Tags: macron | sharansky | regime | iran

Macron Makes Old Mistake on Iran, Soviet Dissident Says

Macron Makes Old Mistake on Iran, Soviet Dissident Says
Natan Sharansky is seen delivering a 15-minute acceptance speech after being sworn in as the new chairman of the Jewish Agency in the in Jerusalem on June 25, 2009. (Emil Salman / JINI/AFP/Getty Images)

By Friday, 05 January 2018 01:39 PM Current | Bio | Archive

French President Emmanuel Macron is deeply concerned. His government has expressed tempered support for the demonstrations in Iran, but for now he is more worried about the reaction of America, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This week he warned that the full-throated endorsement for the unrest in Iran by these governments "is almost one that would lead us to war." It reminds him of the "axis of evil."

Macron, ever the keen student, believes the consensus of most regional experts, who say that the leaderless protests in Iran are likely to fail. What's more, any full-throated expressions of solidarity will probably endanger the precious nuclear deal his government helped negotiate in 2015. Best to call on both sides to refrain from violence and continue the post-2015 policy of integrating Iran into the community of nations.

Macron is in sync with the European Union's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who has issued a bland both-sides statement. The German government is singing from the same hymnal.

Now would be a good time for Macron and other European leaders to seek new counsel and listen to Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician. In an interview this week, Sharansky told me Macron's response to the Iranian unrest reminded him of the appeasement crowd during the Cold War. It was the kind of thinking that led former president Gerald Ford to refuse a meeting with the Soviet author of "The Gulag Archipelago," Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

"It reminds me of the arguments against Reagan," Sharansky told me. "All those battles we thought we already won, we have to fight them again."

For Sharansky, Macron and the other European leaders have gotten the Iran moment backward and once again failed to understand the nature of the Iranian regime with whom they desperately want to deal — just as some in the West were motivated to see the Soviet regime as reasonable.

Macron believes that Western solidarity with Iranians who seek an end to their tyranny will anger the tyrants and lead to war. Engagement with the regime instead will, theoretically, create opportunities for Iranians to gradually open up their society over time.

But what did engagement with Iran actually get us? After agreeing to the 2015 nuclear bargain, Iran doubled down on its predations in Syria, Yemen and the rest of the region. Meanwhile, the campaign promises of President Hassan Rouhani to release political prisoners and deliver human-rights reforms have been exposed as lies.

Sharansky is not surprised. He told me change will not come in Iran until and unless the vast majority of citizens lose their fear and join the dissidents who want to end the regime of their oppressors. Based on more than a week of cell phone videos from Iran and reports of the demonstrations throughout the country, it appears that is exactly what is happening right now.

So instead of cooling things down, as Macron is saying, Sharansky says it's time to turn up the heat. "It's extremely important for the free world to speak with a powerful voice, to make clear if this regime is repressive it will be linked to their economic and political interests," he told me. "We should not give them the protection of engagement."

This does not mean that all contact with Iranian officials should be cut off. Rather it requires something Sharansky calls "linkage." The West used carrots and sticks to lure the Iranians into a temporary bargain over the nuclear program. Why not calibrate those inducements to how Iran treats its own citizens? "It's more important to have sanctions based on Iran's treatment of political prisoners," Sharansky said.

This is a valuable insight not only for Macron and the Europeans, but for Donald Trump as well. In a little more than a week, he will have to decide whether to re-impose the crippling sanctions on Iran that President Barack Obama lifted as a condition of the 2015 nuclear bargain. That is a valuable bit of leverage Trump has used to try to get a better agreement on Iran's nukes. Conditions in Iran, however, have changed. Now he should use that leverage to get a better deal for the Iranian people.

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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French President Emmanuel Macron is deeply concerned. His government has expressed tempered support for the demonstrations in Iran, but for now he is more worried about the reaction of America, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
macron, sharansky, regime, iran
Friday, 05 January 2018 01:39 PM
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