Negotiations between Iran and six world powers have been going on since January 2014 over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program. The end of March marks the deadline for a framework agreement that is to be turned into a detailed, final agreement by the end of June. Only days before his Nowruz message, Obama declared that the chances of a successful agreement stood at only about 50 percent.
An article at Bloomberg View recalled attention to Obama’s message on Monday and criticized it as an “empty message.” That is, the article points to the realities of the theocratic political system that controls all Iranian affairs, in which “the Iranian people have no say,” and uses these to suggest that President Obama assumes that social freedom in the Islamic Republic is or will be much greater than it truly is.
Consequently, “Obama forgot the human rights in the nuclear discussion,” according to Iranian dissident Amhed Batebi, who adds, “he is looking for a deal and it doesn’t matter if this deal is good or bad for the Iranian people.”
An editorial in the Sun Sentinel lodges a similar criticism, declaring that the issue of human rights deserves attention in the midst of the nuclear negotiations, and that the neglect of this issue is a betrayal of American values. The article calls attention to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and to the two recent UN reports on domestic human rights abuses, which have highlighted several worsening trends, including dramatic over-use of capital punishment, including the sentencing of juveniles to death.
On Monday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran called attention to the latest example in a trend of political arrests and prisoner abuse, pointing to the case of Mohsen Maleki, a 25 year old shopkeeper who was apparently beaten to death in police custody on March 17 after being summoned over his intention to hold a celebration of an ancient, lately banned Iranian fire festival.
This ban appears to be part of a broader crackdown on non-Muslim and other undesirable elements of Iranian society, which has arguably led also to a series of acid attacks on women deemed improperly veiled, efforts to empower the Basij militia to confront violators of religious law in public, increased efforts to separate men and women in public places, a ban on birth control, and the suppression of concert performances and music.
IranWire pointed to another example of this trend in an article on Monday. It indicates that on March 10 the Iranian Ministry of Education officially banned private educational institutions from teaching in languages other than Farsi, effectively putting an end to a style of education that had been advertised throughout Iran’s urban centers as “modern” and “international.”
The issue of a crackdown on modern and liberal elements of Iranian society is indicative of another political reality that President Obama has been accused of ignoring. This accusation was presented in an article in the Wall Street Journalon Monday, in which the author raises the possibility that Iran’s ill supreme leader may soon be replaced by an even more conservative and antagonistic cleric, and that this will derail whatever nuclear deal happens to be passed with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s approval.
“There is scant evidence that the Obama administration is taking this into account,” the article declares, pointing to additional evidence that such a transition of power may be in store following the surprise appointment of the ultra-hardline Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi to the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with selecting a supreme leader.
The possibility of an even more anti-American supreme leader coming to power in the coming months does not suggest that the existing one is not anti-American. The Towerpointed out on Monday that Obama’s message on the occasion of Norwuz was quickly rebuffed by Supreme Leader Khamenei, who called for “death to America” in a speech in Tehran just two days later.
The Wall Street Journal makes clear that there is no option that is really good for American interests, not even the former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was beaten by Yazdi in competition for the Assembly of Experts post, and who is described by some as a “pragmatic conservative” and possible source of change in the Islamic Republic.
Of course, the same labels and expectations were attached to current President Hassan Rouhani before he took office, as well. But Rouhani has not delivered on any promises of domestic reform, as the latest UN human rights reports indicate. By most accounts, his only lasting sign of moderation is his continuation of negotiations with the United States. But it remains to be seen whether a forthcoming agreement will truly forestall Iran’s nuclear progress.
Writing at Commentary Magazine, Michael Rubin expressed fairly familiar doubts on Monday. He criticizes the Obama administration for putting so much faith in Rouhani’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is at the head of the nuclear talks on the Iranian side.
Rubin points out that when Zarif was an ambassador to the UN in 2003 the US put similar trust in Zarif, securing promises that Iran would not interfere in the newly launched US war against Iraq. “Just days later,” Rubin writes, “Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced and almost immediately, more than 2,000 Revolutionary Guardsmen and militiamen infiltrated into Iraq,” indicating that either Zarif deliberately lied or he was powerless to restrain the will of the Revolutionary Guards and other hardliners.
Either way, there are good chances of the situation getting worse. Just as Supreme Leader Khamenei may be replaced with an even more hardline successor, there are developing rumors that suggest Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, may make a run at the presidency.
IranWire considered this possibility on Monday, noting as other have already done that Suleimani’s activities in Iraq are being given uncommon publicity. IranWire adds that Suleimani is already “often shaping Iran’s official stance on a range of matters,” and that his publicity is being utilized by a range of hardliners to demonstrate the view that Iran needs “a strong leader with solid devotion to the regime, the Supreme Leader and the project of pushing Shia Islam into the wider world.”
If the leaders that the regime seeks for the future are even more devoted to the hardline than the current leaders, many very crucial questions will soon emerge about how such a transition would affect the outcomes of current American policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.