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The great EU distraction: A moment for Iran to change the subject from nuclear to human rights

Commentary: By canceling a visit, Tehran reinforced its disregard of human rights.
Iran ahmadinejad 2012 9 26Enlarge
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2012 in New York City. The 67th annual event gathers more than 100 heads of state and government for high level meetings on nuclear safety, regional conflicts, health and nutrition and environment issues. (John Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – Iran handed the world an unintentionally belated gift by disinviting a delegation from the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union, to a planned visit to Tehran, ostensibly to talk about human rights. It seems the EU group had the audacity to ask to meet with two Iranian human rights activists the EU had awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Tehran’s cancelling the trip speaks volumes about Iran’s disregard for human rights and the regime’s disparagement of serious discussion about its human rights record.

The trip was a bad idea from the start. The group was roundly criticized for both its limited announced agenda and for offering the opportunity for the Iranians to take advantage of their visit to gain badly needed legitimacy.

Tehran is facing increasingly tough sanctions for its incessant pursuit of nuclear weapons. But this delegation of Members of Parliament was so determined to make the visit for the visit’s sake that it is unlikely they would have pressed Tehran on its nuclear weapons program.

If Iranian leaders could not even follow through on their promise to talk about human rights, why would they act on the up-and-up on something as threatening as Iran’s nuclear weapons program?

To be sure, any examination of human rights is important, especially in an oppressive and intolerant regime that readily detains, jails and executes political dissenters, juvenile offenders and adherents of the Baha’i faith. But Tehran did not have to be the place for such a discussion. Calling out Iran as the serial human rights abuser it is can easily be done from Brussels or Geneva.

This parliamentary delegation planned to travel to Tehran to meet with a regime that the EU has been trying to isolate. A visit like this would have handed the Iranians a gift of distraction—moving the focus off its nuclear weapons program while posing for photos with their invited guests.

Why, when Europe is implementing its strongest sanctions yet—and a toll is, finally, being taken on the Iranian economy—would an international delegation go off to Teheran?

More pressure and more sanctions need to be brought, certainly not more engagement. Most world leaders agree that Iran poses the greatest threat to global stability today. With the clock ticking, it is Iran’s nuclear ambitions that must be addressed now.

Had this trip taken place it would have been counterproductive to the attempt at isolating Iran, which the United States and the EU have been working to achieve. Making the trek to Iran in this way would have sent the wrong message to a country that has no regard for its own people and surely no regard for international peace or stability.

The last time the European Union sent a parliamentary delegation to Iran was in 2007. Several people were hanged in public during that visit in a clear showing of disregard for the European representatives.

There is no “bridge building” with an international pariah. Iran’s status as the largest state-sponsor of global terrorism has not changed. Iran’s threats against Israel have not subsided. Certainly the members of Parliament who planned to travel to Tehran should not have fallen for this blatant distraction.

We spoke out against the trip when it was originally announced and urged the members of European Parliament to cancel it.

The EU parliamentarians have learned about Iran the hard way. There is nothing reasonable about those who abuse human rights—or who are clearly bent on producing a nuclear weapon.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International. He directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities and staff in more than 50 countries where B’nai B’rith is organized. 

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