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Tom Ridge: Expectations Regarding U.S. Re-Implementing Iran Nuclear Deal Should Be Tempered

Iran: Fordow enrichment facilities

“Western governments can collectively place Tehran in a vulnerable position that it will have little choice but to make major concessions on matters of terrorism, ballistic missile development, regional interventionism, and human right,” said Tom Ridge, the United States first Homeland Security Secretary and former governor of Pennsylvania in an article in the Washington Times on Wednesday.

In his article in the Washington Times, Governor Tom Ridge further underlined the need for an international united front against the Iranian regime, emphasizing that any relationship with the regime should be contingent on stopping human rights violations and terrorism.
The full-text of Governor Ridge’s article is below:

With a presidential transition looming in Washington, there has been much international discussion about its implications for the Iran nuclear deal.

The European parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are hoping that President-elect Joe Biden will quickly return to the deal upon assuming office next month. They should probably temper their expectations.

Re-implementing the JCPOA would be a tall order in the wake of all that has transpired, even if the status quo remains unchanged in other areas of Iran policy. But Iran’s ruling mullahs have injected a number of other complications into the process by constantly reaffirming a belligerent stance toward the international community. That posture became quite visible in June 2018, when Tehran attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in France.

French citizens and politicians may very well have become collateral damage if the attack had not been thwarted. The primary target was reportedly Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the main Iranian opposition the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). According to the NCRI, once the mullahs are overthrown, Mrs. Rajavi will serve as the leader of a transitional government that hands over power to the Iranian people.

The terror plot apparently began to take shape after a nationwide uprising in January 2018, which Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attributed to the NCRI’s leading constituent group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

By acknowledging the MEK’s role, Mr. Khamenei broke with literally decades of state propaganda that portrayed the Resistance movement as lacking in popular support. Thus he revealed, more clearly than ever before, that the regime is in a more vulnerable position than it would typically let on. This should be an important factor for the future of Western policy toward Tehran.

The perpetrators of the June 2018 terror plot went on trial in Belgium over the past several weeks. One of them was an accredited “diplomat” of the Iranian regime who personally hand-delivered a bomb to terrorists. According to vivid details presented in court recently, the diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, had received orders from highest officials in Tehran to bomb a gathering of tens of thousands of dissidents and international dignitaries near Paris. Had the operation been carried out, the casualties on European soil would have been significant.

The regime was emboldened to do this because of Western silence toward its other heinous actions. The 2015 nuclear deal reflects a longstanding Western tendency toward conciliation, or even appeasement. It has traditionally been justified by two assumptions: that the existing regime is the only stable government available to Iran, and that the regime is capable of internal reforms which might lead it to pose a lesser threat to Western interests and assets. But recent developments have shown that both of these assumptions are plainly wrong.

In the more than seven years Mr. Rouhani has held office, it has become steadily more apparent that there is barely breathing room between his political ideology and Mr. Khamenei. Domestic crackdowns on dissent have gone a long way toward demonstrating this fact for close watchers of Iranian affairs. But for Western audiences, there is perhaps no clearer sign of the absence of significant moderation than a major terrorist plot being put into play under Mr. Rouhani’s leadership, carried out by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the Foreign Ministry.

While it is unlikely that the Biden administration will continue the “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran without alternation, it would also be cynical to assume that Mr. Biden will instantly reverse that policy and fall in line with European conciliation.

On one hand, the 2018 terror plot revealed how futile it is to expect moderation from the terrorist regime. But on the other hand, it also revealed how anxious that regime feels about widening domestic unrest.

In November 2019, an unprecedented nationwide uprising shook Iran, and spanned nearly 200 cities and towns. Regime authorities could not control the situation, so they resorted to brute force, opening fire on demonstrators and killing an estimated 1,500.

The regime’s vulnerability was further underscored by the recent elimination of the key figure of the regime’s nuclear weapons program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Though no one has yet claimed responsibility for the incident, it speaks volumes about the perilous state of the regime’s internal security, particularly that of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

There is a unique opportunity for diplomacy to succeed. Western governments can collectively place Tehran in a vulnerable position that it will have little choice but to make major concessions on matters of terrorism, ballistic missile development, regional interventionism and human rights. By rushing to status quo ante, the occasion should not be squandered. Tehran is in no position to make the calls. The U.S. and Europe collectively are.

Tom Ridge was America’s first Homeland Security Secretary and governor of Pennsylvania.