Lord Maginnis of Drumglass is an independent member of the UK House of Lords and prominent member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), www.iran-freedom.org
On Thursday, Chatham House will be hosting an event in London entitled “Overcoming Regional Challenges in the Middle East” but, perversely, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, is scheduled to address that conference. Worse still, it is further planned that he will address the UK Parliament earlier that day. Conspicuously, this comes just one week after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Rome and Paris for high-level trade talks, and subsequent to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that effectively allows Iran the means to further extend its influence across the Middle East and the globe.
It is all but unfathomable that we are encouraging this trend by welcoming Zarif into London. Considering what we know about the impact that Tehran has already had on the Syrian crisis, surely the last thing we need is to encourage further input or even to listen to what the Iranian regime has to say about a crisis where it has been an active contributor.
It was not very long ago that the United Kingdom, the United States, and their allies seemed to generally understand what had to be done. It was not long ago that we were rightly pushing for the ousting of Syria’s dictatorial President Bashar al-Assad. But since then, the leadership in London and Washington has began to court Iran’s input. Over the past couple of months, they appear to have abdicated their moral position.
The inclusion of Iranian delegates in a Geneva security conference led to the determination that the Assad regime could be allowed to remain in power – at least until a negotiated solution ended the civil war in the south of the country.
It certainly cannot be prudent policy to accept any Iranian influence in Syria, given that Iran’s all-out support for Assad has only served to make the Syrian Civil War, longer, bloodier, and a greater source of the instability that is plaguing the region and now enveloping Europe, through the ensuing refugee crisis. Assad’s crimes and the support of Iran-backed Shiite militias has only intensified the sectarian conflict. Furthermore, it is in large part because of this that Daesh has been so successful in spreading its propaganda among Sunnis who are living in Tehran’s shadow.
It should go without saying that by lengthening that shadow, by encouraging it to reach as far as London and Washington, the Western powers will only be contributing to the worsening resentments of Sunnis who are marginalised within Iran’s sphere of influence and being radicalised by Daesh.
And yet the visit of Rouhani to Italy and France, and of Zarif to the UK indicates that the European governments still need to be reminded of these realities. Such conciliatory, unconditional outreach to the Islamic Republic goes to show that much of Europe is being blinded by greed for Iranian oil and a desire for economic ties in the Middle East irrespective of any moral or humanitarian cost.
In fact, the apparent embrace of an Iranian role in Syria is only one example of this. Zarif’s visit to London will highlight this, but it will also serve as a reminder of the much broader set of problems that were emphasised by Iranian dissidents and European human rights activists who protested against Rouhani’s four-day European tour.
His stop in Paris was met by thousands of demonstrators, supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian opposition and by key members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) led by Maryam Rajavi, who sought to call attention to the Iranian President’s ongoing and active contribution to repression, escalating executions, and political imprisonment in his country over the past three years.
Their protest reiterated a recommendation that human rights defenders have made many times in the past several months: to revive relations with the Islamic Republic had to be dependent on more than just a tiny set of changes written into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In embracing Rouhani or Zarif or any other representative of the clerical government ruling Iran, Western officials appear to be labouring under the misapprehension that that agreement alone represents a trend toward moderation that should have a beneficial impact upon the lives of the Iranian people and the future of the Middle East in general.
But nothing could be further from the truth. The ongoing human rights abuses, regional intrusions, and anti-Western rhetoric that pours out of Tehran make it clear that Iran has no more place in global affairs today than it did during the last 37 years, when the Islamic fundamentalists seized control of the capital and installed a government that has sought to export political upheaval.
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