Trump Nominees Signal Policy Changes for Iran

 President-elect Trump’s choices for CIA director and Secretaries of State and Defense have gotten the most attention, with questions surrounding the new administration’s prospective foreign policy.

A major question of foreign policy will be how the new administration will handle its relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the wake of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and associated initiatives.

Trump’s contempt for that agreement is well known, and it is shared by most of the congressional Republicans with whom he will be working, as well as by a number of Democrats.  All of Trump’s candidates  have made their skepticism of the nuclear deal clear.

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State-designate, said he would call for a thorough review of the agreement, leaving open the possibility of its cancellation, renegotiation, or even its replacement.

But the “Iran problem” also extends to the persistent extraterritorial activity of the Iranian regime, as well as its conduct at home. It would be a mistake see it as limited to weaknesses in the JCPOA. In his confirmation hearings for his appointment as secretary of defense, Retired General James Mattis was unequivocal in his description of Iran as the biggest contributor to instability in the region.  He said that American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan should be focused on countering Iran’s “malign influence,” which is growing.

 

In a bipartisan letter to President-elect Trump last week, 23 prominent former U.S. officials underscored, “It is now clear that Iran’s leaders have shown no interest in reciprocating the U.S. overture beyond the terms of the JCPOA which gained them significant rewards.” They added, “Through their extremely high rate of executions at home, and destructive sectarian warfare in support of the Assad regime in Syria and proxy Shiite militias in Iraq, Iran’s rulers have directly targeted U.S. strategic interests, policies and principles, and those of our allies and friends in the Middle East.” 

These same hostile and destabilizing activities warrants new economic sanctions in response. In the letter, former U.S. officials emphasized, it is time for the “U.S. Government to establish a dialogue with Iran’s exiled resistance, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).”

Led by an anti-fundamentalist Muslim woman, Maryam Rajavi, the NCRI, and at its core the principal Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), have articulated a 10-point plan describing the movement’s aspirations for Iran.

For over three decades, the movement has been Tehran’s number one enemy, and the prime target of the regime. It is approximated that 120,000 MEK activists have been executed by the ayatollahs.

Publicly acknowledged by President George W. Bush, it was the Iranian Resistance, relying on its vast network of operatives at home, that discovered and revealed Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program in 2002. 

The movement has long been ignored by American policymakers, out of concern for Tehran’s reaction. None the less, its platforms offer something that the current regime never could: a firm commitment to a non-nuclear future for Iran, along with an end to the the political repression that make Iran abusers of human rights and supporters of terrorism.

Weaknesses at home are becoming more evident to the Iranian regime. The incoming administration has the opportunity to chart a new course on Iran.  The Trump administration should adopt a policy that opposes Tehran’s repression, while supporting the Iranian people’s aspirations to establish a democratic and secular rule.

 

An article by Rowan Scarborough in The Washington Times, on Tuesday, January 17, also talks about the letter, in which the group of Republicans, Democrats and retired military officers has asked President-elect Donald Trump to abandon President’s Obama’s soft approach to Iran’s “brutal repression” and take a stand that puts the U.S. “on the right side of history.”

The letter was  hand-delivered, and the 23 signatories express hope that Mr. Trump will begin an alliance with Iran’s main resistance group, which would be a shift that would send shock waves through of the Islamic republic.  A boost to Iranian dissidents is that former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani, one of the closest outside advisers to Mr. Trump, signed the letter.

In the letter, former officials say the U.S. lost all leverage with Iran when financial and political concessions were delivered in exchange for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which blocks Tehran’s ability to build nuclear weapons for 10 years. However, the anticipated moderation by Iran’s hard-line regime has not materialized. Since so-called reformer Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, Tehran has executed 3,000 people, including women and juveniles.  

“It is now clear that Iran’s leaders have shown no interest in reciprocating the U.S. overture beyond the terms of the JCPOA which gained them significant rewards,” the letter says. “Through their extremely high rate of executions at home, and destructive sectarian warfare in support of the [Bashar] Assad regime in Syria and proxy Shiite militias in Iraq, Iran’s rulers have directly targeted U.S. strategic interests, policies and principles, and those of our allies and friends in the Middle East.”