On February 13, Poland will host an international conference on the future of Mid-East policy. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially billed the event as an opportunity to build consensus regarding American strategies to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran and compel it to “behave like a normal country.” He has since backed off of this rhetoric, but realistically, Iranian affairs will remain a major focus. After all, the Trump administration has rightly observed that Tehran’s fingerprints can be found on nearly all of the crises encompassing the region today and many of these will be at the forefront of the international conversation when the conference takes place.
Syria continues to dominate headlines as its civil war winds down, and Iran has lately signalled its intention to leave forces in the country over the longer term whilst also continuing to promote Shiite militias that played a key role in the defence of the Assad regime. Meanwhile, the similarly devastating civil war in Yemen is producing increasingly urgent calls for international resolution, which must necessarily address Iranian support for Houthi rebels.
But other ongoing issues may have less traction among participants in the Warsaw conference, regardless of their seriousness. Although many of those participants already recognize the Islamic Republic’s destructive influence over its neighbours’ affairs, relatively few have given due attention to the theocratic government’s impact on its own people. This is an unfortunate oversight. If the international community hopes to fully address the regional problems associated with the Iranian regime, it must begin with an understanding of the dire conditions inside that country.
For more than a year now, those conditions have entailed constant unrest. December 2017 marked the beginning of a nationwide uprising that would last through much of the following month and popularize provocative anti-government slogans, which left little doubt about the people’s ambition for a change of government. That sentiment is one that the United States and its allies ought to recognise as they strive to constrain the clerical regime’s regional influence and promote the cause of democracy in the Middle East.
Advocates for that cause will be gathering in Paris on February 8, just a few days before the Warsaw conference. There, Iranian expatriates and supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran will use the opportunity to both show solidarity with Iran’s domestic protest movement and to bring it to the attention of international policymakers. The rally can also be expected to underscore the threat that pro-democracy activists face in Iran as the regime continues to step up its repressive response to their efforts. This preliminary conference should not be ignored by the Press and deserves both air-time and column inches. There is a responsibility on Western news-media to ensure that participants in the Warsaw conference have a opportunity to listen to the message of the Paris rally both for humanitarian reasons and reasons of international security.
In the first place, the international community must be aware of the thousands of arrests and dozens of killings that have been carried out by regime authorities since the unrest began at the end of 2017. Not only do previous human rights abuses demand a response, but there is every indication that points to even worse developments in the future.
The Islamic Republic has a long history of human rights violations and has been repeatedly censured for them by the United Nations. The worst of these took place when the regime’s hold on power seemed most vulnerable, as in the immediate aftermath of the eight-year war with Iraq. It was then, in the summer of 1988, that Tehran undertook the mass execution of political prisoners, killing almost 30,000 people in an effort to destroy the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which nonetheless remains the country’s leading advocate for democracy and a driving force behind the ongoing protests.
It is clear that the Iranian regime now feels its power slipping away in the face of those protests, the effectiveness of which is amplified by rising levels of international pressure, spearheaded by the White House. But the protest movement cannot stand still and will be in grave danger if that trend does not continue to accelerate. If, as in 1988, the international community appears weak-willed or inattentive to Iranian affairs in the wake of the Warsaw conference – then Tehran may well feel emboldened to follow through on the threats of execution that it has already directed against peaceful demonstrators.
However, if all Western allies take appropriately assertive steps through their Iran policies, there are very good chances that will save Iranian lives. But more so – there will be an equally good chance that it will safeguard the protesters’ expanded cause – a cause that has been outlined in the 10-point plan of Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the NCRI, which describes “a free and democratic Iran that is committed to peaceful relations with its neighbours”.
Thus, it should go without saying that the success of the current Iranian protest movement represents the surest means of resolving all those regional issues that bear Iranian fingerprints. If the US and Western allies are truly committed to turning Iran from the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism into a normal democratic country, there can be no room for equivocation. In essence, the Warsaw conference alone cannot succeed without meaningful support for the ordinary people of Iran – not least as articulated by Iranian Resistance.