On Monday, July 18, the United Nations released a report assessing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement concluded by Iran and six world powers last July. While the report found that Iran has been upholding its most basic requirements under the deal – limiting its number of operational enrichment centrifuges and the size of its stockpile of low enriched uranium – the report also noted that the Iranian regime had failed to meet the higher standards of compliance. Through its repeated test-firings of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, its provision of weapons to foreign conflict zones, and its general antagonism toward Western powers and the world community, the Islamic Republic has clearly been violating the “spirit” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
This is very much in keeping with what we already understand about the Iranian regime. Full-fledged compliance with international accords was always a pipe-dream, pursued only by the most naïve actors such as the Obama administration, which sold the deal to lawmakers and the American public in part by claiming that it was made possible by the 2013 election of “moderate” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The critical report by the UN is only the latest in a long series of marks against the Rouhani administration’s supposedly moderate credentials. In order to believe in that moderation in the first place, Western policy-makers had to ignore Rouhani’s long history in the security apparatus of Iran’s clerical regime, including his former role as lead nuclear negotiator, about which he boasted of raising Tehran's nuclear profile while keeping international scrutiny at bay. And in order to keep the moderation narrative alive to the current date, those same policy-makers have had to ignore various statistical indicators and warnings from the Iranian opposition.
These have included accounts of a rising tide of executions and politically motivated arrests, as well as undiminished sponsorship of terrorism and escalating Tehran's involvement in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. All of the hallmarks of hard-line domestic and foreign policy were highlighted on one day by the main Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, presided by Maryam Rajavi, at its annual international gathering in Paris on July 9.
And what have the White House and its closest allies gotten in exchange for kowtowing to Tehran? They have been blamed for all Iran’s problems and they have been used as scapegoats to explain away the well-reasoned conclusion by the UN that Tehran’s activities are still at odds with the interests of most democratic nations. The Iranian Foreign Ministry quickly responded to Monday’s UN report by declaring that it was politically biased and was the result of “open pressure” from the U.S. The very country whose policy reversals under the Obama administration made Iran’s large-scale sanctions relief possible is still being maligned by the Islamic Republic to distract from the fact that Iran’s theocratic authorities refuse to compromise on their most dangerous ambitions.
It seems as though that is the very opposite of what Western powers wanted to get out of this deal. Whereas they had hoped to provide concessions in order to promote the evolution of a kinder, gentler and friendlier Islamic Republic, what they got instead was a regime that is taking advantage of a financial windfall to go on doing whatever it wants, while also crying foul any time anyone dares to criticize and oppose it.
The UN report is by no means alone in generating this kind of response. Soon after the NCRI gathering in Paris, the Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador to answer for the rally. Earlier this year in March, the Rouhani administration had plainly made that request of the Austrian government with regard to a planned NCRI protest, and when Vienna refused, Rouhani cancelled his anticipated visit.
Let us hope that French officials have the same common resolve in the months and years to come as the Austrians had in March. They should need no further incentive for rebuffing Tehran’s demands than the simple fact that it is obviously the right thing to do for any Western democratic nation. But, if it helps policy-makers of any nation to resist temptation, it would do well for them to recognize that giving concessions to the Islamic Republic is a bad bet that does not pay off.
The U.S. gave up important leverage in hope of improved relations, but it remained the main object of Tehran’s wrath. The UN closed the file on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and Iran has continued to accuse it of political bias. And the six major powers involved in the JCPOA, having given in to even last-minute demands by the Islamic Republic, received nothing in return but the most cursory and minimal compliance with the deal. As the Associated Press reported last week, secret side-agreements already outline the expanded nuclear activities that Iran plans to pursue at its earliest possible opportunity.
The more concessions are given to the Iranian regime, the more it takes advantage of them. Its behavior does not change and its negotiating partners invariably are left wondering what they ever hoped to achieve in the first place. In light of the UN having reminded us all of this fact, we cannot continue repeating the same mistakes. We must return to policies that recognize Tehran regime as what it is and put pressure on it to comply with international demands and heed international concerns, instead of returning the regime’s duplicitous smile and keeping our fingers crossed for the best.
Bob Blackman is a Conservative member of the UK House of Commons representing the Harrow East constituency