The Biden administration has rightly stated that the promotion of human rights must be a central component of its foreign policy. It is now imperative to put these words into practice with Iran.
After more than a year of negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the talks have failed. U.S. and European concessions have been met with escalating Iranian demands including that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorists. The administration, recognizing that the IRGC has a long history of terrorism including the death of Americans, has refused this concession.
With the negotiations at an impasse, Iran has moved ever closer to building a nuclear weapon while continuing its regional aggression against our friends and allies. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has documented twenty years of Iranian misrepresentation and obfuscation with regard to its nuclear program. It continues to refuse to provide answers to questions about enriched uranium found in at least three undeclared nuclear sites. Tehran’s response to a decision to censure Tehran for its intransigence has been more defiance and the removal of additional surveillance cameras. Through such deceptions, Iran has today become a virtual nuclear weapons state.
Whatever the previous merits of the JCPOA, the treaty is a debate that isn’t worth entertaining. Our national security obliges us to deal with the reality that exists. As Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated: “I think we must prepare for the increasingly obvious reality we face in 2022, a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not around the corner, and it is not in the U.S. strategic interest.” And he advised: “We need to tackle what comes next.” Taking his advice will lead to a more effective policy on Iran dealing with the full range of threats posed by the regime.
Advancing the cause of human rights is the most effective means of achieving a secular democratic government in Tehran. The Iranian people are ready for fundamental change. The latest uprising, erupting on the streets of Iran every day, features slogans like “death to the dictator” and “down with [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and [President Ebrahim] Raisi.” For over forty years, the religious dictatorship has brutally repressed the Iranian people’s desire for freedom and democracy. The current president, Raisi, selected by the supreme leader in a sham election, was a member of the death commission in 1988. He is directly responsible for implementing Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa to kill all political prisoners who remained “steadfast” in their support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). In a matter of months, over 30,000 were executed. During the November 2019 uprising in Iran, where 1,500 were killed by the security forces, Raisi was the head of the judiciary, responsible for the torture and executions of detainees.
The key to promoting human rights is to provide support to the organized opposition. The MEK, despite having been brutally suppressed for over four decades, remains a driving force behind the current unrest. In recent years, groups of affiliated activists, known as Resistance Units, have continually expanded their tactics for spreading the message for regime change from within, for and by the Iranian people. The center of the opposition is Ashraf 3, the MEK headquarters in Albania. In May, during his first visit to Ashraf 3, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “A serious missing factor in U.S. policy towards Iran has been the lack of political support for the organized opposition… Now, to correct the Iran policy, no matter who is in the White House, it is a necessity for the U.S. administration to reach out to the Iranian Resistance and take advantage of its tremendous capabilities. Ashraf 3 is one such place to focus on.”
This past Thursday, June 23, also on a visit to MEK headquarters, former Vice President Mike Pence met with Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the democratic coalition of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and addressed the 3,000 MEK members. “The regime in Tehran wants to trick the world into believing that the Iranian protesters want to return to the dictatorship of the Shah as well. But I want to assure you, we're not confused by their lies,” he said. Referring to the Iranian opposition led by Rajavi and her ten-point plan for the future of Iran, Pence said “One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold the world is that there's no alternative to the status quo. But there is an alternative. A well organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified, and popularly supported alternative.”
Today there is a growing number of lawmakers, from both the Republican and Democratic parties, demanding a review of the Iran policy based not on partisanship but on vital American interests.
As the leader of the free world, the United States has an obligation to stay true to its founding principles, side with the Iranian people in their desire for democracy, and support the right of the Iranian people to replace a regime that has denied them their most fundamental rights. This is the only true means of countering the greater Iran threat. We must abandon the false hope that the regime will alter its behavior. It is time to side with the Iranian people.
Robert Torricelli is a former US Senator (D-NJ) and Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Robert Joseph is the former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.