Rouhani the moderate? Time to think again

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

President Hassan Rouhani [Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr]

Iran’s leader, Hassan Rouhani, was hailed as a moderate with whom the West could repair and build bridges, but his regime’s constant human rights violations and breaches of UN resolutions should mean that he be held accountable for the destabilisation of the region, writes Tunne Kelam.

Tunne Kelam is an Estonian politician and Member of the European Parliament for the IRL, part of the European People’s Party.

In June, it will be three years since the election of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, the man the international media has continued to consider a moderate. True enough, in 2013 Rouhani presented himself as the man to put relations with the West back on track. But now, in 2016, it is high time to face reality. The belief in Rouhani’s moderation and openness has proved misguided, to put it gently. Continuing to watch the Iranian President’s actions and believing him to be moderate means hiding our heads in the sand, simply acquiescing to terror.

As Rouhani heads to Europe for his first visit as Iran’s president, it is mandatory to examine his track record. From the beginning his behaviour was in line with the notorious radicalism of the mullahs. Having returned from exile together with Ayatollah Khomeini, whom he supported, Rouhani held several defence posts. In his memoirs, he has boasted about forcibly imposing the hijab, or veil, on female staff working in defence-related institutions and purging those who resisted. In more recent times he was active in “mercilessly crushing” student protests. As the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, he bragged openly of his contribution to deceiving the West about Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps some Western politicians found it politically expedient to overlook this track record, or thought his pre-election promises outweighed it. Rouhani did run on a platform of extending personal freedoms and rights, even promising a civil rights charter. Today, it should be obvious that those promises were totally misleading.

Over 2,000 executions and counting during President Rouhani’s tenure greatly surpasses his predecessor Ahmadinejad’s gloomy record, making the Iranian regime the world’s biggest executioner per capita.  Dozens of those hanged were juvenile offenders.  It is not possible to claim that those executed were given fair trials according to international standards.

Disproportionately represented among the victims are ethnic minorities and political dissidents, primarily the activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian opposition movement. Those lucky enough to avoid executions have been tortured, or detained indefinitely in horrendous facilities, such as the notorious Evin Prison.

At this point, some in the international community might suggest that this is the price the West needs to pay for the return of Tehran into the system of mutual agreements and that overlooking the dramatically worsened human rights situation is needed to secure implementation of the nuclear deal. It is indicative that since October 2015 substantial forces in the European Parliament have blocked a debate and resolution on the alarming increase of Iranian executions. Such an argument is, at best, morally problematic, but would have some merit if the Iranian government’s foreign policy had really changed. Sadly, this is not the case.

October and November 2015 saw two blatant violations by Tehran of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and the parameters of the Iran nuclear deal. In those two months, Rouhani’s government conducted public testing of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. In December, the Iranian military publicly showcased their provocative brinkmanship by launching rockets within 1,500 yards of an American aircraft carrier. Furthermore, on 2 January, the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was raided.

On the background of these actions, Iran’s continuing export of terrorism and its strategy to become a military and political superpower in the Middle East shows no sign of abatement. Propping up the Assad regime in Syria, supporting murderous Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen and arming terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon continue to be cornerstones of Iran’s foreign policy.

Add to these actions the sectarian policies that acted as a catalyst for the growth of ISIS, and the simple conclusion is that there is barely a corner of the region that has been left free from Iranian meddling. Even in Bahrain, Kuwait and the Gaza Strip, Iran has sponsored terror cells.

The sobering reality is that Rouhani neither is a moderate, nor has a moderate agenda.

It is time to stop viewing Rouhani through rose tinted glasses and to see him for what he is: a mullah cut from the same cloth as the others. European leaders need to hold him accountable for the regime’s nefarious conduct at home and abroad.

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