The rights of Iranians vs. Iran’s “right” to enrich nuclear materials

At the very least, Iran’s election results are under a cloud. But evidence certainly seems to be mounting that there was considerable intimidation, systematic efforts to quash the ability of the opposition campaign to spread its message in the days prior to the election, and likely voter fraud. Further, President Ahmadinejad certainly didn’t do anything ...

584938_090614_ahmadinejad2.jpg
584938_090614_ahmadinejad2.jpg
Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures during a press conference in Tehran on June 14, 2009. Ahmadinejad defended his victory at a mass rally in the Iranian capital, saying the election was not "distorted" as claimed by his defeated rivals. Men and women waving Iranian flags and portraits of Ahmadinejad packed central Tehran to listen to the president who won a second four-year term in a landslide election victory on June 12. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

At the very least, Iran's election results are under a cloud. But evidence certainly seems to be mounting that there was considerable intimidation, systematic efforts to quash the ability of the opposition campaign to spread its message in the days prior to the election, and likely voter fraud. Further, President Ahmadinejad certainly didn't do anything to help his already shredded credibility with his nonsensical Sunday news conference in which among other things he asserted Iranians weren't divided by the election while violent clashes took place in the streets.

These circumstances raise an important question. Given the apparent disregard for the rights of its own citizens exhibited by the Iranian regime, will the Obama administration rethink its stance vis á vis the Iranians?

At the very least, Iran’s election results are under a cloud. But evidence certainly seems to be mounting that there was considerable intimidation, systematic efforts to quash the ability of the opposition campaign to spread its message in the days prior to the election, and likely voter fraud. Further, President Ahmadinejad certainly didn’t do anything to help his already shredded credibility with his nonsensical Sunday news conference in which among other things he asserted Iranians weren’t divided by the election while violent clashes took place in the streets.

These circumstances raise an important question. Given the apparent disregard for the rights of its own citizens exhibited by the Iranian regime, will the Obama administration rethink its stance vis á vis the Iranians?

The prevailing U.S. view, articulated by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry last week, is that the Iranians have a “right” to uranium enrichment. Will we continue to honor such a supposed right now? The hopes of many reasonable Americans has long been that it would be possible to establish a dialogue with Iran given the country’s diversity of opinions and its cosmopolitan traditions. But when democracy is seemingly crushed or at the very least undermined, the government defines itself by the degree to which it does not reflect the views of its citizens. Since governments rather than general populations control nuclear programs, shouldn’t the recent events give us reason to reconsider our recent drift toward acceptance of Iran’s nuclear aspirations?

That’s a rhetorical question. Of course it should. We should not acknowledge international “rights” of countries that deny fundamental rights to their people. I would think that would be at the core of any Obama foreign policy (in fact, it seems to be with regard to Cuba, for example). Nor, as a practical matter, should the U.S. base critical proliferation decisions on the promises of countries that so callously break their fundamental promises to their citizens and then lie about it to the world. In fact, how about amending the Non-Proliferation Treaty to limit the right to the pursuit of peaceful nuclear programs only to democracies?

This election should lead us to meet with our allies and reconsider our approach to the Iranian nuclear question — especially because through a major multilateral rebuff of the regime we might further weaken them in their own country, a place where the opposition seems so vital and poised to make such a promising change.

Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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