THE broad international welcome given to the agreement signed by Iran and the P5+1 states (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States; plus Germany) and resolving the long-running Iranian nuclear crisis has failed to mollify critics of the country’s human-rights record.
Moreover, it has not had the approval of Middle Eastern allies of the West, which see Iran as an untrustworthy and destabilising force in the region.
The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, said that the "historic and unprecedented" deal had opened a new page in the history of Iran. President Obama expressed confidence that the agreement with Tehran did "more than anyone has done before" to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon. He described the verification process as "comprehensive".
Among the other voices applauding the outcome of thousands of hours of difficult negotiations was that of the Vatican. The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi, said that the agreement "constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit. It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of the nuclear programme, but may indeed extend further."
For many critics of Iran, the worry is not so much what is included in the agreement as what is omitted. Sanctions against Iran are being lifted, and the country is being readmitted into the international community without being required to commit itself to improving its human-rights record.
In the opinion of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), despite President Rouhani’s promises to ensure human rights and equality for all, "Iran has witnessed a deterioration of human rights since his election to office, two years ago. It continues to imprison political opponents, journalists, and members of religious minorities — in particular, converts to Christianity and members of the Baha’i faith."
The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said: "Since the new agreement effectively ends Iran’s long-standing isolation, it should also encourage the nation to fully embrace its international undertakings, particularly with regard to human rights.
"CSW therefore calls on the international community to press Iran to fulfil its human-rights obligations, and to ensure that freedom, justice, and equality before the law are guaranteed to all its citizens."
Another organisation that sees no prospect that the nuclear deal will lead the easing of restrictions for Iranian Christians is a Christian TV station broadcasting to the Middle East, SAT-7. Its Farsi service, SAT-7 PARS, has just launched a new series that, it says, will help the growing number of house churches to "develop techniques of endurance" to help them cope with persecution.
Its executive director, the Revd Mansour Khajehpour, who became a Christian at the age of 15, said that converts were aware of the need for secrecy. Those who were betrayed to the authorities "constantly lose their jobs, are disowned by their communities and family members, . . . [are] beaten on the streets". More than 80 Christian men and women are known to be in prison for their faith in Iran.
Members of both Houses of Parliament and all the main parties, at a meeting in Westminster last week, expressed concern that the agreement with Iran did not deal more forcibly with the country’s nuclear industry as a whole.
Speakers at the meeting, organised by the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), said that the nuclear deal ignored six UN Security Council resolutions that required Tehran to dismantle its nuclear programme, and stop all uranium enrichment. The cross-party panellists warned that the Iranian regime could not be trusted. Compromising on the requirements stipulated in these resolutions would never block Tehran’s pathway to a bomb.
Nowhere is there less trust in the Iranian leadership than in the Arab Gulf states, which accuse Tehran of meddling in their internal affairs and encouraging Shia dissent in the region as a whole.
The West’s traditional Arab allies believe both that Iran is stoking sectarian tensions, and is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, regardless of the recent deal. Gulf governments, while expressing cautious official support for the deal, are dismayed and angry.
THE British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF) last week condemned the Iraqi government for ordering its forces to prevent the entry of goods, fuel, and septic tanks to an Iranian refugee camp at Baghdad airport. Camp Liberty, a former US base, is where 3000 members of the Iranian opposition group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) are housed.
The Mojahedin say that the order to block the entry of supplies and equipment came from the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Faleh Fayaz. Temperatures in Baghdad last week were close to 50°C, prompting the Iraqi government on one particular day to close all state institutions.
Nevertheless, troops guarding one of the entrances to the airport would not allow vital services to reach Camp Liberty. A spokesperson for the National Council of Resistance of Iran said that fuel was needed "to run the generators for basic life-support. The residents are suffering heatstroke in the metal containers they are forced to live in right now."
The MPs and peers warned that the camp was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, and urged the US, EU, and UN to take immediate measures in order to lift the "repressive restrictions on the members of the Iranian opposition residing in the camp".
The PMOI co-operated with supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini in toppling the Shah’s regime in 1979. After falling out with the ruling religious establishment in Tehran, they fled to Iraq. They were originally housed at Camp Ashraf, close to the Iranian border, but were moved to Camp Liberty in 2012, after the American forces had left Iraq.
The idea at the time was that they would eventually leave the country, once their qualifications for refugee status had been assessed. But they remain in Iraq, and have frequently complained of receiving harsh treatment by forces of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad.
The BPCIF also announced new policy recommendations to the Government, supported by nearly 100 MPs from all main parties, and members of the House of Lords, calling for a firm policy on Iran, and support for Iran’s democratic opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.