Frustration is growing among the Iranian people over the Obama administration’s silence on human rights abuses in Iran. Condemnations of Tehran’s abhorrent treatment of its people have been few and far between. But before nuclear diplomacy moves towards a premature ending, the Obama administration must act quickly to reinvigorate its human rights agenda. Failure to do so may cause any future focus on Iran’s human rights violations to be viewed solely as a means to punish Tehran, rather than a strategic imperative worthy of pursuit in its own right.
The Obama administration made a genuine effort to kick-start diplomacy by focusing on building confidence and turning back the nuclear clock through a deal brokered by the IAEA. But rather than succeeding to build trust and slow Iran’s nuclear advances, Tehran is threatening to expand the program ten-fold.
The Obama administration cannot be faulted for not having sought genuine diplomacy with Iran. Washington unilaterally changed the atmospherics between the two countries by reaching out to both the Iranian people and their rulers. Through strategic messaging, the Obama administration helped create circumstances conducive to successful diplomacy.
While the Administration’s efforts were genuine, and while the failure to reach an interim deal thus far has more to do with internal Iranian infighting than with Washington’s diplomacy, the modalities of the Obama strategy were problematic from the outset.