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It seems that there is no wrong Iran could do to undermine the U.S. determination to pursue conciliatory diplomacy with the Islamic Republic. In the past week and during the latest round of indirect talks between Iran and the U.S. in Vienna, the Iranian official state policy of assassinating the author Salman Rushdie nearly came to fruition, the Department of Justice exposed an IRGC assassination plot targeting former U.S. officials, and the Iranians continue to demand major unreasonable concessions, yet neither the U.S. nor the EU is willing to confront Iran on its behavior. With enemies like these, who needs friends?

In 1989, the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a murderous decree in the form of an Islamic legal opinion, fatwa, against the British Muslim author Salman Rushdie as a punishment for his book Satanic Verses. Due to the status of the man who issued it, the fatwa acquired the status of both state policy and an Islamic Shia binding ruling. Despite later Iranian ambiguity on the issue, current Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei openly considered the ruling to be solid and irrevocable, and Hassan Nassrallah, the leader of the Iranian proxy terrorist group, Hezbollah, often reminded his followers of the fatwa.

Last Friday, after decades of evading murder and living in hiding, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant and a resident of New Jersey, finally found Rushdie and brutally stabbed him. Later investigations and reports uncovered that Matar was a Revolutionary Iran enthusiast and had contact with IRGC officials.

The Iranian attempts to distance the Iranian regime remain wholly unconvincing, not just because of the $3 million dollars bounty it declared for the head of Rushdie but also because of the glee with which Iranian official media and state officials celebrated the murderous assault. More unconvincing is the Iranian attempt at denial while in the same breath condemning Rushdie and his supporters. But even if the Iranians still feel there is room for denial, much less room for such denial is available for their other assassination plots. On August 10th, the DoJ announced it is charging a member of the IRGC with a plot to murder former National Security Advisor John Bolton on U.S. soil. According to the unsealed court documents, Shahram Poursafi, aka Mehdi Rezayi, a 45-year-old man who resides in Tehran, attempted to pay $300,000 to individuals in the U.S. to carry out the murder in the D.C.-Maryland area. Poursafi was unveiled to be a member of the IRGC Quds Force, formerly headed by arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani.

I wonder if Mr. Bolton is insulted by the fact the Iranians are willing to pay for his head only 10% of what they are willing to pay for Rushdie’s, but what is more damning in Bolton’s case is the direct involvement of the IRGC elite force in the assassination plot. Moreover, according to the records, Poursafi also promised a consecutive assassination contract for one million dollars. This is likely to have targeted either former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or former President Trump.

One would think that such an Iranian murderous rampage on U.S. soil, planned to take place during diplomatic talks between the U.S. and the Iranians, would toughen the American posture toward Iran and create a more assertive negotiation position. This would not be an unreasonable expectation. Yet, somehow, the situation seems to be the complete opposite. Iran is the one toughening its position toward the negotiations, and the American and European negotiations are scrambling around to find a way to satisfy Iranian demands. A visitor from another planet would be excused to guess that Iran was the superpower. The Iranians continue to insist on demands no U.S. administration could or should give, such as guarantees that they will reap the benefits of the deal even after the departure of this administration. The Biden administration cannot guarantee the survival of the deal beyond the two and a half years remaining in its terms, and if it provides any of such guarantees, this will be unprecedented sabotage of both current and future American foreign policy.

Other unreasonable demands Iran is making are lifting the IRGC from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list, all while actively engaged in assassination plots in the U.S, and forcing the IAEA to close its Safeguards investigation. A safeguard process is a critical tool mandated for all non-nuclear countries part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, to ensure states do not divert material from a peaceful nuclear program to an arms program. It requires states to submit a detailed declaration to the IAEA of their nuclear quantities and locations. Since 2018, the IAEA has been actively investigating and demanding answers about the traces of processed uranium found in three locations undeclared by the Iranians. Iran refused to engage with the IAEA or cooperate on the issue and sought to both block and delegitimize the IAEA investigation in every possible way. In other words, Iran has much to hide. Iran is leveraging the U.S. missionary zeal for conciliatory diplomacy to force the IAEA to once and for all close the investigation, something the U.S. and EU must not do. Iran must be held accountable and provide answers to IAEA.

Instead of taking a firm position against such Iranian manipulation, European and American officials are still trying to find what comprises that can satisfy the Iranians, whom they have no reason to back down by now. The Europeans are trying to persuade the Americans to take a much softer stance on the murderous IRGC and cooperate on the IAEA investigation issue. With the record and behavior of this administration when it comes to Iran, one could only fear that we heading to a deal that is much worse than the original JCPOA. Veteran U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger once said, “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.” One wonders if this has now changed and if it actually pays to be America’s enemy.

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Hussein Aboubakr Mansour

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