Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


The Iran Nuclear Agreement and Reform in Iran

by Elliott Abrams
January 20, 2016


It was widely assumed that with the end of sanctions, Iran would “join the world” and become a less repressive state. To take just one example, the Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo argued in Huffington Post that the nuclear deal created “the opportunity for Iranian civic actors to enable and empower Iran’s civil society space” and “help the country to become more open, transparent and susceptible to international pressure on issues like the death penalty and the imprisonment of civic actors in Iran.” Last summer Reuters carried this story: “Iranian pro-democracy activists, lawyers and artists have thrown their weight behind last month’s nuclear deal with world powers, hoping it will lead to a promised political opening that President Hassan Rouhani has so far failed to deliver.”

Oh well. That was the last thing Iran’s rulers had in mind, and they have acted quickly this week to crush such reformist efforts. Here’s the Wall Street Journal account:

Days after Iran secured relief from economic sanctions under a contentious nuclear deal, the country’s powerful hard-liners are moving to sideline more moderate leaders who stand to gain from a historic opening with the West.

Almost two-thirds of the 12,000 candidates who applied to run in next month’s parliamentary elections were either disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council or withdrew.

Actually the picture is even worse: 99% of reformist candidates were rejected.

So the hopes that the nuclear agreement would lead to reform are vanishing very quickly. As is, and always was, logical: reform was never the intention of the Ayatollah Khamenei, the IRGC, the Quds Force, the Basij thugs, or any of the groups and individuals that hold a monopoly on force and hold real political power in Iran. As we just saw in the seizure of American sailors in the Gulf, having more money will embolden Iran’s rulers–and do nothing for the vast majority of its citizens who detest the tyranny under which they live.

That’s the real problem with the nuclear deal, and with the whole Obama approach to Iran since he became president. He has always sought an improved relationship with the Iranian regime, not with the Iranian people. When the people rose up in 2009, he was silent in the crucial early days–because the uprising was inconvenient, threatening to spoil his diplomacy with the ayatollahs.

One cannot condemn Iranian reformers for seeing some hope in the nuclear deal. One can only feel sorry that the United States and others in the P5+1 made an arrangement with their oppressors that will likely lengthen the life of this criminal regime.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Ernestine S Bonicelli

    It’s not like appeasement hasn’t been tried again and again, and has always failed. Well, not really – it makes the appeased bolder and bolder with their evil doings. I really appreciate your articles. Very informative and right on the nose.

  • Posted by TCForsyth

    Iran’s domestic repression is likely related to increased tension with Saudi Arabia. Firming up its power base, and preempting domestic unrest is a natural move for a threatened, authoritarian regime comfortable with international condemnation of its policies. It would be unsurprising to see this feed increased involvement in the conflict in Syria.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required