Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Iran’s absentee voting program sanctions in US hotels raises questions about ethics

Iran’s apparent use of 20 US-based hotel properties as voting sites for the recent presidential election has raised questions about the hotel owners’ compliance with US sanctions and the appropriateness of their participation in a vote that Washington neither voted on. Neither freely nor impartially criticized.

The US was one of dozens of countries in which Iran said it had arranged for Iranian expatriate members to cast absentee ballots in the June 18 vote, supported by ultra-conservative Iranian judiciary chief Ibrahim Raisi, an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali. Won in a landslide. Khamenei.

Iran’s Islamic leaders have long said that they derive legitimacy for their 42-year authoritarian rule from strong participation in national elections, and that high turnout by foreign voters could have reinforced that perception. However, official final figures showed a record low turnout of 48% for an election in which Khamenei’s allies blocked any formidable contest for Raisi’s candidacy.

Ahead of the vote, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said: Iranians outside the country can vote on Election Day 133 of Iran’s diplomatic missions, as well as 234 other polling stations at non-diplomatic sites. He said the only countries in which significant Iranian expatriate communities would not be able to cast absentee ballots were Canada, Yemen and Singapore. It is unclear why absentee voting did not take place in Yemen and Singapore, but Iran’s state-approved Tasnim news agency said the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations contacted Canada to request an absentee vote and received no response.

A day before the election, the Iranian interests section of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington published an online chart showing the addresses of polling stations in 29 US cities where Iranian citizens could vote. In addition to the Washington diplomatic office, the other 28 locations include 20 properties of US and British hotel companies. The remaining eight locations were Islamic centres, including mosques and a school.

six american companies

The addresses of the 20 hotel properties that were listed by Iran were those of six US companies – Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels, Best Western International, Choice Hotels International and North Central Group Hotels – and British-based Intercontinental Hotels Group. Huh.

VOA Farsi contacted the Marriott Spring Hill Suites Hotel in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Hilton Garden Inn in Irvine, Calif., on June 18 and confirmed in a phone conversation with employees that voting events for the Iranian presidential election were underway at the properties. Atlanta Jewish Times reported that the vote also took place at the Comfort Inn Sandy Springs in Atlanta, Georgia, owned by Choice Hotels.

Brian O’Toole, a former senior adviser in the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, who managed OFAC’s sanctions program during former US President Barack Obama’s administration, told VOA Farsi that US hotels hosted voting events. What it did was “obviously”. Export of a service to the Iranian government, which it said is generally prohibited by OFAC Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.

“The organizers of the polling event are taking the results and sending them to Iran and the hotels are doing a service where the benefits are essentially in Iran,” said O’Toole, now a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council . “So, hotels will almost certainly need a US government license” [to be exempt from sanctions]. I can’t think of a context in which they don’t need any context for this kind of activity. “

VOA Farsi contacted the corporate headquarters of Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Best Western, Choice Hotels, North Central Group Hotels and Intercontinental Hotels Group by phone and email asking if they used a US government license for the use of their US properties. requested and received. Iranian presidential election but received no response.

FILE – A member of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, center, walks into the Comfort Inn Sandy Springs – Perimeter Hotel, where Iran has set up a station for its citizens to vote in its presidential election June 18, 2021 in Atlanta .

The State and Treasury departments of the Biden administration also did not respond to multiple VoA Persian requests to comment on whether Iran’s absentee voter program was licensed in the US. A woman answering the phone at the Iranian Interest Section office in Washington hung up when told that a VOA reporter wanted to ask a question.

questions of ethics

For the Iranian American non-profit group National Union for Democracy in Iran, Tehran’s use of US hotels for its presidential election raises not only legal issues but also ethical issues.

“US hotels allowed a regime that recently massacred hundreds of protesters and gay people to hold elections on their premises during LGBTQ Pride Month,” NUFDI policy director Cameron Khansarinia said in a VOA Persian interview . “It’s really embarrassing.”

Iran’s Islamic rulers killed hundreds in November 2019 in a violent crackdown on nationwide anti-government protests. They have executed several men for alleged homosexual acts in recent years and decades, a crime punishable by death in Iran.

Iranian officials disqualified hundreds of candidates for the recent presidential election, sparking outrage among opposition activists, including all major rivals of eventual winner Raisi, who used a fake to lead a campaign inside and outside Iran. encouraged to boycott the election.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price criticized the vote at Monday’s press briefing as “beautifully constructed”.

Richard Goldberg, senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA Farsi that a lack of transparency regarding Iran’s use of US hotels for election activities and US government licenses prompted Congress to seek answers from both the Biden administration and hotels. should inspire.

He said US lawmakers need to determine whether the Biden administration was using absentee voting as a “carrot” to entice Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal in which Tehran curbed nuclear activities. promised to deploy what could be weaponized in exchange for sanctions relief from the US. and other world powers.

indirect talk

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and began tightening US sanctions to be tough on Iran, which retaliated by exceeding its nuclear limit the following year. . The Biden administration has been holding indirect talks with Iran in Vienna in recent months to try to ensure what it calls a reciprocal return to JCPOA compliance.

Goldberg said Iran’s inability to set up polling stations in Canada indicated that Ottawa considered them unsuitable.

“If the US is more friendly to Iran than our ally and neighbor Canada, that is another reason to ask some serious questions. [about the U.S. policy],” he told.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office did not respond to an emailed VOA Persian question why Ottawa did not heed Iran’s request to set up polling stations in Canada for the June 18 vote.

US hotels have hosted polling stations for the last Iranian presidential election, 2017 included.

Former Treasury adviser O’Toole said licenses for Iranian election activity in US hotels would usually be granted long ago, when it was not yet clear which presidential candidates Iran would allow to run.

In the wake of the massive disqualification for last week’s vote, O’Toole said Iran’s use of US hotels “doesn’t look great because of the way the elections are held.” But he said Iran would “hijack” Iranian American voters by not licensing US polling stations.

“We let people vote. That’s what we do,” O’Toole said. “We must not make it difficult to vote, especially when so many people cannot go back to Iran for fear of being arrested.”

Khansarinia rejected that argument. “There is no parallel, moral or otherwise, between our elections in America and these elections in the Islamic Republic,” he said.

The activist said NUFDI is calling on US hotels to express their displeasure about Iranian absentee voting programs. “We want to continue the pressure,” he said.

this article. born in VOA’s Persian Service. State Department correspondents Nike Ching and Cindy Sen contributed.

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Iran's absentee voting program sanctions in US hotels raises questions about ethics
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