By Alejo Vidal-Quadras
On Tuesday 21st of September, Iranian regime President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly with a pre-recorded speech that professed to send a message of “rationality, justice, and freedom” to the world, but although Raisi has been in office for less than two months, virtually everything he has said and done so far has contradicted that message. Granted, his administration has not even fully taken shape yet, but much of his cabinet has been approved by the legislature and each appointment reflects the same ultra-hardline ideology and belligerent political strategy that defines Raisi’s own background.
Soon after the first dozen or so appointments were announced, the Iranian Resistance leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi issued a statement in which she described Raisi’s prospective cabinet as “The embodiment of four decades of mullahs’ religious dictatorship and terrorism.”
The primary mission of the entire Raisi administration, Mrs. Rajavi said, would be “to confront the people’s uprising and to plunder the national wealth, step up terrorism and warmongering and expand the unpatriotic nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.” Each one of these allegations is directly supported by at least one of the appointments that were completed over the past few weeks. Thus, each appointment arguably provides its own justification for an assertive response from Western policymakers.
Under Raisi, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) will be led by Mohammad Eslami. Although he has no scientific qualifications, Eslami has been involved in weaponization aspects of the Iranian nuclear program since its very beginning, having taken meetings in the 1980s with Abdul Kadir Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, leading to Iran’s purchase of components and designs for nuclear enrichment centrifuges. Eslami also spent ten years in Iran’s Ministry of Defense and later played a major role in disseminating disinformation over matters such as the January downing of Ukrain Airlines Flight 752e.
This appointment is a clear symbol of the priorities that define the Raisi administration and the regime as a whole, at least where nuclear issues are concerned. The international community should anticipate that Tehran will continue the sorts of procurement activities that Western intelligence services have been warning about in recent years, even if this comes at the expense of projects with actual scientific relevance to the country’s civilian needs. Tehran and the AEOI can also be expected to lie with impunity about that procurement and about the underlying efforts to shorten the regime’s “breakout time” for a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s new Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, has a decades-long history of contact with the Quds Force, the branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for foreign special operations and the financing and support of regional militant proxies. He enjoyed a close relationship with the notorious Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani prior to his death in a US drone strike at the start of 2020. Amir-Abdollahian also was notably focused on operations targeting the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the NCRI that was the subject of an Iranian bomb plot near Paris in June 2018.
Four Iranian operatives were eventually sentenced to prison terms in Belgium for that terror plot, which could have been one of the worst ever to occur on European soil if it had not been thwarted by law enforcement. However, neither the European Union nor the international community at large took any recognizable steps following their trial to demand accountability from the regime or from institutions that were known to have been involved in the attack, like the Supreme National Security Council.
Many of Tehran’s critics rightly criticized this inaction for enabling the regime’s assumption of impunity. That impunity is now reflected in Raisi’s cabinet appointments, as well as in the orchestrated election of Raisi himself, whom countless Iranian citizens have condemned as the “henchman of 1988” in reference to his leading role in a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners during the summer of that year. In more than a dozen European and American cities on Tuesday, Iranian expatriate groups held rallies to draw further attention to that role and to chastise the UN for giving a public platform to a mass murderer.
Unless the international community takes action to counter that decision in the coming days and weeks, consequences are sure to visit Tehran’s adversaries both at home and abroad. The issues raised by the 2018 terror plot have never been resolved, and the Raisi administration has telegraphed its support for the underlying strategy by appointing officials whose history includes not just systematic targeting of the MEK but also direct attacks on Western targets.
Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s new Interior Minister, is even subject to an Interpol arrest warrant for his direct involvement in the 1994 bombing in Argentine, which killed 85 people. As commander-in-chief of the IRGC during the 1990s, he is implicated in a number of other attacks besides. And although his new role is ostensibly limited to domestic policy, his mere presence in the new administration is a definite test of the international community’s willingness to overlook the inherent threat posed by hardline dominance and power consolidation within the Iranian regime.
The democratic nations of the world cannot allow such appointments to go unchallenged. For that matter, they cannot allow Raisi’s presidency, as a whole, to go unchallenged. They certainly cannot provide his administration with unsought and unearned legitimacy on the world stage, yet that is exactly what the UN and its leading member states did on Tuesday when they provided Raisi with a global platform for a speech that falsely represented him as being “elected of the great people of Iran.”
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Iran’s population boycotted the faux election and Iranians both in their homeland and throughout the world have condemned initial Western fecklessness. According to Nasrollah Morandi, a former political prisoner who spoke at a conference in Stockholm on Tuesday, Raisi’s invitation to speak before the UN was “a betrayal to the ideals of democracy and human rights” that are supposed to unify the Western world.
Lest that betrayal is repeated, Western policymakers should consult with Iranian activists when setting policy for dealing with the new Iranian administration, and they should prepare to take steps that will hold Raisi and his advisors accountable for past human rights abuses, terrorist acts, and other malign activities.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is President of the International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)