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Editorial: Iran shows its true colors

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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The June 30 deadline for a final Iranian nuclear deal seemed to be within reach just a week ago. Key impasses between the negotiating parties had been overcome, and the rhetoric coming out of Iran’s leaders seemed to signify that the country was willing to accede to demands they had opposed previously in order to have any sort of nuclear program at all.

Yet current events are putting this deal in jeopardy. Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post who has been held in Iran for nine months, has just been charged with espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

An Iranian lawyer for the reporter, Leila Ahsan, revealed the details in a statement. In an interview with the Post, she also said that the case file presented no evidence to justify the charges against Rezaian, though they were related to stories he intended to write about Iran. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the charges “absurd.”

In and of itself, the imprisonment and trumped-up charges are nothing new for the Revolutionary Court, which deals with cases of national security. In the secretive Islamic Republic of Iran, any attempt to reveal sensitive information about the country, classified or not, is prosecuted.

But the timing of these charges appears to be a challenge of sorts to the United States as time ticks away toward the final deadline of a nuclear deal. Hard-liners in Iran have been largely quiet in recent weeks, though it is clear there is still significant opposition in the country to any sort of deal. Iran doesn’t have much power to strike a blow to the United States outside its borders, but inside them, Americans are at the mercy of the state.

The move echoes a previous moment in history that still provokes anger among some: the Iranian hostage crisis (Nov. 4, 1979-Jan. 20, 1981). Sixty-six Americans were held hostage in the U.S.’s Embassy, widely seen as retaliation for the United States’ support for Iran’s overthrown shah.

Just as the taking of hostages was intended to reduce the U.S. influence in Iran, one must wonder if the charges against Rezaian are a backhanded attempt to sabotage the nuclear talks.

Already there have been calls in Washington to make any sort of nuclear deal hinge on the release of imprisoned Americans, which now includes Rezaian. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Mark Kirk,  R-Ill., have released a statement saying President Obama should “demand Mr. Rezaian’s immediate release … prior to concluding a nuclear deal with this regime.”

Iran seems to put one foot forward while the other takes a step back. Its enigmatic actions paint a picture of a country that can’t be trusted. Ideally, any agreement put on the table would not include provisions that relied on Iran to be trustworthy in the first place. Even so, we can’t disregard the history between the United States and Iran, and the charges against Rezaian show us that history is still relevant.


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