New rounds of negotiations over Iran’s clandestine ended without any result last week. Despite the Iranian regime’s efforts to kill time and pursue its goal of obtaining a nuclear bomb, Western powers continue their weak approach.
While there is no question that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon must be a top-line priority for all nations, that goal should always be recognized as part of a larger effort to contain the regime’s various malign activities.
The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is, of course, a unique threat to global security, but there are other threats emanating from Tehran which are also serious, and much more immediate. The Iranian regime is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, but somehow this fact seems to have been thoroughly overshadowed in recent years, as Western officials have remained myopically focused on establishing and then restoring a nuclear agreement, even to the detriment of all other issues.
This single-mindedness was a key feature of early criticisms of the highly flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The U.S. withdrew from the deal, demanding a more comprehensive agreement to address all of Tehran’s malign activities.
Upon returning to the Vienna talks after a five-month delay, Iranian officials started demanding the immediate and comprehensive removal of US sanctions and insisting that points which were allegedly agreed upon in prior sessions can now be renegotiated. This has understandably raises serious questions about the prospect for the JCPOA to be restored at all. What it should have done, however, is raise equally serious questions about the value of sticking to a compartmentalized approach in the face of Tehran’s defiance.
The latest expressions of that defiance shouldn’t have even been necessary to elicit these questions. The partial collapse of the JCPOA could have easily been an opportunity for Western policymakers to wake themselves up to the seriousness of the issues that had previously been overlooked in favor of keeping that deal in place. It should have motivated them to outline strategies that would end the Iranian regime’s destructive activities.
There would be serious consequences for the Iranian people and the entire world whenever a portion of the regime’s malign behaviors are overlooked in favor of addressing only one that is deemed important by a handful of powerful nations.
In 1988, the Iranian regime executed over of 30,000 political prisoners, which was swiftly brought to the international community’s attention but never followed up on. Last year, seven UN human rights experts condemned that inaction as having left a lasting impression on “the victims and families as well as the general situation of human rights in Iran.” Meanwhile, that inaction in terms of a recurring Western impulse to appease the Iranian regime in an effort to maintain cooperative ties and achieve agreements on a narrow range of issues.
This strategy has never quite worked out as intended, and in fact it has been harmful to Western interests right alongside the interests of Iranian citizens and dissidents. This was evident months before the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, when Iranian operatives were caught plotting two separate terrorist attacks targeting the Iranian Resistance. Fortunately, the attacks on the Iranian opposition’s compound in Albania and the annual Free Iran gathering near Paris were both thwarted by authorities, but they nonetheless revealed the regime’s willingness to put European and American citizens and lawmakers in danger for the sake of its own aims.
The June 2018 gathering near Paris was attended by hundreds of political dignitaries from throughout the world, and the explosives that were confiscated en route to that event were considered by experts to be capable of killing hundreds of people in the initial blast, plus hundreds more in the aftermath. What’s more, the arrest of that plot’s mastermind, an Iranian diplomat-terrorist named Assadollah Assadi, revealed that he had built a network of potential terrorist operatives spanning several European countries, over a period of years.
The four known participants in the Paris terror plot were ultimately prosecuted for their crimes and sentenced to prison terms of between 15 and 20 years. However, no real accountability has ever been demanded of the Iranian regime itself, though it was certainly well aware of the terror plot and its implications. This inaction has been reinforced, at least in part, by Western powers’ concerns about offending the regime and risking its withdrawal from the negotiating process.
Now, all that those powers must show for their wariness is a collection of defiant regime’s proclamations and a terrorist network that remains intact across Europe. Looking back on the process that led to the current round of Vienna talks, one cannot help but wonder what the current situation would look like if the US and its allies had instead coordinated a multilateral version of “maximum pressure.”
Where the nuclear issue is concerned, the outcome of that strategy would realistically be much better than what we are now observing. Meanwhile, Tehran would have been forced to confront serious challenges to the sense of impunity underlying its terror plots in 2018, its ongoing crackdowns on protests inside Iran, and the full range of malign activities that any agreement with the Iranian regime should have sought to address in the first place.