by Bob Blackman MP
The foreign policy establishment in the UK and throughout the world should be ready for collective action through punitive sanctions and through support for the Iranian dissidents who want to establish a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran.
The Iranian regime has been a serious and growing menace to international peace and tranquillity for quite some time; and it remains to be one. A rift between the US and Europe regarding the fate of the nuclear agreement (the JCPOA) should not prevent them adopting a firm and robust policy vis-à-vis Iran.
With or without the JCPOA there is much to be done on concerning policy toward Iran. The UK should be at the front of Western policy and look beyond Iran’s various non-nuclear activities.
One area is the fate of UK citizens of Iranian origin who are unjustly incarcerated in Iran. It was only a few months ago that Boris Johnson visited Tehran to petition for the release of the Iranian-British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her three-year-old daughter Gabriella. While this child remains separated from both of her parents and the condition of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe continues to deteriorate, it should be apparent to the Foreign Secretary that disagreements over the JCPOA cannot be allowed to stand in the way of collective action aimed at compelling the Iranian regime to change its behaviour and negotiate more openly with the world community.
Since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations with Iran dozens of dual nationals have been taken prisoner on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations of spying or 'infiltration'.
Iran’s well-publicized human rights record makes it clear what may lie in store for these people; long periods of unlawful detention with the possibility of torture during interrogation, grossly unfair trials leading to extreme sentences, and arbitrary pressure tactics both before and after sentencing, such as the denial of essential medical treatment.
Of course, cases like this, which involve persons with meaningful links to the West, are given more international attention than purely domestic cases but they provide a glimpse into the dangers the Iranian public faces every day.
These dangers are unaffected by Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the extent of its ballistic missile development. They are perennial threats that are built into the very fabric of the clerical regime and the international community has a responsibility to root out those threats regardless of the future prospects for the Iran nuclear deal.
In December and January popular mass protests broke out in every major city and town in Iran and demonstrations have continued in various localities up to the present day. This uprising and the subsequent government crackdown simultaneously raised the stakes for putting pressure on the Iranian government and improved the prospects of exerting pressure in the most effective ways.
In a speech to the Iranian community in the United States, Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said participants in that uprising “are calling on the international community, in particular the West, to support their uprising for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.”
She went on to urge Western powers and international bodies to compel the regime to release those who have been arrested for protesting peacefully.
According to the NCRI, more than 8,000 such arrests had been made by mid-January. Considering the Iranian judiciary issued the specific threat that death sentences would be awaiting some of those detainees, it is distinctly possible that the stage is being set for mass executions. One has to keep in mind that in 1988, the regime killed an estimated 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were members and supporters of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the leading constituent of the broader opposition coalition, the NCRI.
Despite this danger, and despite the fact, the nationwide uprising was largely suppressed, ongoing protests and other activism demonstrate the regime in Tehran is perhaps more vulnerable than ever before. That vulnerability can now be utilised by the UK and all other freedom-loving nations of the world, in order to resolve issues relating not only to Iran’s nuclear programme but also to a range of its other malign activities, including its persecution of dual nationals and its abuse of its own people.
This, however, requires that neither the UK nor its allies remain hung up on the JCPOA, much less that they spurn the assistance of President Trump’s White House in exerting maximal pressure on the Islamic Republic. It also requires they fully understand the extent of Iran’s vulnerability, a topic that will be explored in detail on June 30 at the major Iran Freedom rally outside Paris.
Many British Members of Parliament already understand the situation fully, as evidenced by their planned attendance of the event, which generally attracts upwards of 100,000 people. The rest of the foreign policy establishment and governments, both in the UK and throughout the world, would be well advised to pay attention to this gathering and its message in support of a free and democratic Iran.
In the meantime, they should already recognise that more can be achieved from Iran policy than an extremely limited agreement on Tehran’s nuclear activity; and so they should be ready for collective action through punitive sanctions and through support for the Iranian dissidents who want to establish a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran.
Bob Blackman is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow East. This article first appeared in PoliticsHome