By General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
In a perfect world, a repeated pattern of deceit and moral failure has consequences. Indeed, when trust and credibility are eroded, we dump the shady contractor, we vote out the lying politician, we fire the skimming employee. So how is it we are still at the negotiating table with Iran?
Since the 1990s, Iran has hoodwinked the international community over its nuclear program time and time again. And the current round of negotiations seems to offer more of the same subterfuge, foot-dragging and recalcitrance. But rather than use its economic leverage, the international community has rewarded the mullahs in Tehran with an extended deadline for the current talks (until November 24) and $2.8 billion in cash that was frozen as part of the sanctions program.
America must lead by example and convince the rest of the international community to stand up for human rights, nuclear safety and universal values if it is to ever resolve the crisis caused by this tyrannical, unelected Iranian theocracy.
The current talks on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, known as P5+1, and the broader international community must realize that this is not only the same regime that repeatedly lied about its nuclear program but also one that leads the world in human rights abuses and remains the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Executions are up dramatically under the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani, and dissidents are routinely thrown into prisons, beaten, tortured and hunted down at home and abroad.
Iran has wreaked havoc in Lebanon (via Hezbollah), Gaza (via Hamas) and in Syria, where it is complicit in one of the worst slaughters of this century. And the regime’s notorious extrajudicial arm, the Quds Force, has set up shop in Iraq, mobilizing ruthless Shia militia groups to keep Tehran’s puppet Nouri al-Maliki in power, despite calls by the Sunnis, the Kurds and even the Shiites, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for him to step down and allow the formation of a national unity government.
These entanglements leave Tehran overstretched, and, combined with hard-hitting sanctions, the regime is at its weakest point in recent memory—perhaps even since it came to power in 1979. Iran has committed itself on all fronts, investing money, manpower and its political credibility in an unsustainable dynamic that could potentially collapse the regime in one big domino effect.
With this is mind, those in favor of an effective, pragmatic U.S. foreign policy should stand up and say yes to negotiations but no to unearned concessions.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has openly bragged on Iranian television that he deceived the international community about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities while he served as the regime’s chief negotiator. If past is prologue, we are turning a blind eye to his behavior at our own peril.
Indeed, in 2002 Iran’s secretive nuclear program was revealed by neither Western intelligence agencies nor the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, but by Iranian dissidents. We have sidelined support for the democratic opposition in Iran and ignored the regime’s atrocious human rights record, all in the name of talks that hold little prospect of success.
The main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), is a viable alternative to the Islamist regime, and we owe it a chance to build a secular, democratic, non-nuclear Iran. If anyone doubted the NCRI’s support base, a groundswell of more than 100,000 Iranians turned up in Paris last month for its annual rally, joined by top politicians, dignitaries and former national security figures, myself included. It was an enormous display of support.
The NCRI’s president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, called for the shutting down of the entire nuclear program, including the heavy water reactor; implementing all U.N. Security Council resolutions; and acceptance of the additional protocol of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
The reality is that Tehran has been forced to retreat, albeit only one step, due to domestic isolation, international rejection and the weight of economic sanctions. However, the weakness, indecision and offering of concessions by the international community will only encourage the mullahs to resort to deceit, denial and concealment again.
Rajavi had a valid point when she said that if the mullahs had the will, six months would have been sufficient to reach a comprehensive agreement on nuclear weapons development. The time for gesturing and posturing by Tehran is over. The mullahs should have forfeited their drive for nuclear weapons years ago. No one should be rewarded for stalling and haggling. Why should the mullahs be? One can only wonder why the Obama administration does not get it.
General Hugh Shelton was the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.