August 26, 2005 | WebMemo on Iran
Iran seems more determined than ever to acquire nuclear weapons. Under its new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has rejected a European Union offer of security and economic incentives, including nuclear fuel for energy, in return for stopping all uranium conversion in Isfahan. The reason? The EU's offer failed to recognize Iran's "right" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium. Ahmadnijed himself has been less diplomatic, denouncing the package as "an insult" to the Iranian people. He has even demanded an apology from the EU-3.
Other statements counter Tehran's claim that it only wants enriched uranium-a requirement for nuclear weapons-for energy purposes. For example, the new defense minister told the Iranian parliament this week that developing ballistic missiles is among the new government's highest priorities-presumably in order someday to provide launch vehicles for nuclear warheads.
Already some Europeans are getting nervous that the United States is about to go to war against Iran. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said last week that the "military option . . . should be off the table." But if that option is gone, and if the EU-3 negotiating track isn't getting anywhere, what do Schroeder and other Europeans propose we do next? More talking? More carrots? More of the same that clearly is not working? One should be forgiven for wondering whether the EU-3 negotiations are aimed more at keeping the United States from using force than actually disarming Iran. Could it be that some European governments are becoming resigned to the fact that Iran will someday acquire nuclear weapons?
It would be a serious mistake to let Iran get nuclear weapons. Put aside for a moment all the arguments about the collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation regime if Iran were to acquire nukes. Iran itself is simply too untrustworthy to be trusted with nuclear weapons. Tehran supports international terrorism, flouts international law, and suppresses its own people with a relish and a thoroughness that are breathtaking. Nuclear proliferation alone is bad enough, but it is especially dangerous when very irresponsible authoritarian countries are getting the bomb.
Unlike the Soviet Union, which was at least predictable enough to deter, Iran is simply too radical, unstable, and contemptuous of both international law and basic standards of decency to be allowed into the nuclear club. The world has already seen human rights-abusing regimes with nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and China. It does not need another.
The basic issue here is trust-as in, what kind of regime can be trusted with nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to place in the hands of people who pay for terrorists to blow up women and children and who hang a mentally incompetent 16-year-old girl for "acts incompatible with chastity." Nuclear weapons are too tempting to use for a regime that is so disdainful of its citizens that it tortures children for eating during Ramadan, uses amputation and flogging as punishments, and imposes the death penalty for uttering insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini. Amnesty International reports at least nine cases of amputation since 2002 and four cases of execution of children. It is all the more insidious that these abuses are done in the name of proving the rightness of Iran's particular brand of Islam.
Iran's human rights record is appalling. Imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, a former Republican Guard turned reformist, was close to death before he ended a hunger strike last Tuesday. His offense? Reporting that intelligence officials had killed five Iranian dissidents. Though he is in the final year of his jail term, world leaders like President Bush and Kofi Annan are calling for his release.
The Iranian regime routinely arrests journalists for writing "propaganda against the Islamist regime." It regularly shuts down newspapers and Internet sites. An Iranian-Canadian photographer died in police custody in 2003 after being arrested; the government eventually admitted that her death was caused by blows to the head. Journalists the world over should be outraged by this crudest form of censorship and oppression.
A few days ago, the new Minister of Justice announced that "improperly-veiled women" would be treated as if they were not wearing a veil at all and arrested. The regime is stepping up its campaign against "social vices," such as wearing makeup in public or playing music too loudly. Under the new regime, women are barred from serving in parliament. Women's rights groups the world over should rise up in protest.
As various Iranian websites also reported last week, Iranian Kurds demonstrating peacefully in Mahabad after the killing of a young activist were met with a barrage of police bullets; at least four died. And Tehran is now instructing paramilitary forces to use "brutal force" on students "harboring anti-government sentiments." People who care about minority rights should be deeply concerned about such oppression.
To be fair, some human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have spoken out against Iran's abuses. But they have not yet connected the dots to the dangers of Iran's nuclear weapons program. These groups seem unconcerned that Iran could soon have its hands on the world's most terrible weapon and thereby threaten human rights-and lives-the world over. The human rights community should be as worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons as the Bush Administration is. Human rights groups should be issuing reports, holding vigils, and giving Iran a prominent place on their websites. They need to shine a spotlight on the fact that one of the world's most repressive regimes-which Freedom House ranks as next to the bottom in political and civil rights-may be on the verge of getting a weapon that could obliterate hundreds of thousands of lives in minutes. Moreover, nuclear weapons will make the regime more confident of its own survival and therefore more emboldened and oppressive.
Yet Iran is sensitive about its international image. It would be more responsive to pleas to abandon nuclear weapons development and to cease abusing its people if the international community and human rights groups spoke out more loudly against it. The only way to get Teheran's attention is to move the issue of Iran's nuclear program into the United Nations Security Council for consideration of sanctions against its oil industry. Yes, China, Russia and others may try to block sanctions, but what else is new? Moving the issue to the Security Council would put the Europeans on the spot and force them to get off the fence.
The U.N. human rights machinery, including the Commission on Human Rights, must also more forthrightly criticize Iran's abuses. There is more at stake than the reputation of the United Nations. Also being tested are the international human rights non-governmental organizations that make it their business to hold abusers accountable. They often accuse others of complicity through silence. That standard should to apply to them as well.
Raising the stakes on Iran's domestic human rights situation would force the regime to explain itself to the United Nations and other international organizations. Tehran fears this kind of negative publicity. It prides itself as a major diplomatic player in the international arena, and that requires the fiction that Iran is a normal country. Having European, Middle Eastern, African, and other countries asking questions about its human rights record would at least end the culture of impunity that now prevails.
Countries all over the world sign human rights declarations and pass resolutions in the U.N. Why is there so little outrage when Iran flagrantly violates these resolutions? It is time to end this double standard. For too long, the member states of the United Nations have given Iran a free pass for a variety of spurious reasons-because they too hate the United States, they too are repressive, or they want solidarity with the developing world bloc. But these are no excuses. It is time for the international community to speak up on behalf of oppressed women, children, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, journalists, and lovers of freedom and democracy, regardless of race or religion, and to realize how dangerous it could be for Iran to have nuclear weapons.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
 Nasser Karimi, "Iran calls for nuclear negotiations to include countries outside Europe," Associated Press, August 25, 2005.
 International Herald Tribune, "Iran Rejects Calls to Halt Uranium Processing," August 10, 2005.
 Dafna Linzer, "Iran Resumes Uranium Work, Ignores Warning," Washington Post, August 9, 2005.
 RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, "Defense Minister-Designate Says Iran to Focus on Missiles," August 23, 2005.
 Agence France Presse, "Schroeder accused of undermining Iran talks in re-election bid," August 15, 2005.
 U.S. Department of State, "Iran," in Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2004.
 Miami Herald, "Iran criticized by the U.N. over rights," December 21, 2004.
 U.S. Department of State, "Iran."
 Freedom House, Freedom in the World country ratings, 1972-2005, at http://www.freedomhouse.org/ratings/allscores2005.xls.
Kim R. Holmes,
Ph.D., is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy
Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage