The State Department last week issued a statement updating an earlier announcement of visa restrictions on 14 Iranian nationals. The update took the valuable step of identifying the targets by name and specifying they had been responsible for “gross violations of human rights” while “acting under the highest orders of their government to silence opposition and show that no one is safe from the Iranian regime, no matter where they live.”
The designees were involved in the assassination in Geneva of Kazem Rajavi in April 1990. Rajavi was the brother-in-law of Maryam Rajavi, the president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Kazem, then-representative for the Resistance movement at the United Nations, was gunned down while driving to his home outside of Geneva. The operation had been carefully planned, with the team of assassins visiting the city on at least three occasions prior to executing the plot. They promptly fled Switzerland after the killing and were afforded the utmost protection from their government even after Swiss authorities issued an arrest warrant for all 13 suspects.
Not only has that warrant gone unserved, but in June, a Swiss public prosecutor announced the case against the killers might be dropped due to the expiration of a statute of limitations. While it seems strange that there would be any statute of limitations on the crime of terrorist murder, the larger problem arguably is a lack of effort on the part of Western authorities to apprehend the perpetrators of Iranian terror operations and human rights abuses or to hold them accountable by any other available means.
The State Department’s visa restrictions will at least keep some pressure on Iranian assassins who otherwise might be free to go about their lives with little fear of delayed consequences. In this way, they are in keeping with the White House strategy of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian regime, which challenges a longstanding and widely accepted Western tendency toward conciliation and appeasement where Tehran is concerned.
The Impossibility of Peace
Those challenges have been measured so far, however, and they have much further to go. Of course, to truly maximize pressure, U.S. strategy must achieve some shift toward multilateralism. While discord has continued to grow surrounding the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump Administration withdrew from in 2018, Europe has still expressed serious concerns about Iran’s malign activities. There are opportunities for the entire Western world to come together to counter those activities.
But this depends on a shared understanding of what stands to be gained through action or lost in the wake of silence. Some policymakers may be inclined to think that incidents like the assassination of Kazem Rajavi are too historically distant to be worth jeopardizing the prospect of normalizing relations with Iran. Yet if we look more closely at those very same incidents, we can see that they point to the impossibility of ever normalizing relations with the current regime.
Tehran did not hesitate in protecting Rajavi’s assassins, and its reaction to the State Department’s visa restrictions no doubt will show a persistent willingness to defend and promote its terrorist operatives. This is the natural state of things for the Iranian regime, since its leadership is still comprised of many of the same people who ordered Rajavi’s killing in the first place, and who waited for the assassins’ return in order to confirm that it had been carried out.
For the Iranian regime, terrorism has evolved as statecraft. It was evident in the plot to bomb the gathering in support of Iranian opposition in Paris on June 30, 2018, with the presence of some 100,000 people and hundreds of political luminaries from the world over, including Americans such as Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and 32 other senior U.S. officials and military leaders. The mastermind of the foiled plot was an Iranian diplomat who is scheduled to stand trial on November 27 in Belgium. This is the first time in the modern history of Europe that a diplomat will stand trial for his role on terrorism.
As Maryam Rajavi pointed out, there is little doubt that these vicious plots are ordered at the highest levels of Tehran and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani’s involvement in the killing should be reason enough to demonstrate why the latest State Department measures should be expanded to include these men.
Incentives for Change
If the United States is serious about “maximum pressure,” it will take such recommendations seriously. And although the sudden embrace of those recommendations certainly would not be well-received by the European Union, it’s difficult to believe that there is no way of winning the Europeans over to the prospect of demanding accountability from high-ranking officials who have overseen political assassinations on Western soil, as well as a laundry list of other crimes.
It is so important that the State Department named the killers of Kazem Rajavi as targets of its visa restrictions. Doing so reminds the rest of the world that these people and these crimes are still very much a part of the Islamic Republic. They will only be rooted out when the West bands together to demand accountability. Until then, the regime will have no real incentive to change.
The consequences of such impunity would be severe, and they would be shared widely among Western nationals and institutions, the Iranian people, and the popular movement that is currently working to establish a democratic system in place of the unaccountable religious dictatorship.