Hold Zarif Accountable for Iran’s Human Rights Violations
Does believing in diplomacy and not being a proponent of war oblige one to deal with tyrants or embrace their facilitators and enablers? Of course, any conscientious person would say no. So why do Norwegian officials feel obliged to roll out the red carpet for Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, during his Scandinavian tour?
As a nation proud of holding human rights values esteem, Norway should use this opportunity to hold him to account for the Iranian regime’s nefarious activities. The Iranian regime has the world’s highest rate of executions per capita and is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Among other destructive regional activities, Iran has been the main supporter of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and it is increasingly threatening the wider world with its ballistic missile program.
The Iranian theocracy is based on the concept of Velayat-e faqih, or absolute rule of the supreme leader. Every official is vetted for allegiance to him, and Ali Khamenei himself hand picks a number of ministers, including the foreign minister. So it is unsurprising that Zarif has been complicit for years in the Iranian regime’s malign activities. He has not only been the face and voice of the ayatollahs’ rule, he has personally worked to implement Khamenei’s reckless agenda and to justify and whitewash Tehran’s crimes at home and abroad. In reality, he is more of a propaganda minister than a foreign minister.
With a wide smile and fluent English, Zarif is dubbed by some in the West as the moderate face of his regime. But that role was deliberately bestowed upon him by the regime’s leaders in order to solidify their impunity. In reality, Zarif is anything but moderate.
Since he became foreign minister in 2013, the regime has executed more than 3,500 people, including women and children. According to Iranian opposition, more than 8,000 activists were arrested during early-2018 protests in more than 160 cities throughout the country and a number of them were tortured to death.
Zarif is no stranger to crimes against humanity. He was active as a senior career diplomat in the United Nations in 1988 while his government butchered over 30,000 political prisoners, members and supporters of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the main opposition movement in Iran.
A diplomat from the Iranian embassy in Vienna has been charged with a plot to bomb a MEK rally in Paris on June 2018 and is awaiting trial in Belgium. The ambassador and first secretary from the Iranian embassy in Albania were expelled from that country last December on similar charges. Zarif is ultimately their boss.
Zarif publicly boasts of being a cohort of notorious figures such as Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the notorious IRGC Quds Force, who has been directly implicated in much of the chaos in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. At a meeting in February 2019 between Zarif and Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Nasrollah thanked Zarif for his regime’s help in fighting what he called “Zionist aggression.”
According to Al-Manar TV, a Hezbollah-affiliated broadcaster, Zarif pledged continued Iranian support for Hezbollah, despite the fact that Iranian government assessments anticipate 70 percent of the Iranian people are sliding under the poverty line by the end of 2019.
Zarif’s participation in his regime’s two-faced game has worked fine for the ayatollahs over the years due to an appeasement policy that was pursued on both sides of the Atlantic for three decades. But that policy is coming to an end, and the Iranian regime can no longer count on the U.S. to be its life saver.
One would hope that the same would be true of U.S. allies like Norway. But receiving a state visit from someone like Javad Zarif is unethical. It is not politically savvy either. Tehran faces growing signs of dissent, particularly among the youth, its economy is falling apart and its international isolation is growing. Anyone who embraces Zarif gives legitimacy to a government that is on the verge of collapse.
Nobody wants a war with Iran, but the best way to prevent war is to reject Tehran’s egregious conduct wholesale. By rejecting Zarif’s visit and holding him to account, Norway would be taking an ethical and principled position while sending a message of support to the Iranian people who are crying out for freedom.