Nothing has changed in Iran, even after a year of negotiations with Rouhani

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

P5+1 Ministers and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Vienna, Austria, November 24, 2014. [Flickr/Yagasi]

Despite the belief that the election of President Rouhani in 2013 would herald some sort of sea change in Iran, the situation is worse than ever, writes Ryszard Czarnecki.

Ryszard Czarnecki is Vice President of European Parliament and an MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group.

From the very beginning, nuclear negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 group of nations have been based on a false premise. The Joint Plan of Action was signed about five months after President Hassan Rouhani took office in Iran amidst promises that he would improve the domestic situation in his country while reaching out the West to alleviate the international sanctions that had hobbled the Iranian economy.

Many in Europe, and presumably many in Iran, wanted very badly to believe that Rouhani would herald some sort of sea change in the Islamic Republic’s tone toward the Western world and its treatment of its own people. Many wanted to believe it so badly that they have continued to do so despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Rouhani has boasted of defiance of the West when speaking to his fellow officials and to the Iranian people. At a rally commemorating the 36th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution this month, Rouhani insisted that it was not the West that had brought Iran to the negotiating table, but Iran that had bent the United States to its will. He also bragged “We never stopped our nuclear program but (during my government) we accelerated the program more than before.”

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insists that there can be no negotiation over basic aspects of the nuclear issue such as enrichment capacity. Meanwhile, the para military Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is routinely declaring that its military capabilities are spectacularly advanced, that it is ready for war with the West, that Israel should tremble before Iran’s might.

But perhaps it is only that President Rouhani could not stand up to the supreme leader on the issue of relations with the West and still hopes to make the promised domestic changes. Well, what of those changes? Surely the true measure of Rouhani’s commitment to moderation is in the way the government now treats its own people.

If anti-Western rhetoric under the Rouhani administration has stoked suspicions that the regime is averse to cooperation with the values and interests of Western democracies, the 18 month legacy of that administration on human rights should leave no doubt. The situation is far worse than before.

The rate of executions, already the highest per capita of any nation in the world, has only continued to climb under Rouhani’s tenure, with several dozen executions already carried out this month. Many of these are political prisoners.

Meanwhile, Iran’s control over information continues unabated and is also worsening amidst mass confiscation of satellite dishes, reflexive banning of newspapers for trivial offenses to the regime’s extremist sensibilities, and tighter control and more sophisticated monitoring of the internet, social media, and even SMS messages. And information that is suppressed is replaced by propaganda from the numerous state-run and state-affiliated networks and publications.

But from the perspective of the West, perhaps the most frightening thing about Iran’s intimidation tactics and dissemination of propaganda is that they appear to be having an effect on Western policymakers, perhaps even more than upon Iran’s own people.

How else can we explain the Obama administration’s decision to keep extending sanctions relief to Iran while conceding to as much as 80 percent of the regime’s demands, as by letting it keep 6,500 or more of its 10,000 enrichment centrifuges?

How else can we explain past efforts by some Western governments to or marginalize or demonize the main opposition PMOI, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) which has been the target of so much Iranian propaganda precisely because it advocates for the free, secular, and democratic future of Iran that all peace-loving nations must envision?

Indeed, how else can we explain the very fact that despite more than 1200 executions carried out by Hassan Rouhani, some in the Europe still claim he is a political moderate, that Iran is a rational and trustworthy negotiating power, that Iran’s prior deceptions regarding its nuclear program are not indicative of things to come?

If we don’t let ourselves be duped by Iranian propaganda, then we will see conditions both inside and outside that country as they truly are. And those conditions truly are worse than ever, characterized by murder and execution, by repression of dissent, by free antagonism of the West.

The only viable option for Europe is therefore to support the democratic resistance that struggles to replace the theocratic regime with a genuinely pluralistic, free and democratic Iran.

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