Robert Joseph

MEK Iran: Amb. Robert Joseph: For a Regime that can not Reform or Become Moderate, Appeasement is not a Solution

Robert Joseph

Ambassador Robert Joseph, the former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, speaks at NCRI-US webinar “IRAN: The Imperative To Reimpose UN Sanctions,” August 19, 2020.

During the conference “The Imperative to Reimpose UN Sanction”, at NCRI-US webinar, on Saturday, Robert Joseph Senior Scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy, gave a thorough analysis of the right policy in dealing with the Iranian regime. Given the importance of the issue, the full text of this speech is transcripted here:

Iran Policy Webinar, August 19, 2020:Robert Joseph:  It’s great to be here today.  It’s great to be part of this impressive and very timely panel.  I think David, Paula, and Matt have all done a terrific job describing the nature of the regime in Tehran, describing the spectrum of threats that we face both in the region and beyond, and describing the vital national security interests that are at stake, both near term and longer time.

I think we would all agree that we’re at a critical juncture.  No matter what happens, no matter what the outcome in November, I think the policy choices that will be made in Washington over the next six months will, I believe, determine the answers to several strategic level questions:

Will the U.S. meet the challenges posed by Iran to peace and stability in a critically important region?

Will the U.S. stand in favor of promoting democracy and human rights against a religious dictatorship?

Will the U.S. successfully counter the great power challenges from Russia and China playing out diplomatically in the United Nations today, and militarily, directly and through proxies, in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere?

The question of extending the UN arms embargo, which the previous speakers have discussed, provides almost a microcosm for addressing the wider set of issues reflected in these questions.  It is self-evident that continuing the embargo is essential for U.S. interests, but not only U.S. interests, the interests of the international community.

Russia and China want to end the embargo for both commercial gains and for the geostrategic advantages that would flow from providing arms to Tehran.  In turn, Iran would gain access to advanced capabilities that would be used to further its regional aggression, and that would be funneled to its terrorist proxies for use against the neighbors.

Added to this, failing to extend the embargo through the snapback mechanism would likely mean the end for any prospect for re-establishing effective multilateral sanctions in the future.  Yet, even our closest allies may oppose the right of the U.S. to invoke the mechanism under UN SCR 2231, arguing that the United States is no longer a participant to the agreement, which may be a very weak legal argument but certainly it is one that is politically seductive.

Failure to leave and to prevail on this issue would have severe negative consequences for the United States which is precisely why Russia and China are seeking to engineer the U.S. defeat.  Failure could also lead to the unraveling of the UN system where the permanent Security Council members have always had an absolute veto.

For my part, I see two broad courses of action for U.S. policy.  The first is to revert to policies of appeasement, always, of course, masquerading or dressed as seeking a diplomatic outcome instead of war.  Let’s not forget how many times we heard the previous administration that we have almost a binary choice.  We could have negotiations even if that meant that a flawed agreement or we could have war.  This was and this remains a false choice as demonstrated by the fact for the past two years after we left the JCPOA that we have not had wars.

Negotiation is not always the best solution.  Just ask Mr. Chamberlain who successfully negotiated an agreement of peace with Herr Hitler in Munich.  But the agreement turned out to be nothing more than an encouragement for the Germans to continue on their path to world war.

Last week I gave a TV interview, something that I am rather reluctant to do these days.  The other guests on the program argued that the pressure in Iran that has been exerted by the Trump administration is not working and that what we need to do is talk to Iran’s leaders.  My reaction was to note that every administration for the past 30 years, both Republican and Democratic, have sought meaningful talks with Iran, but never with success unless one considers the JCPOA to be a success.

If you think that agreement was a success, you need to ask what it achieved.  We know now that it did not lead to a more moderate Iran.  In fact, the regime has taken billions of dollars that it gained from the agreement and what hasn’t been siphoned off through corruption has been used to expand its support for terrorism, its aggression abroad, and the repression of its own people.  But the central problem is not the JCPOA, as fundamentally flawed as it is.

The problem is the regime, a regime that cannot reform or cannot become more moderate.  It’s a regime that will never abandon its support for terrorism or its use of terror as a tool to achieve its objectives.  This is a regime that will not give up its ambitions for nuclear weapons, as is clear from the revelations of the nuclear archives smuggled out of the country, and also the growing accumulation of documented violations that have been found by the IAEA.

While we and our allies may dream and do dream of a different Iran, that dream will become a nightmare if we do not acknowledge the real problem, the regime itself.  This is why I’m concerned about both those who want to put Humpty Dumpty, the JCPOA, back together again, and those who believe that we can negotiate a new and better agreement in four weeks, both are pursuing dangerous fantasies.  Negotiations in good faith with this regime are simply not an option.

The second course of action is to continue to keep the maximum pressure on the regime from the outside, something the Trump administration has done a rather good job doing.  Sanctions have and will continue to have a very profound effect on the Iranian economy.  Iran’s economy is in shambles, driven to bankruptcy, endemic corruption by incompetence, and by the international sanctions that have been placed on the regime for their pursuit of nuclear weapons for the support of terrorism and for other reasons, and collectively these sanctions and the deteriorating economy have robbed the Iranian people of the prosperity and livelihood that they deserve.

The regime has nowhere to turn now in terms of economic relief, in terms of reversing the economic freefall.  Selling out the country’s future to China is only the next desperate act that will only further its demise.

For our part, we must not throw the regime a lifeline by pursuing new fatally flawed agreements in exchange for more old false promises.  We must deny the regime any legitimacy simply by telling the truth and keeping the focus on its reign of terror over the past 40 years.

The recent House of Representatives resolution, wide bipartisan support, is an important step, as are the growing calls to hold members of the regime responsible for their crimes against humanity.

Iran’s leaders know that they have lost all legitimacy.  The Iranian people have now become the greatest threat to the regime.  The mass killings in the street across Iran are acts of a desperate and dying regime.

Expressions of support for those in Iran seeking democracy, statements from our President, from the Secretary of State, and from others are important because they uphold human rights as a principle of U.S. policy, and they add to the pressure on the regime.

Most important, we must support the democratic opposition outside and inside Iran.  We know that regime change must come from within, and we know that regime change will come from within. Let me stop there, just given the time that I’ve taken.  Thank you.

MEK: justice for the massacre’s victims and the hopes the U.N. General Assembly will also bring up the matter. Anybody…

Posted by MEK Iran on Saturday, August 22, 2020

Alireza Jafarzadeh:  Thank you so much, Professor.  Ambassador Joseph, you ended your remarks saying that the biggest threat to this regime is the people of Iran and you talked about the potential for change, and also you mentioned the U.S. needs to support the democratic Iranian opposition to effect change.  But can you please elaborate on that?  What’s the prospect for that?  Because there are people in this town, I should say for the past 40 years, who have been saying that this regime is there to stay and there is no real opposition, there is no viable opposition, and the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know, so let’s just deal with this regime and just find a way of searching for moderates in all of that.  Can you please elaborate on the last point you just made?  Thank you.  

Robert Joseph:  Sure.  Alireza, that’s exactly where I was going to go had I had more time in my opening remarks.  Let me preface my answer by saying again that this regime is simply incapable, simply incapable of becoming more moderate, and it is incapable of reform.  It continues to rely on terrorism as an instrument of policy.

It’s been almost 20 years ago since my boss and Paula’s bass and David’s boss, Condi Rice, declared Iran to be the central banker of international terrorism, and that assessment was based on the previous 20 years of terrorist activities by the regime.  Nothing has really changed.  You have noted, Alireza, some of the terrorist plots recently in Europe.  There are also plots even in the United States:  The attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a restaurant in Washington.  Terrorism is inherently part of this regime, as is the brutal repression of the Iranian people.

Someone mentioned 1,500 killed in the streets across Iran last November, brutal repression, the executions.  There is no end in sight.  There is no evidence to suggest that this is going to change.  Also, in terms of regional aggression, again, no evidence of that this is going to change.  In fact, I would think that Assad’s victory in Syria would only embolden this regime to undertake further attacks against its neighbors such as it did in Saudi Arabia and the efforts of the regime to continue to export and expand religious ideology, the radical brand of Islam that the regime stands with.

For my part, and I have been working nonproliferation for a long, long time, I came to the conclusion long ago that the only real solution to the regime’s quest for nuclear weapons was regime change, not from without.  We tried that.  That’s not successful, but regime change from within.  I think that only regime change from within provides the means to have an Iran that stands for peace and stability in the region rather than war and disruption and armed attacks on neighbors.

It’s the duty and the responsibility, I would argue, of the Iranian people, and you know this better than I, but it’s their responsibility to determine their own future.  What we see today in Iran is the struggle and the sacrifice of the people against a brutal dictatorship, a struggle that has cost tens of thousands of lives over the past 40 years.

I believe that the end of this struggle is approaching.  I can argue that it’s best seen in the desperate acts of a corrupt and repressive regime at war with its own people, and its own people are the first and foremost victims of the regime, a regime whose time has come.  I think we need to prepare for the end of that regime.

The best thing that we can do is try to shape that outcome such that what comes next is a free and democratic Iran, and the most effective means to do this is to support the democratic opposition.

Here I would emphasize the important role of the NCRI in particular whose platform calls for a secular, nonnuclear, and democratic Iran.  Outside of Iran, NCRI has mobilized international opinion in Europe, in the United States, in Asia based on opposition to the regime, political opposition, and moral opposition to the regime.

Inside Iran, the (PMOI / MEK Iran) has organized MEK resistance units that have led the demonstrations that we’ve talked about in the panel discussion, last November, since then in January, and it’s the organized force, it’s the best means of providing for a peaceful transition to a free and democratic Iran.

Look, Iran is not Libya.  The future of Iran is not a failed state.  All you need to ask yourself at the end of the day is, why does the regime consider and declare the (PMOI / MEK Iran) and the NCRI to be public enemy number one?  Just ask yourself.  I think considering the source, that’s a badge of honor.  This is not to say that we can’t talk to the Iranian leaders.  Of course, we must talk to their leadership, but what we must do is have a message that is consistent and that is forceful and that is clear.  When we have demonstrated resolve in the past to this regime, they have backed down.

What we need to do is to deter and contain the regime, providing the opportunity for the Iranian people to achieve what they are seeking in the streets, and that is a democratic future.  We can best do this, I believe, in terms of U.S. policy by applying pressure from without in terms of the maximum pressure campaign and also supporting the democratic opposition inside Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh:  Thank you so much, Ambassador Joseph.  You certainly made the key points, both in terms of the price that has been paid so far by the people of Iran in opposing this regime and also the capabilities of the movement for bringing about change, the platform.

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