Meng hosts Forest Hills talk on Iran

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) participates in a forum via Skype. Photo by Bianca Fortis
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A federal lawmaker brought attention to the strained relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran this week by hosting a public forum at the Forest Hills Jewish Center this week.

In 2010, the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran used a billboard to bring attention to the fact that the American heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar was operating in Iran through a foreign subsidiary. The billboard was placed outside the company’s headquarters in Peoria, Ill., according to UANI Executive Director David Ibsen.

“Every employee, every manager, every executive, every potential partner, every bondholder who drove into Caterpillar’s headquarters saw that billboard,” Ibsen said.

The awareness tactic was reported on by The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, effectively distributing the image of the billboard around the world. The head of Caterpillar called UANI the next day, Ibsen said, and the company ended its ties to Iran soon after.

The Caterpillar campaign is an example of the type of reputation damage that UANI uses to isolate Iran economically and sever it from financial, credit and business markets, Ibsen said.

The office of U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, hosted UANI officials Monday to discuss Iran’s relations with the United States at the Forest Hills Jewish Center.

In August, Hassan Rouhani replaced the former Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been criticized for refusing to close the country’s nuclear program which American leaders say will be used for developing nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders maintain that the nuclear program is for generating electricity.

Ahmadinejad has also become known for other controversial policies and statements, such as calling the Holocaust a myth.

David Wallace, CEO of UANI and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, said world leaders are judged by their first 100 days in office and many of their achievements occur during that time period.

Recently Iran has agreed to enter into talks with the United States to come to an agreement over the country’s nuclear program within the next few months, but so far there has been no change in Iran’s policies related to the program, Wallace said.

“If he wanted to end this nuclear program and truly wanted to make a deal with the West, he could have done that on his first day in office. Now it’s his 65th day,” Wallace said about Rouhani Monday.

Wallace said if there is no deal by the 101st day of Rouhani’s presidency, his group will continue to advocate imposing more economic pressure on the country.

Meng was not present at the event because she was called to Washington, D.C., but she did make an appearance in Forest Hills via a Skype call.

“I’ve been dealing with a lot of the serious and sobering issues of the Middle East today,” she told the audience. “And nothing is a higher priority for me and you in this space other than ensuring Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons capability.”

Meng said earlier in the year she co-sponsored a bill that would strengthen sanctions against Iran.

“While I don’t oppose our pursuit of diplomacy, I must insist that we remain clear-eyed and realistic about the Iranian threat,” Meng continued. “The regime is nothing if not duplicitous. And President Rouhani has himself in the past used negotiations as a cover for the regime’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:54 pm, July 9, 2018
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