July marks the second anniversary of the nuclear agreement between the Iranian regime and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Former U.S. President Barack Obama envisioned the agreement — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — as a potential starting point for a broader rapprochement between the ruling theocracy and the West.
Obama had insisted that with Hassan Rouhani as the regime’s “moderate” president, Tehran would begin to exhibit a more positive behavior. Now, in his second term in office, the promise of moderation under Rouhani’s leadership has proven empty. That is because Rouhani neither wants nor is capable of reform. After all, it is not the president but the supreme leader who defines the contours of the regime’s short-term and long-term strategic direction.
That the possibility of moderation in the Iranian theocracy is a total delusion was reflected in Secretary of Defense James Mattis's recent interview with Washington state’s Mercer Island High School newspaper.
Secretary Mattis dismissed the May 19 Iranian presidential election as “not really an election” and highlighted the stark differences between the ideology of the Iranian regime and the character of the Iranian people.
Still more significant, Mattis endorsed the message that had been presented to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. At a hearing, Tillerson suggested that American foreign policy should be focused first upon confronting the regime over its regional destabilization and then ultimately upon facilitating transition to a democratic system of government, driven by existing voices of opposition. The Defense secretary, too, reiterated that the Iranian regime is the most destabilizing force in the entire region.
After 38 years of the clerical rule in Iran, the world is beginning to understand that stability in the Middle East requires the removal of the Iranian regime, known for being the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism and the only full-fledged theocracy in the modern world.
While the U.S. administration has imposed new sanctions on individuals and organizations with ties to the Iranian ballistic missile program, it is now mulling the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.
By highlighting elections in Iran as a sham and also the fundamental divide between the regime and the Iranian people, Secretary Mattis did undercut much of the previous administration’s rationale for futile rapprochement with the Iranian regime.
Since the regime is both unwilling and incapable of reforming itself, democratic change at the hands of the Iranian people and their organized opposition should be recognized as the only viable option to deal with Tehran’s multi-faceted nefarious conduct. Until this situation changes, nothing else about Iran will change, not even its commitment to developing a nuclear weapon as part of its bid for regional hegemony and global influence.
This is the message that was delivered to a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of Iranians at the “Free Iran” rally in Paris on July 1 by the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi and by other international supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Rajavi used the opportunity to urge the U.S. and its allies to formally recognize the right of the Iranian people and their organized opposition to oust the dictatorship. A democratic Iran, she added, is an imperative and is within reach. An alternative that can affect change exists.
The Free Iran rally went a long way toward showcasing the depth of Iranian people’s animosity toward the regime. Media outlets reported that the event was attended by some 100,000 people, mostly Iranian expatriates, and it featured messages from domestic dissidents and accounts of the more than 10,000 known acts of protest against the regime over the past year.
It also highlighted a flurry of activities by supporters of the NCRI and its key component, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), inside Iran who are campaigning for democracy.
Two years after the nuclear deal, it is time for a serious and comprehensive Iran policy makeover based on realities on the ground. This means designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity, expelling the Iranian regime and its proxies from the region, taking effective initiatives to permanently block the Iranian regime’s path to a nuclear bomb, and recognizing the Iranian people’s right to topple the regime and establish a democratic and peace-seeking representative government that would be the source of stability and peace in the region.
Ali Safavi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which seeks the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran. Follow him on Twitter @amsafavi.