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Trump should hit Iran on human rights at the UN

Trump should hit Iran on human rights at the UN
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Last week, the United Nations General Assembly opened its annual session, and on Wednesday, President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Ivanka Trump doubles down on vaccine push with post celebrating second shot Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE will chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Unsurprisingly, the notoriously impulsive president keeps changing his mind about whether to focus on more general topics or on Iran’s destabilizing behavior. But Trump is missing an opportunity to use the gathering to strike at Tehran’s Achilles heel — its violations of the Iranian people’s human rights.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyDNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Will DeSantis, Rubio and Scott torch each other to vault from Florida to the White House? Pence urges 'positive' agenda to counter Biden in first speech since leaving office MORE initially stated that the parlay’s topic would be Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its ballistic missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and arms sales to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Last week, however, the administration scuttled that plan and instead changed the session’s topic to nonproliferation, constitutionalism, and sovereignty, fearing that focusing on Iran would highlight tensions between the U.S. and the Europeans on the issue. Then the president flip-flopped last Friday, tweeting that he will chair a “Security Council meeting on Iran” after all.

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Never, however, did the administration mention the Iranian regime’s domestic repression, even as Tehran continues to brutalize ordinary Iranians amid growing popular discontent with the country’s faltering economy and the regime’s rampant corruption, foreign adventurism, and authoritarian rule.

There’s never been a better time to use America’s bully pulpit at the U.N. to highlight Tehran’s human rights abuses and call on the world to act.  Iranians are repeatedly protesting against the regime—in late December and early January, in February, in May, in June, in August. Iranian women are protesting mandatory head-covering through the “White Wednesdays” campaign. The regime has brutally cracked down, killing dozens of demonstrators and arresting thousands. And yet the demonstrations continue. And as Asef Bayat noted in the Atlantic, though the regime suppresses protests, “the underlying grievances remain.”

Tehran’s other human rights violations—including its war on workers, its leading the world in executions per capita (including political prisoners and child offenders), and its persecution of LGBT Iranians also continue full-speed.  The regime also continues to hold hostage at least three dual nationals (and several other Americans and Europeans), denying them consular access.

Though our European allies disagree vehemently with us on the nuclear deal, they cannot defend their relative inaction in tackling Iran’s oppression of its own people. As Tzvi Kahn has noted, the European Union has not sanctioned a single new Iranian person or apparatus since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed in 2015 — not even after protest after protest this year. Brussels’ position is indefensible, and it’s high time they were held accountable for it.

This is President Trump’s chance to lead and build consensus on Iran and put the regime in a corner. He can announce a new round of sanctions designations and call on the Europeans, Russia, and China to follow suit. The former will feel pressured to comply, and the latter will be named and shamed for their inaction — and at an opportune time, as the U.S. seeks to strengthen its trade position vis-à-vis Beijing and push back against Russian interference in American elections.

It’s not too late for the president to change course again — to demonstrate leadership, avoid friction with our allies, and put Iran and its enablers on the defensive. When Trump opens the Security Council’s meeting on Wednesday, he should express American solidarity with the Iranian people and focus on defending their human rights.

Alan Goldsmith covers policy and Washington outreach for United Against Nuclear Iran and the Counter Extremism Project. He formerly served as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @AlanGoldsmith.