Iran just showed it has no intention of improving ties with the West

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Iran has been signalling its interest in returning to the international agreement curbing its nuclear activities once President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month. But the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is also demonstrating that improving its tattered relations with the West is not a priority. That was driven home with the execution on Saturday of Ruhollah Zam, a dissident journalist who lived in France before he was abducted and returned to Tehran.

Mr. Zam was hanged after being convicted on charges of “corruption on earth,” a term the regime applies to spying and treason. His actual offense was providing detailed coverage of popular protests that erupted in Iran during 2017 on a website and a Telegram channel called Amad News. The journalist had lived in France since 2011; he left Iran after he was imprisoned for participating in the 2009 Green Movement, another mass uprising.

France, knowing of Iran’s practice of attacking exiled dissidents, provided extensive security protection to Mr. Zam. But he was lured to Iraq in October 2019 and abducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Once in detention, he was forced to appear on television and confess to his supposed crimes. He was hanged just two days before the scheduled start of the Europe-Iran Business Forum, a three-day virtual conference funded by the European Union.

Predictably, the meeting was canceled amid blistering statements from France and Germany, whose ambassadors had been due to speak at the forum; the French government called the execution a “barbarous and unacceptable act.” The government of President Hassan Rouhani, which is often portrayed as a moderate counterbalance to the Revolutionary Guard, responded by stridently defending the journalist’s abduction and killing. Mr. Rouhani described it as lawful, while Mohammad Javad Zarif’s foreign ministry summoned the French and German ambassadors to chastise them for interfering in Iran’s domestic affairs.

Mr. Zarif has been saying that Iran will return to the terms of the nuclear deal if the Biden administration also does so. That would mean the scrapping of an expanding Iranian stockpile of enriched uranium and the lifting of U.S. sanctions imposed since 2018 by President Trump. Mr. Biden and his incoming national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, have said they would like to restore the accord as a prelude to further negotiations. However, the abduction and killing of Mr. Zam are a clear sign that the regime is not prepared to moderate its behavior either at home or abroad. Its fear of domestic unrest clearly outweighs any interest in improved relations with Europe or the United States.

Mr. Sullivan evidently gets that. Mr. Zam’s execution, he tweeted, “is another horrifying human rights violation by the Iranian regime.” He added: “We will join our partners in calling out and standing up to Iran’s abuses.” It will be challenging but essential to do so even while restoring the accord that limits Iran’s nuclear activities.

Source » washingtonpost

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