(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 severalyears, 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 pumpedtwo bullets in his chest. For good measure, he or an accomplice fired athird shot that pulverized Mazlouman's head, then fled.

Several days later, police in Germany arrested a wealthy Iranian businessmanin Bonn, known for his close ties to the Islamic Republic - and to RezaMazlouman. The French authorities have requested he be extradited to Francefor his possible role in the Mazlouman assassination. The wire serviceshave quoted German police sources as saying the individual has alreadyconfessed to being present at Mazlouman's apartment in the suburbs of Parison the night of the killing, and that he is a professional Iranian intelligenceagent. Police are still searching for his accomplice.

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

Commercial ties

But the Iranian regime knows how to win Europe over. Just one week priorto 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 viewedthe assassination of Iranian exiles in Europe, he acknowledged that theywere little more than "road kill."

Despite the overwhelming evidence of Iranian government involvementin terrorism on European soil and in Israel, the EU continues its policyof "critical dialogue" with Tehran. As one senior U.S. officialquipped: "critical dialogue means that the Europeans and the Iraniansget together, and criticize the Americans."

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

Only days later, the CIA and the Israelis uncovered hard evidence thatthe suicide bombing on Ditzengoff Street in Tel Aviv had been carried outon direct orders from Tehran. A few weeks later, they arrested a Lebaneseman who confessed to having been trained by Iran to carry out a plot toblow up an Israeli airliner. (The Israelis only caught him by accident,after he blew his legs off while manipulating the bomb in an East Jerusalemhotel). 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 vowedto pursue their commercial dealings with Tehran despite Iran's refusalto meet even the most minimum requirement of civilized behavior - thatit refrain from actively conducting assassination and terrorist campaignson foreign soil. "There was a general view that critical dialogueis 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 politicianssuch as President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the son of a pistachiofarmer 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 hisideological commitment to exporting the Islamic Revolution.

Since the "moderate" Mr. Rafsanjani took over the presidencyin 1989, however, no fewer than 45 Iranian exiles have been assassinatedin cold blood by Iranian government hit teams, according to a data basemaintained by the Washington-based Foundation for Democracy in Iran. Andin public statements Iranian officials have boasted that they have executed4,324 Iranians under Mr. Rafsanjani, the vast majority of them withouta public trial or a right to legal defense. The authorities convenientlyaccuse them of being "drug traffickers" and "armed bandits."But there is little reason to believe this given Tehran's refusal to provideany information on the trials to international human rights groups.

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

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

In an attempt to short-circuit his critics, Mr. Rafsanjani has madeseveral virulent anti-American speeches in recent weeks, both at home andabroad. His May 14 diatribe against the U.S. and Israel during an economicsummit with Central Asian leaders in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan was consideredso outrageous that Uzbek president Islam Karimov walked out, causing the3-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 howthe Clinton administration cooperated with Iran in delivering arms to theBosnian Muslims. With typical flair, Mr. Rafsanjani added that he possesseddocuments on both Republicans and Democrats, which would have "decisiveimpact on U.S. politics."

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

Once again, as in Munich in 1938, the Europeans have stuck their headsin the sand. No amount of evidence will convince them to change their minds.They have achieved "peace in our time" with the Islamic Republicof 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 assetsin a regime which is hanging on to power through brute force.

Consider this statement by a retired Iranian general, Azizollah AmirRahimi, who was jailed by the regime in 1994 but who continues to speakout despite the threats against him. "A few weeks ago, in an unprecedentedfarce, the regime actually appointed some of its loyal followers as Membersof Parliament and labeled this appointment an "election." [...]I believe that most of the acts of the Islamic Republic are a pure insultto this great nation. Iranians believe that all the resolutions of thisnew so-called "parliament" are illegal. All pacts with foreigncountries approved by this puppet parliament are deemed as illegal by thenation of Iran..."

While Mr. Amir Rahimi is not close to seizing power in Iran, his disgustwith the current regime is shared by many Iranians - including some ofthe 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 Corporationand Southern Methodist University in Dallas, analysts from all across thespectrum (including pro-regime advocates) achieved a remarkable consensusabout Iran's prospects under the current regime.

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

  • "The regime in Iran has mismanaged the utilization of the oiland gas industry as well as the capital resources which derive from thatindustry;"
  • "Iran is losing a historic opportunity to provide pipeline routesfor Central Asian hydrocarbon exports;
  • "The existing Iranian regime either has to transform itself, orit 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 developmentof 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 adisadvantage."
  • "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 makeslittle difference in the end - for the United States. It will make a tremendousdifference for the Europeans. European governments would do better to hedgetheir bets than to maintain the absurd charade of "critical"dialogue with a regime that has become so thoroughly discredited at homethat its very survival is now at question.

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