This past weekend, the Islamic Republic of Iran inaugurated Hassan Rowhani as its seventh president. In the weeks and months ahead, the world will be watching to see if the hopes and aspirations of Iranians will be fulfilled.
Canada’s skepticism of the regime’s commitment to genuine reform stands. Despite the expression of the Iranian people on June 14, Iran’s nuclear non-compliance, its deliberate decision to ignore its human-rights obligations, its ongoing sponsorship of terrorist groups, its support for Syria’s Assad regime, and its own regular and inexcusable anti-Semitic rhetoric continues unabated and undeterred. Mr. Rowhani’s own tome of literature chronicling Iranian subterfuge and clever protraction of nuclear negotiations does little to enhance his own credibility.
Irrespective of these dubious confluences, after Mr. Rowhani’s inauguration, this regressive clerical military dictatorship appears to have yet another opportunity. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has to decide whether he will continue to march Iran down its current path or whether he wants to allow Mr. Rowhani to roll back the apparatus of tyranny and fear, and place Iran within the community of nations committed to prosperity and freedom.
Maintaining the status quo will continue Iran’s isolation as international sanctions will remain in place. The status quo will also mean that Iran will continue its malevolent partnership with Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad, and deploy the insidious Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It will retain the same international standing and prestige as North Korea.
Alternatively, if the Supreme Leader allows Mr. Rowhani to immediately implement significant and deep changes in the regime’s irresponsible nuclear policies, its disregard for human rights and its destructive meddling in the Middle East, Iranians may yet see a brighter future.
Let us be clear about one irreducible fact: The choice is firmly the Supreme Leader’s to make. The Iranian President has historically been constrained and shaped by the Supreme Leader, which highlights the challenges facing Mr. Rowhani.
Some of these obstacles have already been underscored since the election in June. On July 31, Iran announced it was extending a $3.6-billion oil credit to the murderous Assad regime so it can continue butchering its own people. Iranians should be asking Mr. Rowhani why Iran is spending $3.6-billion to kill fellow Muslims in Syria, rather than investing in the economic prosperity of the Iranian people.
Human Rights Watch recently reported that executions in Iran have increased at an alarming rate since the election and that as many as 71 people have been executed since June 14. The real number is certain to be higher. Was this the change Iranians voted for?
The world cannot afford to take hints of moderation on key issues at face value while the regime continues to suffocate the aspirations of its people. Nor can we accept gestures that do not result in the systemic change Iranians demand and deserve. Serious change requires the regime to hold genuine nuclear talks with the P5+1 group, to fully co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, to respect human rights, to stop supporting agents of death, destruction and chaos in the region, and to put the real interests of its citizens first.
Iranians deserve a future free of fear in which they can enjoy the benefits of hard work and build more prosperous lives for their children. Iranians deserve to have the institutions that allow them to debate and to determine their future in freedom. Iranians deserve to see the day that Iran takes its rightful place in international affairs as a respected regional power. These are the hopes that Iranians have told us they have invested in Mr. Rowhani.
Canada and the rest of the world will be looking to the regime to undertake deep reforms and to genuinely help Iranians realize their aspirations. The world will judge the regime by the actions it takes, not its empty platitudes or symbolic gestures.
John Baird is Foreign Affairs Minister.