by Jasmin Ramsey
The talks in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program will likely continue past the July 20 deadline for reaching a final deal. President Barack Obama noted “real progress” but hinted at an extension yesterday after being briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who held several meetings with the Iranians this week.
On Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat told the Japanese Kyodo News that the talks could be extended by two months, but there’s still no official word. The editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post have meanwhile come out on the side of continued negotiations.
Presently there’s not a lot of buzz around the question of whether Congress will push for more sanctions on Iran. Indeed, senior Senate aides told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that they do not see the same level of tension over a possible extension compared with the beginning of the year.
Still, as Jim wrote earlier this week, key lawmakers here in Washington are trying to make sanctions relief to Iran conditional on Congressional approval.
While the prospects of reaching a comprehensive deal any time soon are far from certain, one thing is for sure: important actors, from all sides of the political spectrum inside Iran, support the diplomatic process. Indeed, just this week the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) released a study showing leading Iranian activists’ support for the negotiations.
The report, Voices from Iran: Strong Support for the Nuclear Negotiations, shows that support for a successful deal are equally forthcoming not only among human rights victims and former political prisoners, but also among those who believe that the negotiations themselves would have no effect on the human rights situation in Iran.
“Opponents of the nuclear talks cannot use human rights concerns as a tool to undermine the negotiations,” said Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Campaign. “The very individuals who have suffered the most from the human rights crisis in Iran remain fully committed to the negotiations.”
More than two-thirds of the 22 key human and civil rights defenders interviewed said they felt an agreement resulting in the lifting of sanctions would improve the economic conditions of ordinary people, who would then be enabled to focus on improving civil liberties.
“Every single human rights advocate — along with journalists, editors, private business owners and so on — I have met in Iran hopes for the resolution of the nuclear conflict and eventual ending of sanctions for two basic reasons: one is economic and one is political,” said independent scholar and LobeLog contributor Farideh Farhi.
“As one prominent human rights advocate told me, the right to economic livelihood is also a human rights issue. Given the comprehensive nature of US-led sanctions, these folk see them as major violations of the Iranian peoples’ rights and want them removed,” said Farhi, who is currently in Tehran.
“Politically, while the lifting of sanctions is not presumed to automatically lead to better treatment of dissidents and critics by the state, there is hope that the reduced threat perception and reduced fear of regime change will eventually lead to the further loosening of the political environment,” she added.
“Conversely, there is fear that a breakdown in the nuclear negotiations may lead to the intensification of domestic factional and institutional conflicts, which have historically harmed the more vulnerable political and civil rights activists as well as members of the press,” she said.
This should be important news for US, Canadian (also see here) and EU politicians who appear worried that seriously engaging Iran on its nuclear program will lead to worsened human rights violations and/or believe further punitive measures at this time will improve the situation.
As Jim noted:
While [House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif and ranking member Eliot Engel, D-NY] were releasing their letter, on one side of the Capitol, Sen. Mark Kirk, by far the biggest Congressional recipient of AIPAC-related funding in his 2010 re-election campaign, teamed up with Marco Rubio, the keynoter at last year’s Republican Jewish Coalition convention, to introduce The Iran Human Rights Accountability Act on the other. Among other provisions, it would impose visa bans and asset freezes against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. It’s just the kind of thing that generates a lot of goodwill in Tehran. Indeed, one of the Act’s chapters could only be interpreted as “regime change:” it declares the “policy of the United States” to be laying “the foundation for the emergence of a freely elected, open and democratic political system in Iran that is not a threat to its neighbors or to the United States and to work with all citizens of Iran who seek to establish such a political system.” Another gift to the hard-liners in Tehran who are as eager to undermine their negotiators in Vienna as the hawks here are to blow up the negotiations.
“The study makes clear that anyone concerned about human rights in Iran should not use human rights to undermine a nuclear deal,” Mike Amitay, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, told LobeLog. “Human rights issues should be addressed in tandem with support for the negotiations and in a way that does not undermine the success of the negotiations.”
“In this regard, recently introduced rights legislation is counterproductive and offered now as an attempt to scuttle a deal,” he said.
By the way, here’s Josh Fattal, who spent 2 years as an American hostage in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, urging Congress to support the nuclear talks with Iran:
The most important point I’d like to impress on our negotiators and members of Congress is that this is a historic opportunity. Additionally, the human toll from decades of confrontation is immeasurable. My suffering as a political hostage in Evin Prison from 2009 to 2011 was a result of decades of mutual hostility between the U.S. and Iran. But, taken in context, I got off relatively easy with only 26 months behind bars. A resolution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear capacity will finally lead us down a different path that no longer punishes the Iranian people for the actions of their leaders.
Photo Credit: The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran