Since European diplomatic outreach toward Iran began under German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel in 1992, European authorities have promised that they would tie human rights advocacy to trade. Simply put, Kinkel and his colleagues and successors argued, diplomatic ties would work better than coercion to bring Iran back into the circle of normal, responsible states.
Other diplomats—Secretary of State John Kerry and Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive national security advisor—have argued to senators and congressmen while attempting to sell the deal that they sought to take advantage of a moderate moment in Iran and might strengthen Iranian President Hassan Rouhani against his more hardline opponents. (That they appear blind to the fact that Rouhani is a Khamenei loyalist but masterful at the good cop-bad cop game is a subject for another day).
Fast forward nearly a quarter century, and the deal is done. There has been an indecorous glee among European and other Western officials as they lift sanctions on Iran and as they rush to visit Tehran to strike deals and attend commercial conferences. They sing the praises of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action but seldom utter a word about Iran’s worsening human rights situation. European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop both conformed to an Islamic dress code while visiting Tehran, never mind that Iranian officials never seem to reciprocate with sensitivity toward local culture when they travel abroad. European officials pay very little lip service to the record public execution rate under Rouhani.
Austrian Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Karlheinz Kopf, however, may have taken European cynicism and its cowardly approach toward human rights and moral clarity to a new level. According to Europe’s “Stop the Bomb” coalition:
To Austria’s Press Agency APA Kopf said he did not come to Iran to ‘moralize’ and instead criticized the United States…. According to Iranian regime media, the head of the Expediency Discernment Council and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani received Austria’s Deputy Parliament Speaker with a classic anti-Semitic notion and declared regarding Israel, that the “fabricated Zionist regime” is to blame for terrorism in the region. Said Stephan Grigat, STOP THE BOMB’s Research Director: “Bad enough that Kopf pays his respect to the anti-Semitic ayatollahs and does not even say a word against the Iranian regime’s threats to wipe out Israel, which are also repeated under Rouhani. But when Kopf now demands the removal of all still existing sanctions against the Iranian regime for human rights abuses and the financing of terrorism – well, this really can only be understood as the ultimate cozying up to Iran’s brutal Islamist regime.”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. and European officials considered Rafsanjani a “pragmatist” and a partner with which to do business. Behind-the-scenes, Rafsanjani ridiculed those approaches. Later on, on December 14, 2001, Rafsanjani delivered a Friday sermon in which he suggested that Iran might use nuclear weapons in a first-strike against Israel because Iran was large enough to absorb any retaliation. Kopf may have felt it impolitic to mention such things in front of hosts, but the moral cowardice that was the result ensures that Iran’s leadership—even ‘pragmatists’ like Rafsanjani—continue to believe they can get away with murder, both of Iranians in the Islamic Republic’s many political prisons and perhaps those beyond Iran’s borders as well.