Iran deal: ‘We have to learn from 2015. Don’t free up the sanctions’

The world needs to make sure that the Iran talks extend beyond just the nuclear program, that they address Iran’s malign activities and human rights abuses, B’nai B’rith International is arguing.

 International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi gestures during a news conference at an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, September 13, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi gestures during a news conference at an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, September 13, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER)

WASHINGTON - As the superpowers and Iran gear up for Monday’s seventh round of talks in Vienna, B’nai B’rith International is calling for a united front to make sure that the talks address not only the nuclear program, but also Iran’s malign activities and human rights abuses.

In recent months, the organization has held “many” meetings with EU diplomats both in Europe and at the UN to address these issues.

“We were advocating against the JCPOA even before 2015, and at the time we said that this is not a regime that can be trusted,” says Daniel Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International.

“We called for three baskets of negotiations: the nuclear one, which of course is the most threatening, but also for a basket for malign behavior and support for terrorism,” he said. “And then the third basket would be human rights, because the Iranians are among the worst abusers of human rights in the world.”

But the response he got from the Obama administration was “nuclear is front and center,” Mariaschin said. “And I believe it was a naive assumption. Over the past 11 months, our position essentially has not changed. In fact, if anything, it has been reinforced by the behavior of the Iranians from the beginning of this year.

Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)

“Three days ago, there was a drone attack on the American base in Syria. I mean, we’re talking about reconvening talks in Vienna at the end of this month, and three days ago they’re still attacking us. They’re attacking our bases in Iraq. They’re attacking the base in Syria.”

Mariaschin said that while the key player is the Biden administration, “the key to presenting a united front on this issue is whether the Europeans are all on the same page. That’s the issue, and I’m not sure we’re there.”

For that reason, B’nai B’rith International has been very active in Europe over the past few months, said Mariaschin. 

“In our meetings with European diplomats, and we’ve had many meetings, we have raised all of the issues. My sense is that the Europeans are not as exercised about the Iranian threat as they should be. The Europeans need to be much less equivocal on this issue than they are. I sometimes feel they don’t see Iran’s behavior necessarily as an existential threat for them. I think sometimes they see it as an academic exercise, but not as an existential threat. It’s an existential threat when it comes to the threats against Israel, the threats against the Gulf states. But I think that they are not as exercised. To go back into talks – that’s good [for them] because it’s kicking the can down the road continually, and they would rather kick the can down the road, I believe.

“We’ve also discussed these issues with a couple of Latin American countries because of our concern about the penetration of Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere.”

Mariaschin said it would be harder to get the Iranians to agree to a “longer and stronger” agreement if the West is signaling eagerness to return to the JCPOA.

“I hope the administration has learned that over the last 11 months, notwithstanding they’re signaling that they want to go back into the JCPOA,” he said. “The Iranians are drawing conclusions based on a sense that the West is desperate.

“If they sense an eagerness, then why would they at any point give up and change their mind about what they’re going to do with the nuclear program? I think ratcheting up your enrichment to 60% is a threat. It’s not a gambit on a negotiating position. So I believe that we have to learn from 2015. Don’t free up the sanctions, don’t allow them to take the extra cash and plow it back in as an investment in their hegemonic activity. Keep sanctions on. Keep it tight. Don’t signal that there’s eagerness.”