The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif is expected to attend the Munich Security Conference on 14 February. He may skip the event, as he did with the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last month. If so, the conversations will surely be more productive, being free from one of the most prominent sources of disinformation in the modern world.
Given Zarif’s role as an apologist for an Islamist theocracy, and the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, he should never be invited to such international gatherings.
Rather than continuing to invite Zarif for open-ended diplomatic talks, EU member states should begin to adopt strategies aligned with the US. The Iranian foreign minister’s movements were severely limited during his last visits to the United Nations (UN) in New York, and in July he was made subject to US economic sanctions.
The Trump administration had previously sanctioned Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his role as the ultimate authority over policies of terrorist sponsorship and domestic repression. Zarif is a key enabler of the Supreme Leader’s agenda, essentially acting as a propaganda minister. Nevertheless, a shocking number of European leaders seem oblivious to this fact.
In November, Iranian authorities began their crackdown on the most significant protest movement of the last 40 years. Demonstrations quickly spreadc across the entire country and morphed into unequivocal calls for regime change. Chants like "death to the dictator" and "death to Khamenei" re-emerged after having been popularised in the nationwide uprising in 2018.
Khamenei publicly acknowledged that the movement had been largely inspired and guided by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – recognisably the regime’s arch enemy and the most prominent voice for democracy since the 1979 revolution.
Prior to January 2018, Tehran's propaganda insisted that the MEK posed no real threat to the clerical regime. But that illusion was shattered with the recent civil unrestin November 2019. Approximately 1,500 people were killed by suppressive forces in November, according to Iranian interior ministry figures seen by Reuters. Many were tortured to death after being arrested. So many activists were arrested that some had to be housed in makeshift jails at primary schools and government buildings.
Tehran has not even tried to provide a credible alternative account of the uprising or the subsequent protests that followed the Revolutionary Guard’s (IRGC) downing of a commercial airliner heading out of Tehran. It has simply dismissed all casualty estimates and waited for international discussions of Iran’s domestic affairs to calm down, to the extent that they are confident this will happen. It is no doubt because they believe that the Western world will eagerly listen to anything Iran’s foreign minister has to say, no matter how obvious that his commentary is geared toward deception and distraction.
There are multitudes of egregious Iranian behaviours that the international community can think about when deciding how to deal with Zarif and the regime as a whole. His long-standing praise of terrorists like the eliminated Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, and Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, are indicative of his commitment to defending Iran’s bloodiest force-projection strategies.
Zarif is fully supportive of the regime's terrorist operations, since incidents like the attempted bombing of a 2018 opposition rally in Paris, attended by international dignitaries including President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, have been channelled through his diplomatic posts.
Iranian disinformation – much of it reaching the world directly via the foreign ministry – has previously convinced much of the world that there is simply no alternative to dealing with the existing regime on its own terms. Tehran’s hold on power has long been assumed to be so firm that any efforts to undermine it would only lead to war.
The ongoing effects of the US’ maximum pressure strategy suggest that this is not the case. There have been numerous warnings of a conflict to come, but we are no closer to that now than we were two years ago.
We may even be farther away, because the Iranian regime is arguably weaker than ever before, and is certainly nearing financial bankruptcy. It is also facing an ever-growing challenge from its own people, which it has not been able to overcome, even with the most shocking brutality.
Iran’s theocratic system may begin to collapse under the weight of popular demands for a democratic alternative. But the Iranian people still need the support of the international community.
Instead of listening to the propaganda of Zarif and his cohorts, the EU should implement the following three steps:
- Launch an independent investigation into the Iranian regime’s malign conduct, particularly the ones in the past three months, including downing of the Ukrainian commercial airliner and murdering Iranian protesters.
- Urge the United Nations to dispatch an international fact-finding mission to Iran to investigate the circumstances of the deaths and injuries of protesters in November, and to visit Iranian prisons and prisoners.
- Demand the UN security Council to launch an international inquiry into massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, the overwhelming majority of whom were MEK activists. The same officials who carried out this crime against humanity are repressing Iranians today and that impunity should come to an end.
Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata is a former foreign minister of Italy, former Italian Ambassador to the United States, former Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations and a member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
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