Insider news & Analysis in Iran

This month the US Senate passed a bill that imposes new sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The sanctions package targets the country’s ballistic missile program, which has continued to develop through several provocative tests in spite of the fact that the United Nations called upon Iran to avoid such work after the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The bill also extends terrorism-related sanctions to the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the hardline paramilitary that is responsible for close encounters with US Navy vessels, the growth of Shiite militant groups in Syria, and the massive crackdown on activists, journalists, and social progressives inside Iran itself.

The US Congress is just as aware of Iran’s violent and destabilizing activities as are the president and his foreign policy team. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has repeatedly told the press that Iran is at the center of virtually every Middle East crisis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has publicly cast doubt upon the narrative of internal moderation surrounding the May 19 reelection of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Just after the Iranian elections, Tillerson recommended that Rouhani bring an end to the Iranian ballistic missile program and extend rights of free speech and free association to all Iranians. “If Rouhani wanted to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do.”

But there is little sign of Rouhani moving in the direction of Tillerson’s recommendations or any of his own campaign promises. Many of the trends that characterized his first term have already renewed themselves before the start of his second, including a world-leading rate of executions and a massive crackdown on protestors, independent journalists, and anyone who appears to be promoting Western lifestyles or democratic ideologies.

Additionally, the Rouhani personally rebuffed calls for restraint in the country’s ballistic missile work. “The Iranian nation has chosen to be powerful,” he said in May, dismissing Western concerns and declaring that the international community has no say in the future of such Iranian weapons, which have the potential to carry a nuclear warhead.

According to international reporting in the wake of the election, even many of those who voted for Rouhani did so only to proclaim him the lesser of two evils, without actually expecting any serious reform to result.

Meanwhile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its main constituent group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) have disseminated images of empty polling places and accounts of vote rigging, to support the conclusion that participation in the election was nowhere near the 70 percent of eligible voters claimed by the Iranian regime. These pro-democratic dissidents organized a boycott of the election in order to call attention to the absence of any actual reformist voices, and thus the need for regime change.

The NCRI will reiterate this message on a much larger scale on July 1 when it holds its annual Iran Freedom rally, an event that is expected to attract something like 100,000 Iranian dissidents from around the world, as well as hundreds of dignitaries from the political and academic circles of the US and Europe.

Those Western supporters of the Iranian Resistance are already aware of the important role that will be served by the new US sanctions package once it goes into effect. They are presumably also aware of how much more important that role can be if it is backed up by additional action aimed at isolating the Revolutionary Guards and retracting their influence from the broader Middle East.

It is not often stated outright, but the ultimate goal of broad-based sanctions is regime change. And if this is not the declared US policy in the case of Iran, it should be. Rouhani’s reelection leaves no doubt about the current regime’s unwillingness and inability to change, while the NCRI rally calls attention to the fact that there is already deep antipathy for that regime among the Iranian people, as well as an established framework for a new, democratic nation based on the 10-point plan of NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

The Senate bill passed by a vote of 98-2. Every senator who voted in favor of the new sanctions package should be commended. But if they also recognize the inherent danger posed by the Iranian regime, they should be willing to stand up in support of the Iranian Resistance, and to declare that a terrorist regime with cavalier disregard for international security is a regime that is not long for the world.

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