On Saturday, American officials announced that a full range of United Nations sanctions have returned on Iran, including a permanent extension of the arms embargo. Some observers debate the efficacy of these measures, particularly as European powers have signaled that they will not enforce them. But the efficacy argument is secondary to a much more significant dimension of Washington’s resolve — holding Tehran accountable for its current and future transgressions.
It is remarkable that even during one of the most divisive election years in US history, this strategic principle has found vocal adherents on both sides of the aisle. For example, House Representative Brad Schneider, a Democrat from Illinois, has said, “We must always play a leadership role in holding the Iranian regime accountable for its misdeeds abroad and against their own people.” Similarly, Republican Senator Martha McSally has said, “The U.S. and the international community must continue to hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations and reprehensive behavior.”
Both lawmakers were addressing an international summit on Iran policy Friday, which was organized by the main Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). It linked 10,000 locations worldwide virtually. Hundreds of bipartisan public officials and lawmakers from Europe, the US and Canada addressed the event formally called the Trans-Atlantic Summit on Iran Policy.
Moderated by the internationally acclaimed television presenter Trish Regan, the event featured high-profile speakers such as Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, General James Jones, General Jack Keane and Senator Joe Lieberman. Nine sitting senators and 22 members of Congress also addressed the bipartisan event, including Senators Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bob Menendez.
The dozens of high-profile speakers called on world governments to hold Iran accountable for its reprehensible behavior. Regardless of the immediate material impact on the regime’s economic situation, accountability is a principle that undergirds a specific strategic calculus.
Consider the facts. Recently, American intelligence officials reported that Tehran had developed plans to allegedly assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for the elimination of the terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani earlier this year. Meanwhile, according to the UN nuclear watchdog, Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Tehran’s terrorist activity has also escalated, and if left unchecked such behavior could simply spiral out of control. In 2018, a senior Iranian diplomat stationed in Vienna was caught red-handed by European authorities hand delivering an explosive to a terrorist sleeper cell to bomb an opposition rally in Paris on June 30 of that year. At the gathering were hundreds of international personalities that took part in Friday’s Trans-Atlantic Summit, including the NCRI’s President-elect Maryam Rajavi.
The detained diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, is scheduled to appear in a Belgian court in November. Unprecedented in Europe’s modern history, a sitting diplomat will be tried on charges of direct involvement in a terrorist plot. Over the past two years, seven Iranian diplomats, including an ambassador in Albania, have been expelled on similar charges.
Against this backdrop, a profoundly consequential question arises for Iran policy. If the Europeans and Americans fail to show Tehran that its malign actions carry serious consequences, then what would stop the further escalation of such acts? If Tehran acts with impunity, it would be emboldened to try to impose itself on regional and international order.
That is why the Iranian people themselves are calling for accountability. Maryam Rajavi highlighted that “faced with executions and massacres, the people of Iran urge the United Nations, and the UN Security Council in particular, to restore snapback sanctions stipulated in the six UN resolutions against the clerical regime in Iran. Otherwise, [supreme leader Ali] Khamenei will continue to ravage the nation as his regime’s survival depends on murder and suppression.”
Already, containing the regime’s regional meddling by eliminating Soleimani has yielded historic results. As former national security advisor James Jones told the Trans-Atlantic Summit, the UAE and Bahrain agreements with Israel show that “the circle of countries that are in direct opposition to what Iran is doing is growing by leaps and bounds.”
Now, the United States and European countries must pressure the UN General Assembly and Security Council to take on the Iranian regime’s atrocious human rights record. There is very little to disagree with Republican Senator Rubio’s statement that the objective should not simply be to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons or supporting terrorism. It should also be “to give Iran back to its people.” That is the ultimate strategic solution to the crisis. And again, there is remarkable bipartisan agreement on supporting the people and the opposition.
As the most senior Democratic senator in the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, said at the gathering, “While in Congress we may have differing approaches about the best way to address the threat from Iran, rest assured that we remain united against the regime’s fundamental abuses against its citizens.”
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist, Harvard -educated scholar, board member of Harvard International Review, an Iranian-American political scientist and president of the International American Council.