Skepticism about the deal is strong, both among Democrats and the Republican Party, who rejected that agreement almost unanimously. Now, Iran’s anti-American rhetoric has intensified, and reports have accumulated that the Islamic Republic may refuse to comply with its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The initial expectations surrounding the deal were that the agreement would initiate an era of cooperation between Iran and the West, as well as that the diplomatic and cultural contact would promote moderation within the Iranian regime.
Sheehan writes, “Nearly a year and a half after these assurances, no such trend is apparent in Iran’s foreign or domestic policy. In fact, the sanctions relief afforded the Islamic Republic as a result of the agreement has only provided it with more resources to expand its destructive regional influence. Tehran helped to bring the Assad regime back from the brink of overthrow early in the Syrian Civil War. The same is true in Iraq, where the Iranian theocracy’s influence has deepened sectarian divisions throughout the country.” He adds, “In reality, Iran’s leaders responded to the implementation of the JCPOA by intensifying their anti-Western rhetoric and their provocative gestures towards US forces and interests. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has threatened to shoot down American aircraft; it has sent patrol boats speeding toward American warships in the Persian Gulf; and it has conducted several test-launches of ballistic missiles, in defiance of international resolutions against Iran’s work on weapons that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.”
Provocations have also intensified. Last October, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired missiles at the US Navy and launched strikes into the territory of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally.
“In the wake of the nuclear negotiations, Arab allies have also become increasingly anxious about the apparent withdrawal of American leadership from the region. And naturally, so has Israel – which is now threatened by a permanent Hezbollah presence in Syria, courtesy of Tehran,” writes Sheehan.
Thus, Mr. Trump’s promises to renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement are well recieved, but are insufficient. “It is important that the incoming president formulate an Iran policy that not only constrains the Islamic Republic’s nuclear policy but also strongly discourages its regional influence, militarism, and illicit behaviors more broadly,” says Sheehan.
The behaviors in question are not limited to foreign policy and the US government’s response shouldn’t be either. President Obama was criticized by human rights advocates because his administration became overly preoccupied with the nuclear deal, and neglected the issue of Iran’s human rights abuses at home.
The predictions of the JCPOA resulting in Iranian moderation have not materialized. Each and every presidential administration since the 1979 revolution reached out to Iranian leadership and the results have been the same. Offers of reconciliation were received as signs of weakness, and appeasement met with belligerence.
With this incoming US president there is an opportunity to reset Iran policy, which should start from the principle that the Iranian regime is in need of replacement. Unrest in the country indicates cracks in the regime’s grip on its citizenry. There is an opportunity to pursue a change from within by reaching out to the Iranian people and their organized resistance.
The main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) believes in a democratic, tolerant, and anti-fundamentalist Islam. It has extensive support within Iranian society, and for more than fifty years it has worked to establish democracy, human rights and gender equality in Iran. MEK is the pivotal force of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iran’s democratic forces, including national and religious minorities seeking a democratic, pluralistic and secular government in their homeland. It is led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.
The MEK have been targets of the regime’s suppression because they represent the best hope of a break with the existing state of affairs. An estimated 120,000 MEK activists have been executed to date. their network of support made it possible for the MEK to disclose the regime’s secret nuclear plans, as well as to reveal other details related to terrorist plots and networks within the regime.
In 2015 a policy initiative designed to correct Iranian policy led some forty bi-partisan senior former US officials, who served in four administrations, to embrace Mrs. Rajavi’s 10-point plan. The plan calls for political legitimacy through “universal suffrage, rights for all citizens, in particular women and minorities, the establishment of the rule of law, separation between church and state, protection of property rights, equal opportunity and environmental protections, and a non-nuclear Iran, free of weapons of mass destruction.”
Reversing his predecessor’s positions on the nuclear agreement might be a good move for the Trump administration, but it must be careful to not repeat the mistake of focusing too narrowly on that issue. Attention should also focus on Iran’s human rights record and on the struggle of the Iranian people for a democratic system of governance.