(animated sunrise) Foundation for Democracy in Iran

Time to End 'Critical Dialogue'

with Iran

Wall Street Journal-Europe (editorial page),

June 10, 1996

© Copyright 1996 by Kenneth R. Timmerman


Washington, DC - The killer had been known to the victim for several years, but it was only on the evening of May 27 that he finally struck. Without even breaking down the door, he entered the apartment of his old "friend," Iranian opposition activist Reza Mazlouman, and pumped two bullets in his chest. For good measure, he or an accomplice fired a third shot that pulverized Mazlouman's head, then fled.

Several days later, police in Germany arrested a wealthy Iranian businessman in Bonn, known for his close ties to the Islamic Republic - and to Reza Mazlouman. The French authorities have requested he be extradited to France for his possible role in the Mazlouman assassination. The wire services have quoted German police sources as saying the individual has already confessed to being present at Mazlouman's apartment in the suburbs of Paris on the night of the killing, and that he is a professional Iranian intelligence agent. Police are still searching for his accomplice.

The assassination of Reza Mazlouman is only the latest in a series of killings of Iranian opposition activists in Europe, where a trail of blood has led directly back to Tehran. The French government, to its credit, reacted by canceling a long-scheduled visit to Tehran by France's top Middle East hand, Dennis Bauchard.

Commercial ties

But the Iranian regime knows how to win Europe over. Just one week prior to the Mazlouman killing, Iran announced it was seriously considering purchasing $1 billion worth of civilian airliners from the European Airbus consortium. Will Europe kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Not on your life. When I asked a European Union diplomat here in Washington how the EU viewed the assassination of Iranian exiles in Europe, he acknowledged that they were little more than "road kill."

Despite the overwhelming evidence of Iranian government involvement in terrorism on European soil and in Israel, the EU continues its policy of "critical dialogue" with Tehran. As one senior U.S. official quipped: "critical dialogue means that the Europeans and the Iranians get together, and criticize the Americans."

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who has been leading the European charge against U.S. diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran, is not shy. Following the Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombings in Israel which claimed the lives of over 60 Israelis, he traveled to Jerusalem in March and told Israeli leaders there was "no evidence" Iran played any part in the bombings. But he reassured then Prime Minister Shimon Peres that if it eventually turned up, "such evidence would force us to reconsider our relations with Iran -- there is a red line."

Only days later, the CIA and the Israelis uncovered hard evidence that the suicide bombing on Ditzengoff Street in Tel Aviv had been carried out on direct orders from Tehran. A few weeks later, they arrested a Lebanese man who confessed to having been trained by Iran to carry out a plot to blow up an Israeli airliner. (The Israelis only caught him by accident, after he blew his legs off while manipulating the bomb in an East Jerusalem hotel). What became of Kinkel's high-minded promise to Peres? Uncharacteristically, the German Foreign Minister went silent.

When EU Foreign Ministers convened in Luxembourg on April 22, they vowed to pursue their commercial dealings with Tehran despite Iran's refusal to meet even the most minimum requirement of civilized behavior - that it refrain from actively conducting assassination and terrorist campaigns on foreign soil. "There was a general view that critical dialogue is better than no dialogue," Ireland's European Affairs Minister, Gay Mitchell, cynically told reporters after the meeting.

In their efforts to put on a good face, the Europeans argue that dialogue (read: trade) with Iran helps "moderate" Iranian politicians such as President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the son of a pistachio farmer who, although he is a mullah, is widely viewed in Europe as a free-trader. His supporters argue that Mr. Rafsanjani's greed by far overshadows his ideological commitment to exporting the Islamic Revolution.

Since the "moderate" Mr. Rafsanjani took over the presidency in 1989, however, no fewer than 45 Iranian exiles have been assassinated in cold blood by Iranian government hit teams, according to a data base maintained by the Washington-based Foundation for Democracy in Iran. And in public statements Iranian officials have boasted that they have executed 4,324 Iranians under Mr. Rafsanjani, the vast majority of them without a public trial or a right to legal defense. The authorities conveniently accuse them of being "drug traffickers" and "armed bandits." But there is little reason to believe this given Tehran's refusal to provide any information on the trials to international human rights groups.

Last week, 44 Iranian-backed activists were arrested in Bahrain, accused of plotting a coup against the pro-Western government. Serious analysts of Iran know very well that none of Iran's foreign adventures can take place without the personal approval of Mr. Rafsanjani.

In recent weeks, Mr. Rafsanjani has come under attack inside Iran by anti-Western conservatives. Mr. Rafsanjani and his "liberals," a term used to designate the team of technocrats and economists who have supported efforts to lure Western investment capital into Iran, have been blamed for economic mismanagement, corruption, the failure of post-war reconstruction, and virtually every other ill to have befallen Iran in the past seven years. On May 20, the conservative Jomhouri-e Eslami daily, which is owned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, even accused the liberals of "the terrible heresy that religion should be separated from government" and of "wanting the [S]hah's reign to continue."

In an attempt to short-circuit his critics, Mr. Rafsanjani has made several virulent anti-American speeches in recent weeks, both at home and abroad. His May 14 diatribe against the U.S. and Israel during an economic summit with Central Asian leaders in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan was considered so outrageous that Uzbek president Islam Karimov walked out, causing the 3-day meeting to be shortened by one day. Back in Iran, he warned the U.S. on May 19th that he would reveal "secret documents" showing how the Clinton administration cooperated with Iran in delivering arms to the Bosnian Muslims. With typical flair, Mr. Rafsanjani added that he possessed documents on both Republicans and Democrats, which would have "decisive impact on U.S. politics."

In his latest move, Mr. Rafsanjani has sought to ally himself with the very anti-Western and left-wing radicals he tossed out of government when he first assumed the presidency in 1989. Among those backing Rafsanjani at a May 24 meeting at the residence of the late Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran were former Intelligence Minister Mohammad Reyshari, who orchestrated the anti-Western terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the 1980s. Alliances like these should sound the alarm bells in board rooms and chancelleries across Europe. But they do not.

Once again, as in Munich in 1938, the Europeans have stuck their heads in the sand. No amount of evidence will convince them to change their minds. They have achieved "peace in our time" with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and will continue to shrug their shoulders at Iranian misdeeds.

In the end, European support for the Islamic Republic will backfire. It could even cause the bankruptcy of major European industrial concerns, which have been misled by their governments into investing corporate assets in a regime which is hanging on to power through brute force.

Consider this statement by a retired Iranian general, Azizollah Amir Rahimi, who was jailed by the regime in 1994 but who continues to speak out despite the threats against him. "A few weeks ago, in an unprecedented farce, the regime actually appointed some of its loyal followers as Members of Parliament and labeled this appointment an "election." [...] I believe that most of the acts of the Islamic Republic are a pure insult to this great nation. Iranians believe that all the resolutions of this new so-called "parliament" are illegal. All pacts with foreign countries approved by this puppet parliament are deemed as illegal by the nation of Iran..."

While Mr. Amir Rahimi is not close to seizing power in Iran, his disgust with the current regime is shared by many Iranians - including some of the regime's own supporters. Europe has bet heavily on the current regime. And if the regime falls, Europe's losses will be heavy, too.

At a two-day conference sponsored last month by the Petro-Hunt Corporation and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, analysts from all across the spectrum (including pro-regime advocates) achieved a remarkable consensus about Iran's prospects under the current regime.

Among the fourteen points of consensus were these, which European leaders and businessmen should contemplate:

  • "The regime in Iran has mismanaged the utilization of the oil and gas industry as well as the capital resources which derive from that industry;"
  • "Iran is losing a historic opportunity to provide pipeline routes for Central Asian hydrocarbon exports;
  • "The existing Iranian regime either has to transform itself, or it will be changed to be acceptable to the Iranians and to the world;"
  • "The current Iranian regime - as any other fundamentalist regime - is most likely incapable of changing its behavior;"
  • The U.S. and other nations will not tolerate terrorism and development of weapons of mass destruction;"
  • Unilateral sanctions are not as effective as multilateral sanctions, and industry is opposed to any sanctions which put U.S. companies at a disadvantage."
  • "Halfway measures by the United States are the worst policy choices... The United States must develop a long-term perspective on Iran."

    Whether the Europeans support U.S. sanctions against Iran or not makes little difference in the end - for the United States. It will make a tremendous difference for the Europeans. European governments would do better to hedge their bets than to maintain the absurd charade of "critical" dialogue with a regime that has become so thoroughly discredited at home that its very survival is now at question.

    Kenneth Timmerman is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI). FDI is a private, non-profit corporation registered in the State of Maryland. FDI materials, including the FDI News Update, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at http://www.iran.org/.