February 18, 2016
As an encore to Tehran’s recent charm offensive in several European capitals, President Rouhani sent Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to speak before the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. It did not go well.
Mr. Zarif’s visit to Brussels came on the heels of the implementation of the Iran Deal and as part of a political rapprochement between Iran and the European Union. Given the virtual absence of critical debate in Europe on the merits of the deal, he may have expected a more cordial welcome. He probably was surprised to find many members of the European Parliament serious and passionate about human rights.
As Mr. Zarif began to tiptoe around the committee’s probing questions about his country’s abysmal human rights record, Twitter was already abuzz with the hashtag #ZarifNotWelcome. That hashtag was introduced the previous day at a conference the AJC Transatlantic Institute co-hosted with Dutch Conservative MEP Bas Belder. The conference, titled “Human Rights in Iran and the EU's Policy of Engagement,” featured Iranian dissidents to report first-hand on Tehran’s crimes, including a Baha’i community leader, an exiled Iranian journalist from Radio Free Europe and a German-Iranian political analyst, as well as AJC TAI's Director Daniel Schwammenthal. Click here to watch highlights from the conference.
Losing His Cool
On Tuesday, Iran’s suave, tieless top diplomat lost his cool in the face of repeated questions and condemnations from members of the EU Parliament about his government’s human rights abuses.
Mr. Zarif should not have been surprised. The European Parliament's own annual human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, named after famed Russian human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, went in 2012 to Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jafar Panahi, two Iranian political activists currently languishing in prison. Their only crime was to speak their minds.
The Definition of Chutzpah
Mr. Zarif’s performance in front of the Parliament was the definition of chutzpah. All the while keeping a straight face, he invited EU lawmakers to join Iran’s alleged fight against extremism in the Middle East. There was no mention of Iran bankrolling its terror-proxy Hezbollah. He didn’t even flinch while he expressed Iran’s desire to deepen interreligious dialogue with Europeans, even as his government continued its systematic oppression of the Baha’i and other religious minorities.
After an onslaught of questions from the MEPs, Mr. Zarif even lashed out at Europeans for “preaching human rights” to Iran. While trying to deflect attention away from Iran’s support for terror and Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad, he instead had the audacity to attack Israel.
Iran’s Human Rights Abuses
Fortunately, many MEPs refused to cede an inch to Iran’s Foreign Minister. British MEP Charles Tannock pointed to Iran’s chilling rate of executions since the supposed reformer Rouhani came to power. Over the past year, Iran executed more than 800 people, many of them minors, and many were public.
Tunne Kelam, an Estonian MEP who attended the AJC TAI conference, rhetorically asked if a regime that jails women’s rights activists for peacefully demonstrating for equality could ever be trusted.
Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson opted to not even use his full minute of speaking time, so clear and succinct was his message: “How much longer will Iran’s terrible acts against Christians, Baha’i, and homosexuals continue?”