The Corner

Obama and Ashton’s Non-Existent Red Lines in Tehran?

The EU’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, made her first visit to Iran Saturday on International Women’s Day. Her main goal was to rehabilitate the anti-Western mullah regime as a partner for the Europeans. Ashton, along with the Obama administration, seeks to end Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.

In light of the desire of many Iranian women for a liberalization of Iran’s strict Islamic dress codes, it was odd that Ashton donned a head-scarf during her meeting with Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Deference to Iran’s form of gender apartheid certainly sends the wrong message to Iran’s struggling human-rights activists.

Fox News reported last month that Iran’s morality police demanded that mannequins in stores be covered with the traditional Islamic head-scarf—the hijab. An exasperated store owner said, “I mean really, the mannequins? They have to have hijab? Where are we living?” Iran’s allegedly “moderate” president Hassan Rouhani has not introduced any curbs on the fashion police. “In terms of fashion, this and previous governments are the same,” said Neda, a lifestyle blogger in Tehran.

To her credit, Ashton did meet with a group of Iranian human-rights activists. Nonetheless, she showed no sign of linking the nuclear talks to an immediate moratorium on Iran’s violent repression of Christians, journalists, Baha’is, Kurds, women, and a host of additional religious and ethnic minority groups.

On the nuclear front, Zarif told Ashton that he believes a nuclear deal can be reached “in four or five months and even shorter.” Ashton replied there is “no guarantee.” Notwithstanding Ashton’s cautious rhetoric, the Europeans and the Obama administration are desperate for an agreement.

The New York Post’s Mark Cunningham neatly captured the view from Iran in his commentary: “How Iran’s Rulers See Obama.” In his his article, Cunningham described a cartoon mocking Obama’s red lines that appeared on the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency website.

Iran’s rulers realize that Obama’s current policy is conflict-avoidance and inaction. All of this helps to explain why Iran’s regime is determined to secure major economic concessions from the West while retaining its core nuclear-weapons machinery.

Iran’s jingoism in the Middle East continues unabated. Israel displayed on Monday a seized shipment of Iranian weapons on the Red Sea. The weapons, including missile rockets, were headed for Islamic terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

It is worth noting that Sunday marked the seventh year of captivity for the American citizen Robert Levinson. In a moving Los Angeles Times opinion article, “My Dad, Held in Iran,” Levinson’s son Dan reminds the Obama administration that his father is the longest-held U.S. hostage. He writes, “Now, the U.S. government should make bringing my father home its top priority in its negotiations with Iran. It should be the first topic of any discussions with the Islamic Republic and prerequisite for any final deal related to its nuclear program.”

He is right. Will the Obama administration enforce real red lines with the most dangerous regime in the world?

— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal

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