from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The President Ignores Human Rights in Iran--Again

March 20, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Yesterday President Obama delivered his "Nowruz" message to Iran, on the occasion of that annual holiday. From the human rights perspective it is an appalling message. Ostensibly a message not just to Iran’s rulers but to its people, it lauds last year’s election of Rouhani as if that had been a democratic election and he the free choice of Iranians. The President makes one reference to the miserable human rights conditions in Iran, when he says "A comprehensive agreement on the nuclear issue—and an Iran that upholds universal rights, at home and abroad—would help move Iran along the new path that so many Iranians seek." It isn’t even clear in this formulation --and may not be clear to Iranians-- whether he is referring to universal rights related to nuclear energy or to human rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents. Once again, he refuses to use the term "human rights" when those are the precious rights Iranians seek, deserve, and are denied by the regime.

The Nowruz message is focused entirely on the nuclear negotiations and will convey to Iranians that that’s pretty much all the President cares about. Their own rights are not much of a consideration. And of course the message will convey to others in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that their fears are justified: if Iran will do a nuclear deal, all other considerations-- for example, Iran’s support of terror, its IRGC troops in Syria, and its subversion of neighbors-- will not get much attention from the Obama administration.

But Iran will be a danger for the United States so long as it is ruled by the current combination of theocrats, extremists, terrorists, and Revolutionary Guards. And its people will have their fundamental human rights denied by the same rulers. If the Iranian people were waiting to hear a message of solidarity that acknowledges their desire for freedom and their struggle for human rights, they will have found Mr. Obama as cold as he was when they rose up in June 2009.