Mike Freer is MP for Finchley and Golders Green.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the signing last year of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1. At the time, this agreement was heralded by those supporting a détente with that country as a breakthrough in relations with the Islamic theocracy after nearly 40 years as an international pariah.
However, instead of closer relations, Western observers have looked on in dismay as Iran’s record on human rights has deteriorated, the opposition has been systematically crushed and the financing of terrorist elements across the region has continued.
Despite these obvious failings, both the US Administration and our Government have continued to promote the trade opportunities in Iran for Western businesses, with John Kerry as the main cheerleader. Clearly, both the UK and US are desperate to see the deal succeed, and so far it has held. But at what price?
Both countries have stayed silent in the face of mounting evidence of Iran failing to act in the spirit of the deal and continuing to repress its citizens. They have been shamed by other organisations and governments brave enough to stand up, and point out clearly how Iran is continuing to treat the West with contempt in the Middle East and beyond.
Only last week, Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful politician and a key part of the negotiations, told the German parliament that missile launches by Iran earlier in the year were inconsistent with a UN resolution urging it to refrain for up to eight years from developing missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. Ban Ki-Moon also published a report on Friday reiterating Merkel’s view. Iran’s leadership has stated that its missile programme is being developed for “defensive” reasons – a claim that fails to stand up to scrutiny and instead points to heightened regional ambitions.
These ambitions often run contrary to the interests of the West and its allies in the Middle East. Too often, Iran has played a malicious role in the complicated geopolitical morass of the Arab world, backing terrorist elements across the region in their operations against Israel, Saudi Arabia and ordinary Arabs. Hamas in Palestine, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon all work against Western interests and attack our allies: all are backed by Iran. Hezbollah even stated in June that they receive all their funding from Iran, the first explicit confirmation of the extent of its reliance on the Ayatollahs’ regime.
Acknowledging these ties, the US rightly considers Iran to be the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror, a view supported by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). FATF ranks Iran behind only North Korea as a systemic danger to the international financial system due to money laundering and terrorist financing concerns. Yet the Obama administration asks Western businesses to invest and trade with this same country.
The UN and the EU have also led the criticism of Iran’s recent human rights record. On 14 June, 270 members of the European Parliament issued a statement criticising the Iranian regime’s prolific record of executions and condemning its human rights record. In 2015 Iran was the world’s top-ranking executioner per capita, executing nearly 1,000 people including juveniles and women. Women continue to be repressed, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, describing gender equality as “unacceptable to the Islamic Republic”.
The chances of any reform are slim. In the most recent parliamentary elections in February, reformists were blocked from standing. The contest, unfair from the start, merely served to entrench the hardline incumbents. With a presidential election due in 2017, the prospects for any genuine reform are remote.
Even outside its borders, Iran’s lack of respect for human rights can be felt. Ra’ad al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated on 5 July that there was strong evidence that Iran-backed Shia militias had committed atrocities in the battle to reclaim Fallujah from IS. More than 900 Sunni men and boys from Fallujah are missing, with allegations of torture and abuse harking back to the chaotic post-Saddam Hussein era, when vigilante militias killed and maimed thousands.
On top of these human rights violations and abuses, British citizens are bearing the brunt of Iran’s intolerance and its continued animosity towards the West. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national visiting relatives in Iran with her 22 month old daughter, was detained in April and held in solitary confinement – without charge. She remains in prison.
By staying silent in the pursuit of better trade relations, we are giving Iran the green light to continue to build its arsenal of missiles, operate as a malicious actor across the Middle East and repress human rights. This must not continue.