Ignoring Iran’s Abuse

“I can assure you,” Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama’s lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, said the other day, “that if Iran takes truly horrific terrorist action, or truly horrific human rights action, that people will respond.” Uh huh.

Sherman’s comments, which she made during a May 25 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, came a day after Stephen Mull, Obama’s lead coordinator on implementing the deal, acknowledged at a congressional hearing that Washington hasn’t leveled any sanctions on Iran over its human rights violations since inking the deal last summer – even as Tehran cracks down harder on its own people.

Apparently, Iran’s decision to hang 13 prisoners on a single day in May, including one in the city square of Mashhad in the presence of children, doesn’t constitute “truly horrific human rights action.” Nor, apparently, does the 10-year sentence that Iran imposed a few days later on a human rights activist, about which the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human rights said it was “appalled.”

Nor, apparently, does the barbaric punishment that more than 30 students near Qazvin, northwest of Tehran, received recently after throwing a graduation party where boys and girls danced and girls removed their headscarves: 99 lashes each, which the authorities reportedly imposed less than a day later.

The administration’s refusal to sanction Iran over human rights has ignited bipartisan anger on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers reminded top Obama officials that they backed the nuclear deal based on administration assurances that it would impose sanctions over human rights and other issues as circumstances warranted. The clash over sanctions, which erupted at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, comes amid growing congressional interest in imposing new sanctions on Iran to replace those that will expire later this year, and administration concerns over such efforts.

Nearly a year after U.S.-led global negotiators finalized their nuclear deal with Iran, two realities have grown clearer: that hopes the pact would moderate Tehran’s hard-line regime remain a pipe dream, and that the administration will do nothing to anger Tehran and raise the chances that it will disavow the deal.

“The authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, arresting and imprisoning journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists and others who voiced dissent, on vague and overly broad charges,” Amnesty International wrote in its 2015-16 report on Iran:

“Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common and was committed with impunity; prison conditions were harsh. Unfair trials continued, in some cases resulting in death sentences. Women and members of ethnic and religious minorities faced pervasive discrimination in law and in practice. The authorities carried out cruel punishments, including blinding, amputation and floggings. Courts imposed death sentences for a range of crimes; many prisoners, including at least four juvenile offenders, were executed.”

Moreover, Tehran reinforced its hard-line ideology last week when its 88-member Assembly of Experts, which will choose the successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, selected Ahmad Jannati – the 89-year-old America-hater and critic of President Hassan Rouhani over his efforts to normalize relations with the West – as its new speaker.

Jannati also chairs the Guardian Council, which vets candidates for office and, for this past spring’s parliamentary elections, disqualified the vast majority of reformists. He called for Iran to execute protestors after Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and urged Iraqis to become suicide bombers against U.S. forces in 2003.

On the sanctions front, meanwhile, the administration is ignoring more than Tehran’s human rights abuses. This spring, Russia has been transferring its sophisticated, long-range S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran. That system, of which Tehran displayed parts in a parade in April, could prove a game changer – enabling Tehran to protect its airspace and control that of other nations while severely curtailing U.S. options for attacking Iran’s nuclear sites in case it races to develop a bomb.

The transfer violates the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act, which policymakers enacted in 1992, and which bans the provision of “goods or technology” that feed Iran’s efforts “to acquire destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.” So far, however, Obama hasn’t sanctioned Russia or any individual involved in the transfer, thereby igniting the same kind of bipartisan outrage as the administration’s refusal to act on human rights.

Thus, in the aftermath of last summer’s nuclear deal, an emboldened Tehran is expanding its human rights crackdown and military might while mocking U.S. hopes for a moderate turn. Meanwhile, a cowering Washington, fearing that Tehran will walk away from the deal, refuses to trigger the sanctions that circumstances demand.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of the new book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.


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