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Show muscle in nuclear negotiations with Iran

Source: Chicago Tribune – By Hugh Shelton

As the United States gears up for another round of nuclear negotiations with the Iranian regime, a rare opportunity has been provided to teach the Islamic Republic a lesson regarding its horrific human rights record. Tehran was obviously forced into a position to negotiate by both the crippling sanctions and the prospects of an uprising, similar to June 2009.

However, the West — particularly the United States — has thus far failed to “leverage” this to its advantage, and potentially lost the opportunity to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for its abysmal human rights record and its continued support of world-wide terrorism.

Despite the election of a so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian regime shows no signs of slowing its atrocious record of public executions and oppression of its own citizens. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of civilians are put to death inside the country, hung from cranes or stoned to death in front of large crowds. A number of the victims were under the age of 18.

The West and the U.S. have turned a blind eye to these abuses in hopes of a diplomatic agreement with this appalling regime.

The regime has also continued to ruthlessly crack down on political dissent, both inside Iran and beyond its borders. Amnesty International reports that thousands of journalists, students, political and rights activists are locked up in Iranian jails as prisoners of conscience.

The rampage has continued abroad as well, including in Iraq. Some 3,000 Iranian dissidents, who advocate a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Iran, have been subject to numerous attacks at the hands of Iraqi security forces and at the behest of the Islamic Republic. Despite being promised protection by the U.S., these asylum-seekers have been the target of multiple assaults. In September 2013, Iraqi Special Forces raided Camp Ashraf, and murdered execution-style 52 of the 101 residents who had stayed behind based on a quadripartite agreement between the U.S., the United Nations, Iraq and the residents. Many were shot in the head and face with their hands tied behind their backs, while others were shot to death at the camp’s medical clinic, where they were receiving treatment.

Despite repeated U.S. promises, the Obama administration has failed to protect these dissidents or even facilitate their rapid resettlement. This administration has been woefully dragging its feet in admitting some of these dissidents to the U.S. as political refugees and missing the opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world our leadership by setting the example. It appears that “hope springs eternal” and the delay is based on the concern that any such humanitarian gesture might anger Tehran.

As a matter of principle, the U.S. must not overlook Iran’s soul-crushing oppression inside Iran and its hunting of dissidents abroad in its zeal to conclude a nuclear agreement.

Going into the talks, the U.S. should announce that it will agree to admit as political refugees all or a substantial portion of the residents, who are extremely vulnerable at Camp Liberty and are at the mercy of Iraq’s increasingly pro-Iranian government. Many of these dissidents have relatives in the U.S and studied in Western universities. 

Facing an existential threat to their regime, due to the crumbling domestic economic situation, Iran launched a charm offensive in the person of its new president, Rouhani, and announced it would seek an international agreement on its nuclear program in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions.

The cynical view is that a nuclear deal is a “greater good” than calling Iran to account for its violent repression. This could be understandable because Iran with nuclear weapons represents a direct threat to millions in the region. But if Iran is repressive domestically, it would not abandon its nuclear weapons and its support for terrorism. By emphasizing that Iran needs to observe human rights and abandon terrorism, we will be increasing the chances of a success for a nuclear deal, because it would compel the regime to alter its behavior.

The U.S. should, therefore, make any relaxation of sanctions conditional on Iran’s behavior at home, demanding greater transparency into its criminal justice system and respect for its international treaty obligations, as well as ending its support for terrorism.

If Iran balks at the negotiations it will be doing so at its own peril. The sanctions would remain in place and the shaky regime would have no recourse for economic relief. The Iranian regime would be forced to defend its untenable position to its own people. Either way, the leverage that brought Iran to the table remains in place; the regime will need to gamble between economic isolation and the risk of being criticized and challenged internally by its own people. This is in the face of what has happened in Egypt and Syria. We are dealing from a position of strength. Let’s hope we don’t squander it.

Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001.


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