The real ‘Iran deal’ should be with the people of Iran

My 88-year-old, Iranian-born Muslim mother occasionally says a prayer for her Baha’i dentist, Dr. Youssef Abbasian, who was murdered in 1980 on orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic regime in Iran. The persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community continues today, denying them basic human rights such as practicing their faith freely or even getting an education. 

The Baha’is are not alone. In fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been practicing systemic discrimination, corruption, environmental degradation and abuse of its citizenry for 42 years. For example, although most governments work hard to protect their citizens from the coronavirus, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, successor to Khomeini, is denying the import of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the people of Iran. In short, for four decades dictators have put their knees on the collective peoples of Iran.

By doing so, the Islamic regime has suffocated the nation. In1978, the Iranian economy was almost 40 percent larger than the economy of South Korea. Today, South Korea’s economy is more than four times the size of Iran’s — and the distance is widening. As for neighboring Turkey, its economy was about 20 percent smaller than Iran’s in 1978, but today it is twice as large, despite having little of the rich oil and gas resources of Iran. 

Clearly, this is colossal mismanagement and squandered potential — a fact that many Iranians likely understand. The key question facing President Biden is not whether to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or limit Iran’s nefarious activities. It is a far more fundamental question: Do the people of Iran deserve to live in peace and be free? Do they deserve to join the community of nations? Ronald Reagan’s historic speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, urging former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” is within the grasp of President Biden, who should demand: “Mr. Khamenei, take your knee off the necks of the innocent people of Iran.” 

Supporting the Iranian people in their quest for democracy, dignity and greater human rights should be the defining feature of U.S. policy. The Islamic regime is essentially nasty and brutal, and by engaging with its leaders, Washington provides a veneer of legitimacy that, frankly, it does not deserve. A statement of support for the Iranian people is not only the right thing to do, but smart policy as well. Iran’s hardline establishment will continue to challenge the U.S and its allies in the Middle East, and will be unlikely to change its stripes anytime soon. 

The geopolitical implications of a post-Islamic Republic driven primarily by the people of Iran, not by outside forces, are truly tectonic — and possible. First, it would demonstrate the bankruptcy of political Islam. In fact, after 42 years of theocracy, Iran could lead by example and adopt a constitution that calls for a strict separation of mosque and state. Second, Iran’s massive natural gas reserves could be developed and exported into Europe, thus diversifying energy supplies and ensuring that Europe is less reliant on Russia.

Third, an Iran that is at peace with its neighbors could usher in a regional economic renaissance, whereby current spending on weapons could be redirected to much-needed investment in human capital. Fourth, an Iran whose ancient conqueror Cyrus the Great issued the first proclamation of human rights when he freed the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, could establish diplomatic relations with Israel — another tectonic shift that would make the landmark 2020 Abraham Accords seem small by comparison. In fact, a new Tehran-Tel Aviv Tech Corridor could lay the foundation for a regional “green revolution” in battery and solar technologies, as well as water purification.

Fifth, Washington’s other regional ally, Saudi Arabia, could accelerate its game-changing Vision 2030 plan that is designed to transform the kingdom in myriad ways. A regional environment free of incessant security challenges would mean an environment that requires less investment in arms and more in education, health care and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies shaping our future. Saudi Arabia is pursuing many such initiatives, and just imagine a region with two economic powerhouses — a democratic, prosperous Iran alongside Saudi Arabia, driving a regional economic renaissance.

Finally, instead of manipulating failed states, a free Iran could extend a hand of cooperation to Riyadh and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and work together to rebuild Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. President Obama often exhorted regional leaders to take care of their own neighborhoods, but that would be a much more manageable task with a government in Iran that is committed to sustainable development and peace.

The world is entering a bipolar state where on the one side stand authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia and on the other stands a flawed but still democratic and open United States. Welcoming Iran and its peoples would further isolate the authoritarian bloc and be a victory for American foreign policy. Maybe then not only my mother but the entire Iranian nation will include President Biden in their prayers. 

S. Rob Sobhani, Ph.D., is CEO of Caspian Group Holdings, which works with a range of companies and investors in the United States, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. A former professor at Georgetown University, he has written several books, including, “The Pragmatic Entente: Israeli-Iranian Relations, 1948-1988.”

Tags Ali Khamenei Barack Obama Iran Iran–Israel relations Joe Biden Politics of Iran Theocrats

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