By Dr. Marjaneh Rouhani
As Americans consume themselves with debates over the results of their recent elections, it bears noting that despite all the noise regarding fraudulent ballots and questionable vote counting, our republic remains a strong and resilient democracy.
The same cannot be said of the Islamic Republic in Iran. I should know, As an American-Iranian who was born and raised in Iran, I lived under the regimes of both the late Shah of Iran and the Ayatollahs. In 1979, I witnessed first-hand the dark curtain of religious extremism and brutal repression descend on a once proud and free nation. For all its flaws, the United States remains a beacon of hope for millions in Iran and around the globe. It’s no exaggeration to say that legions of Iranians suffering under the depredations of the current outlaw regime would eagerly seek refuge on our shores, if only they had the chance.
Another issue that Americans are currently debating is the question of how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. Perhaps no policy over the past five years has generated more controversy than the Obama Administration’s decision to provide Iran sanctions relief in exchange for its agreement to freeze its nuclear program. As Mr. Biden and his team consider their options for dealing with the Islamic Republic, they would be well-advised to proceed with caution and a healthy dose of skepticism.
For all its bluster and bravado, the Trump Administration got one thing right: the JCPOA was a gift to Iran’s mullahs that kept on giving. They used the revenue generated from sanctions relief to fund terror and proxy groups that spread death and destruction throughout the Middle East.
Any hope that the deal might give a boost to so-called moderates by offering the Islamic Republic a path for reintegration into the community of responsible nations has been belied by the regime’s enhanced oppression since 2015. Ali Khameini and the IRGC, now designated as an FTO, have only extended their influence and mob control of state institutions over the past many years.
Furthermore, given Iran’s recent violations of the JCPOA, returning to the status quo ante isn’t even an option. According to the IAEA, which is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has reached 2,442.9 kilograms, which is 12 times higher than the amount allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal. Moreover, Iran is currently enriching uranium to a purity of 4.5 percent, which is higher than the 3.67 percent permitted in the deal. Iran also continues to test advanced centrifuge machines beyond what is allowed by the JCPOA.
Mr. Biden has said, “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” That’s a big “if.” But even assuming that Iran demonstrably and verifiably returns to compliance, the JCPOA is dead. As other Iran experts have correctly observed, the JCPOA “was based on an exchange of sanctions relief for a 10-15 year pause in Iran’s nuclear activities. Because both the timeline and the relief have been effectively invalidated over the past two and a half years, any ‘return’ to the original agreement will in fact require new negotiations.”
America has hopefully learned some lessons from its Obama-era mistakes. The Regime’s leaders cannot be moderated. Filling their coffers will fuel further extremism and regional instability. Excluding Iran’s ballistic missile program gives them a free pass to enhance delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Turning a blind eye to the regime’s ongoing depredations against the people of Iran will only encourage further violence and repression.
The bottom line is this: Iran’s present government is irredeemable and many describe it as a failed state. Its opposition to the United States is central to the Regime’s identity as an Islamic Republic. Ali Khameini has made it clear that a new U.S. administration will not influence his decision making. “Our policy is clear and well calculated,” he said, “and [presidents’] coming and going will have no impact on it.” As long as the clerical regime remains in power, hostility toward the U.S. will remain the defining tenet of its ideology. In proclaiming its opposition to future talks with Washington, the next generation of rulers has made clear that there is “no difference” between Trump and Biden.
Constraining rather than accommodating the Islamic Republic in Iran is America’s only viable option. Ongoing demonstrations throughout the country attest to the fact that the regime is illegitimate to the vast majority of Iranians. The United States must remain true to its democratic values and position itself on the right side of history. Future generations of Iranians will judge this and future American Administrations by whether and to what degree it enables their oppressors.
Dr. Marjaneh Rouhani is President of the Apadana Freedom Foundation