US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent high-profile speech saw Washington draw a clear line in the sand – Iran will be able to return to the negotiating table with the United States if it meets 12 clear conditions. Pompeo’s list of demands laid bare some uncomfortable truths about Iran for the E3 of UK, France and Germany, who are desperately attempting to salvage the JCPOA nuclear deal with Tehran. As the Europeans continue to apparently bend over backwards to accommodate Iran, Pompeo made clear that regardless of whether Tehran stays faithful to a nuclear accord, it will remain a serial supporter of terror and an ongoing oppressor of its own people – Unless of course, the world demands better.
As a first step, such a change requires recognition of the reality of the Iranian regime – Something that Pompeo was all too keen to acknowledge. In his speech, he noted that “Here in the West, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif are often held apart from the regime’s unwise terrorist and malign behaviour. They are treated somehow differently.” Indeed, when Rouhani came to power in 2013, the likes of the New York Times hailed him as a “moderate.” Since then, Iran has given staunch support to Syria’s Assad, continued fomenting unrest elsewhere in the region and delivered ongoing threats of violence to Israel and others. Incredibly, in just the last year, Rouhani and Zarif have continued to be referred to as “moderates” and “reformers” by the BBC, Bloomberg, Guardian and elsewhere.
The reality, as Pompeo inconveniently noted, is that Rouhani and Zarif are responsible for the awful plight of ordinary Iranians. They are responsible for the fact that while unemployment in some parts of the country stands at 60%, military spending has increased by 128% during the last four years. They are responsible for the deep everyday financial struggles facing Iranians, while at the same time fuelling military campaigns in the region in which Iranian lives are needlessly sacrificed. They are responsible for the continuing repression of minorities and women, who are denied basic rights on a daily basis.
In other words, the supposed distinction between ‘moderates’ such as Rouhani and Zarif, and ‘hardliners’ such as Ayatollah Khamenei and Qasem Suleimani, is nothing more than a fiction. All are an integral part of the very same regime. But the fallacy of ‘moderates’ versus ‘hardliners’ serves the entire regime well. The delusion that there are deeply conflicting factions at the heart of Iranian government has persuaded some in the West that Tehran’s boat must not be rocked too hard, so as not to undermine the ambitions of the ‘moderates’ who they hope are poised to make genuine reforms. The thinking goes that too much pressure on Iran would be detrimental to ‘moderate’ forces such as Rouhani and Zarif. After all, say advocates of such a position, they hold the offices of President and Foreign Minister, Iran must be on the cusp of change.
Indeed, it is perhaps in this spirit that the E3 continues to accommodate Iran in discussions over the nuclear deal. They have yet to issue a response to Ayatollah Khamenei’s incredible demands for maintaining the JCPOA – They include protecting Iranian trade and giving Tehran a free hand to continue ballistic missile development and regional military activity. Perhaps President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister May believe that the JCPOA can keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions under wraps for long enough until ‘moderates’ such as Rouhani and Zarif institute change.
But that is simply not going to happen. The time has come for Europe to get real. It cannot have escaped the notice of the E3 that according to a United Nations’ report earlier this year, the government of Rouhani and Zarif was ranked by far the worst in the world when it comes to sentencing minors to death – a crime under international law. Indeed, last year, Iran executed at least 996 people – The highest per capita in the world – Many were journalists, bloggers and opposition figures. Under what circumstances can this grisly record be considered ‘reform’? Only last week, guess who was caught on camera, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Britain”? None other than the ‘moderate’ Zarif. This should raise loud alarm bells for the Europeans, especially when in a recent interview Zarif claimed “Iran will never seek nuclear weapons” – A pledge that simply cannot be trusted.
When Pompeo called out Rouhani and Zarif, his intended audience was the Iranian public. However, his straight talking should resonate just as much for European ears too. Macron, Merkel and May must now understand that there is no ‘moderate’ among Iran’s leadership. To think otherwise is to be fooled into a very dangerous future.