Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Iran’s increasing meddling in Iraq and its defiance in its nuclear weapons program pose the greatest challenge to peace and security in Iraq and the whole Middle East, as we enter 2005.

By sending thousands of Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agents into Iraq, as well as spending hundreds of millions of dollars to recruit mercenaries and enlist support among destitute and impoverished Iraqis, Tehran is hell-bent on steering the Jan. 30 elections in its favor.

Its proxies in that country, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), have put forward a united slate, hoping to gain a majority in the newly elected parliament, whose primary task is to draft Iraq’s future constitution. The Iranian clerics have never been so close to realizing their decades-old dream of erecting a sister Islamic Republic in Iraq.

On the nuclear issue, the recent agreement brokered by France, Germany and the United Kingdom on behalf of the European Union, has given Tehran all that it wanted and more. The Iranians have committed themselves to virtually nothing permanent. Reports this week indicate Tehran has prepared large quantities of uranium yellow cake for enrichment, which diplomats say breaks, if not the letter, the spirit of the Nov. 15 pact with the EU big three.

In return, Iran received a host of incentives, including a light-water reactor as well as the promise of European technological expertise to advance its “peaceful” nuclear program. More importantly, it demanded and received a commitment from its European interlocutors not only to keep Tehran’s arch-nemesis, the Iranian People’s Mujahedeen, on the EU terror list, but also to fight its activities.

The EU’s lack of spine in dealing with Tehran has emboldened the mullahs to step up repression in Iran. A resolution just adopted by the U.N. General Assembly censured Tehran for “failure to comply fully with international standards in the administration of justice, the absence of due process of law, the refusal to provide fair and public hearings, and right to counsel, the continuing executions, in particular the execution of persons below 18 years of age, the arbitrary arrest and detention without charge or trial, the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, in particular the practice of amputation and flogging as well as the systemic discrimination against women and girls.”

The deterioration of human rights in Iran has revealed new depths of barbarity, where pregnant women and children are routinely executed and floggings and amputations are an almost daily public spectacle. The ban on the moderate Khatami faction from standing for election last February reduced the so-called democratic process to a sham. In place of those moderates, the Legislature now has 40 new deputies who were former Revolutionary Guards commanders and who have formed a hard, extremist right-wing majority to drive increasingly repressive judicial and executive measures.

These stark realities, however, have not deterred the ever-shrewd and business-minded Europeans. Claiming any attempt at firmness toward Tehran would be tantamount to starting an Iraqi-style war, the EU and its allies on the other side of the Atlantic argue conciliation is the best approach.

This deliberately obscures the fact that facing up to the Iranian challenge need not involve a choice between war and appeasement. As the exiled opposition leader Maryam Rajavi said during an address to the European Parliament on Dec. 15, “No concession is going to dissuade the mullahs from continuing their ominous objectives. … The equation of ‘either a military invasion or appeasement’ is an exercise in political deception. A third option is within reach. The Iranian people and their organized resistance have the capacity and ability to bring about change.”

As Iran inches closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb and developing, with North Korea’s help, the missiles to deliver them, the civilized world can ill-afford to be at the mercy of these turbaned tyrants. The bitter, costly experience of Iran’s people in the past quarter-century should serve as an example.

Appeasement is not the way to contain or change this evil regime. Nor is it the path to avoid another war. A nuclear-armed fundamentalist regime will not spare the EU, either. Iran’s missiles already can reach southern Europe. The mullahs are now rushing to develop a third-generation missile system able to reach Paris, London and Brussels.

By putting the People’s Mujahedeen in its terror list, however, the EU has handcuffed itself.

The EU should end the blacklisting of this antifundamentalist group, which provided some of the most critical information on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its intervention in Iraq.

For once, we should side with the millions in Iran whose cry is for freedom and regime change. A modern, secular and democratic Iran would not only be the key to regional peace and security, but also a long-term ally as we try to spread democracy across the Middle East and the world.

Struan Stevenson is a Scottish Conservative member of the European Parliament and co-chairman of the Friends of Free Iran Intergroup in the European Parliament.

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