By Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool
When, at the end of March, the Iran nuclear negotiations were approaching the deadline for a framework agreement, there was some speculation about whether a breakthrough would refocus some of the world’s attention on the issue of Iran’s abysmal record of human rights violations. But, as near as I can tell, this did not happen.
Western powers are as myopically focused on the nuclear deal as ever, and I fear that much of the international community does not realize that the rate of executions in Iran is rising, that minorities continue to be persecuted and that the rights of women are relentlessly eroded.
Of course, part of the problem is that there was no breakthrough at the end of March, nor even on April 2 when a framework agreement was finally announced.
That deal seems to have been purely illusory: Tehran's usual smoke and mirrors. Almost immediately, the claim of victory was undermined by contradictory American and Iranian statements about what had been agreed. The Iranians, for instance, insisted that sanctions relief would be immediate and across the board, in keeping with their steady escalation of demands.
Those demands now threaten to push the negotiations even further down the line.
France, as a member of the P5+1, insists that Tehran’s refusal to grant inspectors access to Iranian military sites makes all current proposals unworkable. Several diplomats have declared that a final agreement is unlikely by the deadline of June 30, and the chief Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, seemed to concur, stating publicly that the talks are not even bound to their self-imposed deadline.
It is disturbing that the French negotiators have had to act as the sole promoters of this hard line, refusing to let Iran get away with keeping its military sites secret. It would be bizarre (and dangerous) if the US failed to also insist on this crucial condition but it would be in keeping with its consistently soft approach to the negotiations.
On June 13th, in a speech to her supporters, at a major rally attended by more than 100,000 people, Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), characterised the situation in this way:
“Unfortunately, Western governments, the United States in particular, violated UN Security Council resolutions and offered major concessions, propelling the regime closer to the Bomb.”
Many other critics agree, and of course their concerns about a weak nuclear deal with Iran are well founded.
The staunchest critics of the Iranian regime insist that it would either sign an agreement that it could reasonably expect to cheat on, or else delay the talks indefinitely in order to advance its nuclear programme as far as possible before the West began seriously pressing for inspections and dismantlement.
It is not difficult to see how the regime would benefit from this state of affairs, especially given the conciliatory tone set by the Obama administration.
Not only has Iran gained access to billions of dollars in sanctions relief without any permanent restrictions to its nuclear programme, it has also bamboozled the international community into effectively looking the other way on a host of other repressive and destabilising activities.
Because a certain segment of the Iranian government has simply remained at the negotiating table – all the while raising its demands and keeping progress very slow – the Obama administration has apparently convinced itself that the regime is on the course to moderation.
But this is delusional, and one look at the behaviour of the regime should make that clear.
During the first year of the presidency of supposedly moderate Hassan Rouhani, the rate of executions in Iran reached its highest level in a decade.
This in a country that already had the highest rate per capita in the entire world.
The current pace of hangings is on track to push the figure over 1,000 for the year: repeat, 1000 executions in 2015.
The Iranian parliament’s “plan to promote virtue and prevent vice” has been blamed for a series of acid attacks on women; the worsening aggression toward journalists is reflected in the targeting of Westerners such as Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian; and in one recent incident an Iranian police officer stopped a dog-walker on the street in Tehran and shot his beloved pet in the head. Dissenters, non-believers, and minorities fare little better. Human rights and human dignity are routinely trampled on.
The Obama administration seems to believe that any nuclear agreement - whatever it is - will promote greater understanding between Iran and the United States and thus increase Western influence in the Islamic country.
But the facts suggest otherwise.
A weak nuclear agreement threatens to legitimise virtually all of the activities of a regime whose “moderate” elements are insignificantly different from its hardliners. This will almost certainly increase its hold on Iranian society and set back the cause of human rights.
In the final analysis, that cause can only be advanced by standing up to the regime and by re-coupling the nuclear and human rights issues that the Obama administration has specifically separated within its Iran policy.
In her speech, Maryam Rajavi explained that all of the problems associated with Iran today are interconnected, and all of them go to the very heart of the regime:
“The only way to end the violations of human rights in Iran, the nuclear impasse, the crises in the region, and the confrontation with ISIS and terrorism is to topple the Caliph of regression and terrorism in Iran.”
The West may be tempted by the old expedient sophistry that "my enemy's enemy is my friend" but they would do well to heed Mrs. Rajavi warning before making such a catastrophic miscalculation.
This article first appeared in PoliticsHome