By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani is making a tactical shift once again. This time he is appeasing the hard-liners publicly and revealing the actual agenda of his administration after achieving the Supreme Leader’s economic objectives.
Rouhani used the UN pedestal last week to shower praise on Tehran’s theocracy. His stale slogans smack of desperation and deception. Isolated and generally regarded as a pariah, the regime and its familiar figures try to stick to the same plot and project an image of a powerful and rational player.
Brush aside the forced rhetoric and the ugly truth reveals itself: A regime that has hanged over 3,100 people under Rouhani alone, securing the world record for the highest number of executions. Dozens of young people are among the victims, securing another record; the world’s last remaining executioner of children.
While the Islamic Republic attempts to portray having a democratic electoral system, Rouhani does not represent the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people. He represents the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. His Cabinet consists of veteran intelligence and security officers with dark pasts. This includes his justice minister, Alireza Avai, who was involved in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
Rouhani’s former justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi was on the “death committee” for these executions and recently said he was proud to have carried out “God’s commandment” in 1988 against these activists from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the leading opposition. Many of the relatives of the victims believe that Rouhani represents a gang of thugs and mass murderers, rather than the will of the Iranian people.
Tehran’s regional policy is no better, with military and missile budgets skyrocketing under Rouhani, leading to the regime’s belligerent agenda in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and other hotspots in the region.
No wonder the Iranian people want a new Iran, free from a regime that diverts their wealth and scarce resources toward suppression, missiles and terrorism.
As US President Donald Trump said in his address to the UN General Assembly last week, the regime’s main victims are the Iranian people. “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change,” he said.
And “change” was the message echoed by thousands of Iranian-Americans and their supporters who gathered outside the UN headquarters in New York to protest against rogue Rouhani’s presence last Wednesday.
They called for democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Moreover, the protesters pointed to at least 11,000 recorded protests inside Iran against the regime over the past year as a sign of the Iranian people’s preparedness to implement democratic change.
A powerful message was delivered by NCRI’s President-elect Maryam Rajavi, who said: “It is time for the world community, especially western countries, to end appeasing the mullahs’ regime. Any diplomatic and commercial relations with the regime must be conditioned on a halt in torture and executions.”
Among the other speakers were House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), former senator Joe Lieberman, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and former senator Robert Torricelli.
Congressman Engel said: “Change can come from within. There are many young people in Iran who have only known oppression. I want to pledge to you that I will work with all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, work with all the government officials, keep the pressure on the regime.”
Senator Lieberman called for investigations into the 1988 massacre: “It’s time for a truth commission in Iran the way there was a truth commission in South Africa after the end of apartheid.”
John Bolton said the “safest way to guarantee peace internationally, peace in the Middle East, peace for the people of Iran, is to overthrow this regime and have a free and fair election.” A memorial for the victims of the 1988 massacre was also on display at the rally.
Many of the suspected mass graves in Iran as a result of the massacre remain undiscovered. Tens of thousands of families are demanding answers. The international community should break its silence over the 1988 massacre.
Washington should lead the way. The first step is to establish an independent investigation. More broadly, as part of a new policy that rejects both appeasement and war, America should support the Iranian people and the organized opposition of Iran toward the ultimate goal of democratic change.
This is the first time since 1979 that the White House, regional powers and the international community have had the momentum to exert the needed pressure.
A new Iran shines on the horizon. It shone brightly in New York. Let us hope it is shining just as bright for the White House.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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