During the Obama administration, Washington often avoided pressing the Islamic Republic over its brutal treatment of its own citizens, out of fear that doing so would lessen its chances of achieving a historic agreement in which the ayatollahs agreed to restrict their nuclear program. Now that the Biden administration is considering a resurrection of the deal, Xiyue Wang—an American historian of Iran who was held hostage there—urges the White House not to make the mistake of relegating human rights to the back burner:
As seen . . . following the conclusion of the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran’s human-rights condition is unlikely to improve through Obama-style engagement. On the contrary, such engagement tends to backfire and intensify the regime’s malign behavior. Therefore, the United States should instead maintain moral solidarity with freedom-seeking Iranians and implement measures against the regime for its human-rights abuses.
A good start would be to establish a congressional commission to monitor human-rights violations in Iran and to provide material and moral support to Iran’s civil and political activists. Moreover, the United States should impose targeted sanctions, through the Magnitsky Act, on Iranian entities and individuals involved in such abuses.
This work cannot be done overnight. It requires an enduring political commitment to create and implement an effective strategy. Regardless of the challenges, American leaders should not hesitate to undertake such a task. They need only be reminded of Pope John Paul II’s message in 1978 to the oppressed people behind the Iron Curtain: “Be not afraid!” This simple message inspired and galvanized millions in the pope’s native Poland to defy the Communist dictatorship by demanding civil and political rights. It eventually helped to bring about not only the end of Communist rule in Poland, but also the total collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Appeasing the regime by giving in to its extortion, nuclear or otherwise, is a road to failure.