On Friday, Breitbart reported that General John Kelly, the top US military commander in Latin America, warned US legislators of growing Iranian influence in the region over the course of the past 15 years. Furthermore, General Kenneth Tovo, deputy commander of US operations in that area, highlighted the drug trafficking operations being undertaken by Hezbollah, earning the Iran-backed Lebanese paramilitary tens of millions of dollars.
The topic of Iranian influence in Latin America, particularly as channeled through Hezbollah, calls to mind the past terrorist activities attributed to the two parties in the past. It highlights the persistence of those issues, although this has already been highlighted in recent months by the ongoing legal battle in Argentina, where federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead under mysterious circumstances one day before he was scheduled to give evidence demonstrating not only that high ranking Iranian officials were responsible for the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association building, but also that the Argentinian government had agreed to help those officials to escape justice in exchange for favorable trade agreements.
On Friday, an article in The Daily Beast delved into this story once again, this time connecting it to other instances of Iranian misdeeds in foreign territory and the responses of local officials to them. Specifically, it highlighted the aggressive investigation and prosecution of the case of an assassination of three Kurdish leaders in Berlin by agents of the Iranian regime.
The Daily Beast told this story anew in order to illustrate the political will that can be involved in the pursuit of justice in such cases. It indicated that German prosecutor Bruno Jost had to at times act in defiance of the orders of high ranking German officials who were keen to avoid political or economic turmoil. It also pointed to the role of exiled Iranian dissidents in exposing Iranian culpability in the first place, as well as the fact that the successful prosecution of the case helped to foster friendlier relations and more open cooperation between those groups and their adoptive society.
But the author of this article expressed doubts about the prospective outcome of the Argentinian case. Yet she also left open the possibility of that case emulating the German one. “Whether the same spirit can cross over into another continent to move the course of the Argentines’ investigation [remains] to be seen,” the article points out. Together, the two stories highlight the overall uncertainty that exists regarding the political will to confront Iranian influence and interference when it shows itself.
One might argue that the same uncertainty was on display in the vote to renew the mandate of Ahmad Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, who has highlighted various human rights abuses in the country since assuming the post four years ago.
On Friday the UN Human Rights Council voted to renew that mandate, leading Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran to say, “The vote’s message is loud and clear: four years after the establishment of the mandate, Dr. Shaheed’s work is not done. The most basic rights and freedoms continue to be routinely violated in Iran.”
But the vote was far from unanimous, and the International Campaign points out that while some nations showed greater political will than in the past, as by changing from abstention to a vote of “yes” for the renewal of the mandate, others, including Brazil, moved in the opposite direction. No doubt it would be fair to say that each time this issue comes up for vote, the political will of the parties involved is uncertain to at least some degree.
Meanwhile, there are many other ways in which various members of the world community can demonstrate political will – or decline to do so – on point of Iran’s human rights record. Case in point, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported on Thursday that an Iranian journalist who had been embedded with negotiators in Lausanne, Switzerland is now seeking political asylum in the country, noting that he had been facing “clear interference” and had been instructed about what to report and what not to report.
The journalist, Amir Hossein Motaqi, expressed an optimistic view of the current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, in keeping with the fact that he campaigned for him in 2013. And yet this he is seeking political asylum today because in spite of this optimism he sees “close to zero” chance of actual change in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many other commentators are even less optimistic, regarding Rouhani as hardly different from his predecessors, as evidence by a lack of progress on any campaign promises other than negotiations with the US.
These disagreements about how to interpret the Rouhani presidency are also a contributing factor to the political will of nations and organizations that are in a position to exert pressure on the Iranian government on any number of issues. Indeed, this may partly explain the desire of the Obama administration to engage with that government as a potential partner instead of adopting the preferences of much of the US Congress for enhanced economic sanctions and other threats.
IranWire notes that this likely reflects the fact that Rouhani has made no progress on domestic issues like human rights and press freedoms, but has shown some willingness to engaged with the world diplomatically. By extension this may contribute to better media portrayal of Rouhani among Western audiences, effectively undermining political will that would exist for exerting international pressure on him if his domestic failing were better emphasized.
At the same time, the diplomatic shield that Rouhani has enjoyed in the past may be increasingly at risk as international focus strays from the nuclear negotiations to other topics of Iran’s relations with the world. The crisis in Yemen is high on this list of alternatives, and while it has not yet prompted the US to eschew cooperation with Iran in Iraq, it has led other parties that have been on the fence about their stance toward Iran to make clear statements against it.
On Friday, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Turkish President Recep Erdogan declared in no uncertain terms that “Iran is trying to dominate the region,” as he signaled his country’s willingness to provide assistance to a Saudi-led coalition that has begun bombing Iran’s affiliates in Yemen.