To understand Europe’s misguided policy toward the hundreds of thousands of brave Iranians who have blanketed cities across their country to demand the end of the nearly 40-year-old mullah-led regime, it is worth recalling the words of Dan Schueftan, chairman of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa: “Whenever you don’t know what to do, ask the Europeans. Then do the opposite.”
In sharp contrast to the U.S. policy of taking the side of Iranian demonstrators, the European Union response to the protests reflects the moral collapse of its foreign policy. The 28-member EU has largely aligned itself with the reactionary ayatollahs who control the Islamic Republic.
The EU’s chief diplomat Federica Mogherini, who was in Cuba to promote better relations with the communist dictatorship, waited a week before wading gingerly into the subject of the regime’s violent repression of peaceful protests. Thus far at least 21 people have been murdered by the security apparatus, and more than 2,000 people have been imprisoned. The real numbers are certainly higher, hidden by the regime’s restrictions on press freedom.
Mogherini bemoaned the “unacceptable loss of life,” but her nebulous statement did not pin the blame on the perpetrators of the killings: the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Basij militia.
While there exists a sizeable divide between the EU and the U.S. over Iran policy, the U.S. government has considerable economic leverage available to influence a change in EU behavior. The U.S. Treasury Department last week imposed new sanctions on Iranian entities for their involvement in Tehran’s illicit missile program.
The U.S. could raise the stakes and impose secondary sanctions on European banks and companies involved with Iran’s banks, including its powerful central bank and the IRGC. European countries wish to protect their businesses operating in the Islamic Republic and their credit insurance availability; we propose a seven-point human rights plan to advance Iranian democracy and liberty.
First, a joint public letter and press conference by the leaders of all Western democracies, unambiguously expressing support for the Iranian protestors for seeking a democratic government animated by the people and serving the people.
Second, the EU should propose replicating the US government’s October executive order sanctioning all of the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity. The mere announcement that the EU is considering sanctioning the IRGC will send chills throughout the mullah economic superstructure. The IRGC is believed to control over 50% of the economy.
Third, the EU states should recall their ambassadors from Tehran and evict Iranian ambassadors from European capitals until the massacre of protesters stops. The absence of ambassadors will not spell a complete breakdown in communication, because junior diplomatic personnel can still operate.
Fourth, the EU should stop all cultural and academic programs with Iran until the bloodshed is over.
Fifth, the EU should work with the US to provide social media platforms to Iranians, so they can coordinate their demonstrations and exercise free speech.
Sixth, the U.S. and the EU should encourage all trade unions to issue statements of solidarity for the struggling working class in Iran. The calls for worker solidarity should underscore the right for Iranians to form and join independent labor unions. It is worth recalling that the U.S. government worked closely with the AFL-CIO to advocate the demise of Soviet communism. A similar model can advance trade union democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Seventh, the EU should ramp up human rights sanctions targeting the Iranian regime perpetrators of violence during the current protests.
The prominent U.S. anti-Communist philosopher Sidney Hook famously said, “Freedom is a fighting word.” Iranian protestors have internalized that notion.
“Whenever there is a human rights issue, or a human rights violation, we Europeans feel we must do something, and we do something,” Mogherini said weeks before the protests unfolded in Iran.
Will the U.S. government flex its muscles and push the Europeans to change their pro-Iran regime course and help make Mogherini’s human rights boast a reality?
Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Farzan, a German-Iranian, is the executive director of the Foreign Policy Circle, a strategy think tank in Berlin.
Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.