Last week, negotiators from the P5+1 group of countries and Iran agreed to extend their talks regarding a comprehensive nuclear deal until late November.
Missing from the discussion about the extension is a fundamental question that the Obama administration is glossing over. What is the U.S. relationship with Iran going to look like after the negotiations even if a nuclear deal is concluded? Administration officials have avoided discussing this, just as they did before finalizing the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). At that time, the administration was loath to admit that an Iranian enrichment capability would be acceptable after years of U.S. policy that clearly stated that Iran must halt all enrichment. The reality is that no credible deal with Iran would allow for domestic Iranian enrichment at any level.
Similarly, the White House claims that the JPOA and now this four-month extension of negotiations do not limit America’s ability to target ongoing Iranian support for terrorism or its human-rights abuses. But the administration has avoided any provocative actions on these issues since the negotiations began.
This approach is the opposite of that of past American presidents, most notably President Ronald Reagan. Reagan coupled arms-control negotiations with a clear-eyed assessment of the nature of the regime he was dealing with and spoke out clearly and consistently about what the Soviet Union represented. He forcefully advanced a human-rights agenda in concert with talks about nuclear disarmament.
This method of negotiation began with the Ford administration and was realized, in part, through the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which introduced a human-rights basket into what were primarily security discussions between the United States, Europeans, and the Soviet Union. This focus on Soviet human rights was subsequently championed by the Reagan administration. It laid the groundwork for increasing Soviet transparency about internal matters and, eventually, for political change.
In the case of Iran, the U.S. government speaks frankly, but only through arcane State Department reports and fact sheets. The latest Country Report on Terrorism states that in 2013, “Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished.” Not mentioned is the fact that this sponsorship of terrorism is now abetted by the sanctions relief provided by the United States and Europe.
In reality, one need look no further than the headlines from Gaza, Iraq, or Syria to see the reach of Iran and its terrorist proxies. Less reported, but even more worrisome, are the efforts of Iran to develop a presence in our own hemisphere. In 2011, the regime went so far as to plot an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant.
Five years after the brutal crackdown on Iran’s Green Movement, and under the supposed moderate rule of President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian people continue to suffer. Human-rights groups report that more than two people are executed every day in Iran. Violations of press freedom and denial of Iranians’ fundamental rights are routine.
Yet these issues related to Iranian behavior are not raised in the gilded salons of Geneva and Vienna where negotiators are meeting.