not lead Iran to moderate its behavior and lamented that “European governments are willing to talk with Rouhani about oil deals and trade partnerships even if it means actively ignoring Iran’s worsening human rights situation, its sponsorship of terror, and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East.”
In October, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran, called the high rate of executions in Iran an “unprecedented assault on the right to life in Iran.”
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has often been characterized as a moderate, his term in office has been marked by the steady deterioration of human rights. Shortly after his election in 2013, Rouhani appointed Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, known as the “Minister of Murder” for his role in thousands of summary executions in the 1980’s, to the post of justice minister. (via TheTower.org)
Cybox, a new contest that will annually select and announce the most innovative cyber defense startup in Israel, picked Minerva Labs as its first winner and the company most likely to make a significant impact on information security. Minerva Labs — founded in 2014 by Edi Bobritzki, Erez Briman and Omri Moyal — has developed a novel, revolutionary product that protect systems from focused attacks without the need of prior knowledge, intelligence or recognition. In fact, the company’s patent-based solution created a new paradigm (prevention without recognition). Minerva Labs was one of five companies selected to present its product in the Cybox competition that took place at the Cybertech 2016 conference. CyberTech organizers joined forces with Glilot Capital Partners to launch the Cybox contest. “In the last years Israel has positioned itself as a source of innovation in the Cyber Security field. The CYBOX Contest will allow the next promising companies to get targeted exposure,”said Arik Kleinstein, CO-Founder & Managing Partners, Glilot Capital Partners. (via Israel21c)