The trans-Atlantic challenge posed by Tehran’s intransigent quest to acquire nuclear weapons was a focal point of discussion at last week’s G20 summit in Rome.
In advance of the gathering, several world leaders expressed optimism when Iran’s top nuclear negotiator announced the Islamic Republic’s intent to resume talks over the fate of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – popularly known as the Iran nuclear deal – before the end of November.
But the optimism was hardly warranted – no actual date has been set to resume negotiations, and the declaration followed months of vague assurances by Tehran.
U.S. officials have regrettably fallen victim to the clerical regime’s games of cat and mouse before.Tehran has long resorted to stonewalling tactics – cheat and retreat ploys – to buy time to advance the country’s nuclear weapons program.
So, what now are world leaders to make of the previously scrapped nuclear agreement, spearheaded by the Obama-Biden administration in coordination with the P5+1 and the European Union?
It neither curtailed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, nor the regime’s malign activities – from proxy violence to instability operations.
Describing it as one of the worst diplomatic deals in history, former President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement altogether in 2018. And though the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the accord, stark realities have given the administration pause.
Considered alongside other recent foreign policy blunders, the current occupant of the White House has little room for error.
At the “Free Iran Summit 2021” in Washington D.C. last week, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence – accompanied by a bipartisan coalition of American dignitaries, including former Senators Joseph Lieberman and Robert Torricelli, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and General James Conway, former Commandant of the Marine Corps – received rapturous applause when he declared that “We canceled the Iran nuclear deal, which had flooded the regime’s coffers with tens of billions of dollars with pallets of cash money that it used to repress its own people and support deadly terrorist attacks across the region.”
He was exactly right.
Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and a keynote speaker at the conference, correctly described the regime as “. . . using the nuclear talks to silence the international community” over matters like human rights. The NCRI has served for decades as the Iranian regime’s principal democratic opposition and parliament-in-exile by giving voice to the aspirations of the Iranian people.
Proponents of a return to the JCPOA contend that realpolitik dictates that world leaders must compromise with Tehran’s tyrants if only to keep the nuclear menace contained.
Such thinking is naïve.
Pence’s assertion that Iran should liberated from the clutches of the ayatollahs’ rule – not with American boots on the ground or by yielding to unprincipled compromise –but through support of Iranians standing up to tyrannical rule is a course of action I have long counseled.
Pence rejected false claims that the regime in Tehran has no credible substitute, noting: “One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold the world is that there’s no alternative to the status quo. But there is an alternative, a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative called the MEK.”
As the largest opposition unit within the NCRI’s coalition of resistance organizations, the movement’s ten-point plan demonstrates the group’s unwavering commitment to democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right of every Iranian to choose their elected leaders.
That the regime’s opposition is led by a woman, Rajavi – an individual that serves as a source of inspiration to those committed to gender equality in the broader Middle East region – is further reason to be excited about the Iranian people’s future once it replaces its backward thinking ruling class.
Addressing the prospect for regime change from within, Pence aptly observed: “The Iranian regime has never been weaker than it is today. Its economy is in shambles. The inflation rate has skyrocketed. Iranian currency has lost 90% of its value. Four out of five Iranians now live below the poverty line. Corruption is at an all-time high . . . And by all indications, the Iranian people are ready for change. And there’s every indication that the tyrannical regime in Iran knows their days are numbered.”
Pence referenced Ebrahim Raisi’s selection as president as one sure sign of the regime’s “growing desperation and vulnerability,” adding, “Thirty years ago, Raisi was in charge of the Ayatollah’s death squad, and he’s now the President of that country, a brutal mass murderer responsible in 1988 for the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners. His selection as President is clearly intended to quash internal dissent and intimidate the people of Iran into remaining silent.”
Standing with the Iranian people and their organized opposition to topple the Islamic Republic’s despotic regime – and prosecuting Raisi for crimes against humanity – is both a moral and strategic obligation.
By letting go of the Iran nuclear deal, world leaders can help the Iranian people cancel their oppressors and help to rid the Middle East of a regime that has undermined Western security interests for decades.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan