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In Dealing With Iran, Human Rights Must Have Priority | Commentary

Iran has maintained its constant place as a generator of trouble on the international scene. When concern over Iran’s nuclear program subsides temporarily, concern about its meddling in countries in the region surface; when those concerns subside, its state sponsorship of terrorism takes the center stage. Suppression and flagrant violations of human rights, the regime’s main tools of governance, have a permanent place in the litany of concerns.

In his report to the Human Rights Council in mid-March, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, so-called reformer, has failed to fulfill his election promises to improve the human rights situation — and the regime’s executions have shown a steep rise.

According to independent U.N. reports , two-thirds of 687 confirmed executions in Iran in 2013, including political executions, took place during Rouhani’s presidency. This year has not been any better; there have been 180 executions, many of them public.

Hanging people in public squares and public places, regardless of the crime they have committed, is barbaric. It belies the propaganda about “moderate” Rouhani. It is carried out to intimidate an angry and disillusioned society that the mullahs have no other way to contain. The desire for change is pervasive in Iran, in particular among women, who are treated as second-class citizens, and youth (55 percent of Iranians are younger than 30), who have little hope that their desires will be met under the mullahs’ rule.

We witnessed this firsthand during our attendance in the first global conference of Iranian youth association in Paris a couple of weeks ago. Scores of these young, educated, talented Iranians had left Iran recently and had maintained their contacts with their peers in Iran despite all the restrictions imposed by the mullahs. They urged us to convey to the US administration that Iranians are fed up with the ruling theocracy and do not view Rouhani as an element for change. They all called for firmness in dealing with Tehran’s rulers.

Yet, tragically, the firmness they were yearning for has become hostage to nuclear negotiations that are stuck behind “hard decisions by Tehran”— and that is while Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure has remained intact and the centrifuges keep spinning. In the meantime, the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, underscored last week that the regime “will not give up its nuclear achievements and nobody has the right to negotiate over these achievements.”

The weak policy vis-a-vis Tehran has only emboldened it to intensify suppression, continue massive support for Syrian dictator Assad and to slaughter its opponents, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in Camp Liberty in Iraq.

The key in understanding the enigma of the behavior of the Iranian regime is to recognize that we are dealing with an extremely weakened and crisis-riddled regime. That explains why the meeting of Catharine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign policy and the chief nuclear negotiator of P5+1 with Iran, with the mother of a blogger who was tortured to death after her meetings with the regime’s president and Parliament speaker, infuriated the regime’s most senior officials. The mullahs’ chief justice warned that if the Western delegations dare to repeat such meetings “the judiciary will intervene directly and the Foreign Ministry will bear the consequences.”

A few days ago the regime’s top echelon showed a disingenuous reaction to a European Parliament resolution that had strongly criticized the Iranian regime’s total disregard for human rights. A similar reaction to support of the MEPs to Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, who visited the European Parliament in early April, vividly demonstrates the fragile status of the mullahs’ rule that cannot afford the slightest shake by the international community. Khamenei warned the regime’s officials a few years ago that the impatience and anxiety of the youth will be a time bomb for the regime.

During the nuclear negotiations in Geneva in November, France demonstrated that neither Europe nor the U.S. would lose from upholding a firm position. But offering concessions to a regime that views major compromise on its nuclear weapons program as a “poison chalice” and human rights as its Achilles’ heel only protracts the security threat for the U.S. and Europe and postpones the Iranian people’s desire for achieving democracy and freedom. America must commit itself to the principle that the human rights of others must not be sacrificed for ephemeral diplomatic gains.

Howard Dean is the former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate. Rudy Giuliani is the former mayor of New York and Republican presidential candidate.

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