For human rights In Iran, take the time to get the nuclear deal done

With negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program being extended until July 2015, there should be no question that taking the time required to pursue this potentially monumental agreement is the smart thing to do.  If an agreement is achieved, it will greatly enhance the security of the United States and reverse a potentially disastrous nuclear weapons race in the Middle East. 

In addition, there is another possible positive consequence of a negotiated settlement that has not received much if any attention: the chance for progress on the terrible state of human rights inside Iran.

{mosads}The Iranian people are without basic political and social rights.  Journalists and opponents of the regime are regularly tortured, jailed or put under house arrest. Various credible international organizations, like Reporters Without Borders, have criticized the Iranian government for the lack of assembly, speech and other basic freedoms in the country. Just this week, a United Nations panel strongly condemned the Islamic Republic for its  “alarming high frequency and increase in the death penalty and persecution of women and minorities.”

So what does all this have to do with the nuclear negotiations? Two points. 

First, not only will settling the nuclear dispute allow the international community to refocus its attention on Iranian human rights, but a nuclear resolution also means that the crippling sanctions on Iran will be lifted. Ordinary Iranians will start to experience more economic freedom, allowing them to develop a stronger civil society to push for domestic reforms. Remember, the Iranian population is young, largely pro-Western and yearns for more social and economic freedoms. That is why Iranians elected Hassan Rouhani as president last year, who ran on a platform of rebuilding the economy and enacting reforms. A recent statement from Iranian activists, intellectuals, opposition members and even victims of the Iranian regime’s oppression called for the resolution of the nuclear file so it could help the push for democracy in Iran. They say, “We want maximum flexibility from both sides for the talks to succeed.” 

Second, and most importantly, is the certainty that without a deal, the human rights crisis in Iran will worsen. As Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, has said, “the perpetuation of tensions over the nuclear file is likely to result in continued gross human rights violations.” But why?

Rouhani’s domestic political strength will weaken if he can’t get a deal and end the harsh umbrella sanctions, something he promised the Iranian electorate he would achieve. Such a scenario will provide an opportunity for hardliners, who are opposed to a nuclear deal and greater freedoms, to isolate Rouhani and the reformers and to crack down on their attempts to broaden social and political rights. As the New York Times has reported, “Failure to complete a deal and a breakdown in the talks… will almost surely turn Mr. Rouhani, the main promoter of détente, into a lame duck president, ending any chance of his executing his agenda of more personal freedoms and better relations with the rest of the world.”

In other words, if either the talks fail or the US Congress torpedoes an agreement that our negotiators and our allies reach, the single greatest beneficiaries will be the hardliners in Iran. The fact of the matter is, that the more you know about the politics of Iran, the clearer it becomes that Senators like Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), who are leading efforts to oppose the negotiations, are doing the bidding of those who oppose freedom in Iran.

The House of Representatives voted unanimously last week on a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran. But if Congress wants to see human rights conditions in Iran improve, it should fully support the nuclear negotiations toward a swift conclusion. Now is the time to stay focused on getting this deal done, not derailing it with politics. The outcome is too important both for US security and for strengthening Iran’s civil society on its path to full democracy.

Farahat was a co-star in the Academy Award winning film Argo and is active promoting human rights in Iran.

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