The statement, released through PR Newswire, urged the French government to make further improvements in diplomatic relations contingent upon a moratorium on Iranian executions, the release of political prisoners, and a general improvement in the nation’s human rights record. It also sought French support for democratic change in Iran, saying that a “free and democratic Iran is a prerequisite for stability” in the broader Middle East.
This volume of French opposition to the Rouhani trip is not surprising given that Paris is the headquarters for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the primary coalition of resistance to the theocratic government in Tehran. The NCRI and various human rights organizations have staged a week-long campaign of protests and events to call attention to deteriorating human rights conditions and urge the US to reverse the trend toward warming relations until such time as Iran has earned them with internal reforms.
The French lawmakers’ support for NCRI platforms was directly expressed in their statement. It cited the ten-point plan for the future of Iran as laid out by the organization’s president, Maryam Rajavi. It also called upon Paris to help secure protection for Camp Liberty, the residence of over 2,000 members of the NCRI constituent group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, who were the targets of a rocket attack that killed 54 people at the end of October.
But it is not only the NCRI and its direct supporters who are advocating for a more confrontational approach to the reception of Rouhani in Europe. Neither is it only French activists and politicians. Catholic World Report published an editorial on Thursday in which Vatican affairs specialist John Paul Shimek described a set of challenges facing Pope Francis when he meets with Rouhani during his time in Rome.
The article urged Francis to challenge Rouhani on anti-Semitism and religious freedom in general. Iranian officials have repeatedly called for the outright destruction of the state of Israel, and this rhetoric has not diminished under Rouhani’s tenure. Similarly, the persecution of minority religious groups has remained as strong as ever since Rouhani took office in 2013, and in some respects it may be getting worse.
Closely mirroring the sentiments in the French lawmakers’ letter, Shimek urged the papacy and the government of Rome to condition their policy toward Iran on the improvement of certain key areas of Iranian behavior. More specifically, Shimek declared that if Rouhani does not respond constructively to challenges during the trip, then Pope Francis should be willing to step back from the Catholic Church’s previous support for the July 14 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.
While Pope Francis may already have some modest challenges in mind for his discussion with Rouhani, there has been no indication from either France or Italy that the leadership of those countries intend on seriously challenging Rouhani over his country’s behavior during the trip, or to use it for anything other than trade negotiations aimed at preparing investments that will become viable when the nuclear deal is implemented some time next year.