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Before asking the West to give up “old habits,” Iran’s regime should give up one of its own

Start by dropping that one
By Bobby Ghosh
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

As the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 stall in the home stretch, foreign minister Jawad Zarif found the time to write a column for the Financial Times (paywall), arguing this is the moment to display “the audacity to to shatter old habits.”

This exhortation is evidently directed at the folks on the other side of the negotiating table in Vienna; the minister offers no indication that the regime he represents will demonstrate such audacity. It will, we must therefore assume, continue to repress its own people, and to spend billions of dollars propping up the murderous dictator of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

It will also apparently continue its old habit of promoting and supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as the Shia death squads in Iraq—to say nothing of its new proxies, the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Zarif argues that if the Western nations drop their “old habits,” then there can be cooperation with Tehran in the fight against the “roving bands of hooded men.” This is a reference to ISIL—also known as ISIS, and the Islamic State—which has killed thousands of people over the past two years. There’s no mention of the inconvenient fact that Assad and Hezbollah have, between them, killed many times more people in Syria, with Iran’s money (including a fresh line of credit), weapons—and its personnel.

The regime’s continued, full-throated support of Assad is one of several reasons the P5+1—or at least four of the six; Russia and China have other ideas—are loath to remove the arms embargo on Tehran. There’s a very real likelihood that any fresh arms Iran buys will be pressed into Assad’s service, just as his regime seems to be weakening.

(Russia and China, which hope to sell Iran more arms, favor the lifting the embargo.)

The US is already concerned that sanctions relief will allow Tehran to spend billions of dollars to support its pet terrorist organizations. If there’s a deal struck in Vienna, many of those organizations will lead the celebrations. For all of Zarif’s entreaties to the West, Iran has no intention of shattering any of its own “old habits.”

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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