Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: Italian PM Renzi is sending an ill-advised signal with Iran visit
Independent peer Lord Lord Maginnis writes ahead of Italian PM Matteo Renzi's visit to Iran this week. He is a prominent member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.
While few will deny the principle that Compromise is the essence of Politics and that pragmatic solutions can be helpful within any democratic, pluralist society, this week's visit to Iran by Italian PM Matteo Renzi's will, under the prevailing circumstances, send a totally inappropriate message to the ayatollahs.
Therefore, compromise at the cost of integrity should be not only shunned but guarded against, particularly when that compromise comes at the expense of dignity and freedom. While these words ring true in many contexts, all the more so with regard to this initial visit by a senior European leader since the West's embargo was conditionally suspended.
In an attempt to underpin the Vienna Agreement of October 18th past rush we appear to have devised another 'de facto' compromise that is being made on the issue of human rights and democratic freedom for ordinary Iranians. That is a compromise that I, for one, am not willing to make. Many of my colleagues from both of Houses of the UK Parliament and other European parliaments share a similar opinion.
Recent coverage of Iran appears skewed in favour of a narrative surrounding reform and moderation, yet few seem to remember that this is not the first time the regime has played this card. During the Presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Iran played the moderate card to perfection and fooled many in the West. This not only alleviated pressure on the regime, but also gave it time to pursue its nuclear programme secretly, while notionally engaging in cordial relations with the West. Today is no different!
Under President Rouhani, Iran has recently reached a 25 year high for executions, despite his supposedly “moderate” image abroad. The victims included political dissidents who are activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (the PMOI), the principal Iranian opposition movement, along with ethnic and religious minorities. In real terms, according to UN Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shaheed, Iran has actually escalated its crackdown on human rights over the last few years, leaving little doubt as to the true nature of this government.
If that were not evidence enough of the nature of this regime, one need look no further than its support of mass murder in Syria and its continual involvement in terror and instability throughout the region. This is not behaviour that warrants compromise or cordial relations. It is belligerence being rewarded by seemingly wishful thinking.
The simple reality is that Rouhani is an extension of a theocratic regime, at the head of which is an unelected Supreme Leader who has the final say on everything. Any idea of reform within this context is not only unrealistic, but actually counterproductive. The dreams of reform and moderation have been fed to an oppressed people to stave off their anger and avoid the type of rebellion that took place in 2009.
In order to support democratic change in Iran, we should never coddle those who enjoy the fruits of this dictatorship. We should stand firm against them and the regime that enables them to plunder the country while ordinary Iranians are left without a voice.
That is where the progressive 10-point plan enunciated by NCRI leader, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, at the Council of Europe as long ago as April 2006 has deserved greater attention. It is the voice and ambition of the ordinary Iranian citizen. It is shameful when the West seek to benefit economically from relations with the dictators in Tehran, while overlooking the true nature of Iran's regime.
That regime leads the world in its per capita rate of executions and routinely sentences juvenile offenders to death. In addition, it is no secret that its the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Surely financial interests should not be allowed to oblige us to compromise our principles or values.
This is not a call for war, or a criticism of dialogue and diplomacy. It would be in the interests of the entire world community if Iran really moved to dismantle its nuclear programme and normalise its relations with the rest of the world. But the prerequisites for this type of normalisation include putting an end to its support of a brutal dictatorship in Syria, stopping support for extremist and terrorist groups, ceasing ballistic missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, enacting meaningful and tangible democratic reforms at home, and engaging in good faith relations with the rest of the world.
Is that what Matteo Renzi expects from Rouhani?
The fact is Iran remains one of the worst Human Rights violators in the world and a major fomenter of unrest and Islamic extremism in the region. Shaking hands with the likes of Rouhani while young Iranians continue to face torture and imprisonment for expressing their ideals is a compromise that neither I nor my colleagues are willing to espouse or support.
The West has, for better or for worse sought to create opportunity for progress. It is time to hold Rouhani accountable for the conduct of the regime that he represents - not to flatter the delusional. The people of Iran deserve better. The people of Europe deserve better.
The Lord Maginnis of Drumglass is an Independent Ulster Unionist member of the UK House of Lords & a prominent member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF).