Disagreements over Nuclear Deal must not distract from larger Iranian threats
Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool writes that the UK and its European allies should give a fair hearing to any appeal that the US government makes for multilateral participation in a strategy of economic and diplomatic pressures on Tehran, despite pervasive foreign and domestic threats stemming from the heart of the Iranian regime.
It is certainly no secret that Europe and the US are mired in deep disagreements over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In May, the White House pulled out of the agreement after months of threats and disparagement, but the UK and the EU promptly responded by doubling down on their commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even going so far as to undertake discussions with Iran over what further concessions and incentives might be granted to keep the deal in force.
It is understandable that there are different attitudes about the JCPOA on each side of the Atlantic. But it is important that neither the US nor Europe allows this discord to distract them from the imperative to establish a coordinated, cohesive strategy for dealing with other pressing issues related to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the nuclear issue has dominated the world’s attention for years, it is far from being the only threat inherent in Iran’s ruling regime.
Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, that regime has established and maintained its reputation as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the country with the highest per-capita rate of executions, and a representative example of the repressiveness of ideological dictatorships. All of these issues have actually grown since in recent years, even as European leaders remained optimistic about the supposedly moderating influences of President Hassan Rouhani and the JCPOA.
Whether or not the JCPOA has been working to impede Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, it cannot be denied that the agreement has failed at its broader endeavour, to promote regional stability and peaceful relations between Iran and the West. The lack of progress in the Middle East is particularly obvious, as hard-line Iranian institutions continue to inject themselves into the civil wars in Syria and Yemen while building up their ballistic missile stockpiles and expanding their proxy networks in various parts of the region.
A glimpse at Rouhani’s domestic record reveals that his “reformist agenda” is only an illusion, while his control over the Ministry of Intelligence has moved Iran into one of its worst periods of repression, with some 8,000 activists arrested during a series of nationwide protests in January alone. This uprising also saw the deaths of more than 60 peaceful protesters, most of whom were shot dead in the streets while others were tortured to death in the custody of security forces. Regardless of any esteem the EU and the UK maintain for Rouhani on account of the nuclear deal, they must understand that by continuing to treat the Islamic Republic as if it is on the path to reform, they are only turning their back on the most closely held human rights principles that define modern democratic nations.
By the same token, a generally permissive British and European policy toward Iran would also involve turning away from vital national security interests. This is because the hard-line ideals of the Rouhani administration and the Iranian regime as a whole have also come into view in the context of plots for terrorist activity on European soil.
In June, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat by the name of Assadollah Assadi masterminded a plot to set off a bomb at the Iranian opposition’s “Iran Freedom” rally just outside Paris. The plot was fortunately thwarted by European authorities, and the would-be victims of the bombing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), later revealed information from their intelligence sources indicating that the mission had been ordered from the highest reaches of the Iranian regime, with approval from both the president and the supreme leader.
In a recent statement, NCRI President-elect, Maryam Rajavi highlighted the connections between Iran’s violence at home and abroad: “The mullahs’ anti-human regime is hell-bent on stepping up the atmosphere of terror and repression to extinguish the Iranian people’s uprising through suppression, executions, bombardment and missile attacks.”
This is a situation that the UK and other EU member states positively must address, regardless of their feelings about the JCPOA, or their relationships with the Trump administration. With full awareness of the pervasive foreign and domestic threats stemming from the heart of the Iranian regime, the UK and its European allies should give a fair hearing to any appeal that the US government makes for multilateral participation in a strategy of economic and diplomatic pressures on Tehran. It is the right thing to do for the people of Iran, and it is the right thing to do for the nations of Europe as well.
Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, is an independent cross-bench member of the House of Lords and member of the British Committee for Iran Freedom, www.iran-freedom.org. He also writes here.