A year after taking office, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s so-called “moderate” president, has succeeded in bringing his country closer to the development of nuclear weapons.
Iran has also carried out nefarious activities in Syria. It has supported the country’s ruthless ruler, Bashir al-Assad and fanned the flames of sectarian violence in Iraq, where the regime’s rogue behavior created a breeding ground for the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
At home, Rouhani's brutal presidency has led to the execution of over 1,000 people – a record not even matched by his immoderate predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yet, despite this dismal record Secretary of State John Kerry recently admitted that as part of nuclear talks with the regime, the U.S. discussed the possibility of Iran joining the fight against ISIS.
Iran’s agenda for the nuclear talks, as well as its seeming willingness to fight ISIS is, despite Rouhani’s claims to the contrary, diametrically opposite to the United States.
What brought Iran to the negotiating table in the past year was economics more than a change of heart. The financially squeezed regime needed to take some steps to mollify a disenchanted population veering towards regime change. Rouhani’s assignment, given to him by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is to get the sanctions against his country lifted and preserve Tehran's influence in the region, while keeping its entire nuclear weapons infrastructure intact.
Tehran shrewdly appears willing to fight ISIS. But it is a ruse. It would only do so to reclaim the influence it lost in Iraq following Nuri al-Maliki’s disgraceful departure, and to maintain the pro-Tehran Shiite militias in that country.
In Iraq, an alliance with Iran would undermine Washington's stated objective to form an all-inclusive, non-sectarian, independent state that would not be the breeding place for either the Shiite militias or ISIS. In addition to airstrikes against the group this would require the significant participation of the Sunni tribes who were the key factor for success against Al Qaeda during the surge, as well as the dismantlement of Shiite militias that have acted as Tehran’s proxies in Iraq.
If the United States were to include Iran in the fight against ISIS in Syria, it would shrink the Sunni support it needs to eliminate it.
Here’s what the U.S. should do instead: Take a firm stance against both Assad and ISIS to deprive the Iranian regime of potential gains at a moment of desperation.
On the nuclear side, the United States, in August, sanctioned the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND). The organization was formed in 2011 and run by the Defense Ministry, tasked with taking over and coordinating all research and development activities to build a nuclear weapon. SPND was first exposed in July 2011 by the main Iranian opposition, the MEK, which had accurately exposed the nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered “the father” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, runs SPND. Tehran has been gradually moving the suspected activities of SPND to a new location to escape scrutiny, and Rouhani has used his skills to keep IAEA inspectors away from both locations.
Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon will remain intact unless and until the country’s covert activities are brought under the supervision of the international community and included in the ultimate interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1. Its weapons infrastructure must be permanently dismantled.
To make sure Iran does not get the bomb, Western powers should ensure that Iran agrees to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions, particularly a complete halt to uranium enrichment, to shut down and dismantle its heavy water production facility, and to accept the Additional Protocol to secure free IAEA access to suspicious nuclear installations, documents, and experts.
Tehran should not be allowed to use the nuclear negotiations to buy time and exploit regional developments in its favor.
It the West fails to act, the world will be forced to watch in despair as Iran’s ruling religious fundamentalists are rewarded with a nuclear weapon for their nefarious activities.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.