Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The Trump administration may have been wrong on a lot of things, but its "maximum pressure" policy on Iran was absolutely right.
Now it looks as if President Joe Biden is inching back toward lifting sanctions on Iran and rejoining the deeply flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. To do so would not only be a grave error, it would also be a humiliating defeat for America and a propaganda coup for the theocratic regime in Iran.
The State Department has eased stringent restrictions that prevented Iranian diplomats from travelling more than a few blocks from the United Nations headquarters in New York. Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had complained that the restrictions had even barred him from visiting a colleague in a New York hospital. Such a complaint from Zarif may be seen as somewhat ironic, given the news that one of his diplomats in Europe was sentenced to 20 years jail at the beginning of February for attempted murder and terrorism.
Assadollah Assadi, the Iranian diplomat from its embassy in Vienna, and three Iranian co-conspirators, had attempted to bomb a mass rally of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI-MEK) opposition supporters and their allies at Villepinte, near Paris, in June 2018. The court was informed that he had carried the bomb to Vienna on a commercial flight from Tehran, hidden in his diplomatic bag. Had he not been stopped, Assadi and his agents would have killed hundreds of men, women and children on European soil, including dozens of Americans.
Assadi received the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and his three co-conspirators each received lengthy jail terms. There can be no doubt that his mission was planned and instructed from Tehran by the leaders of the Iranian regime, including his immediate boss, Zarif, the same person who complained about travel restrictions in New York.
The court in Antwerp also learned that Assadi was supervising a terrorist network across the European Union, where it must be assumed that further bomb plots, assassination attempts and terrorist activities are being planned. Indeed, he even warned Belgian police before the trial that retaliation could follow a guilty verdict.
Allowing Zarif and his terrorist cohorts to roam freely around New York, from a regime that uses its embassies and diplomats for terrorist purposes, may not be the brightest idea. A regime that uses terrorism and bomb plots as statecraft should be held accountable rather than appeased. Appeasing the Iranian mullahs simply builds their conviction that the West is weak and encourages them to exploit that weakness.
In his autobiography, For the Record, former British Prime Minister David Cameron mentions the Russian invasion of Georgia and says, "When I warned that a weak Western response would embolden Russia, I was absolutely right. I was also right when I asked, 'Where next? Ukraine?'" Biden would do well to heed Cameron's warnings about emboldening countries that are hostile to the West. He need only glance at the Russian annexation of Crimea to see what appeasement can achieve.
Nevertheless, sadly, it looks as if appeasing the mullahs is the order of the day. Issuing naked threats of an immediate return to an accelerated program of uranium enrichment, which is in direct breach of the original nuclear deal, Zarif says Iran will only return to the JCPOA, if the United States "unconditionally and effectively lifts all sanctions imposed, reimposed or relabeled by [President Donald] Trump."
He set a deadline of late February, after which, he warned, all nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would be banned from Iran. Encouraged by the arch-appeasers Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Biden's administration rushed to say it was ready to meet with Iranian officials under EU auspices to jumpstart diplomacy and reverse Trump's sanctions.
Moves to lift sanctions come against a background of new information released by the IAEA indicating they have discovered uranium particles at two sites from which they had previously been barred for months. The nuclear inspectors had managed to carry out snap checks on both sites and demanded an explanation from Tehran for the presence of uranium. The mullahs have long insisted that their uranium enrichment program was only ever intended for peaceful, energy production purposes. However, in another recent attempt to intimidate the Americans into lifting sanctions, the Iranian intelligence minister revealed their true intentions, telling the press that Western pressure could push Tehran to fight back like a "cornered cat" and seek nuclear weapons.
In January, the IAEA nuclear inspectors announced that the mullahs had begun to accelerate uranium enrichment and were aiming to "produce low-enriched uranium up to 20% purity," one step away from nuclear weapons grade. The regime has repeatedly boasted about its violation of the nuclear deal. Despite clear evidence that the mullahs are continuing secretly to construct a nuclear device and ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the EU and now the United States remain ludicrously committed to reinstating the JCPOA, which was only ever intended to last for 10 years when it was introduced in 2015 and has run half its course.
Any restitution of the JCPOA must be linked to a guarantee from the Islamic Republic that they will end their destabilizing activities in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, end their export of terrorism worldwide and end repression, torture and executions inside Iran. There can be no return to "business as usual" with a regime that has abandoned all the norms of civilized behavior.
Biden must resist the mullahs' campaign of bullying, extortion and blackmail and show Tehran that he is prepared to be tough. Despite having the second-largest gas and fourth-largest oil reserves in the world, Iran is a crumbling ruin, the legacy of 42 years of corrupt and oppressive Islamic fundamentalism. Biden and his Secretary of State Tony Blinken should think twice about reopening diplomatic relations with this pariah regime, or lifting sanctions in a bid to revive the moribund nuclear deal.
The United States, EU and U.N. must begin a new policy of backing the oppressed Iranian people and not their tyrannical rulers.
Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.