Iran accepted the invitation to take part in the upcoming negotiations on the crisis in Syria, following US acquiescence to Iranian participation and a Russian invitation. The invitation comes as Russia and Iran pour more resources into bolstering the Bashar al-Assad regime, which has killed thousands of its own civilians in indiscriminate bombings. Last month, Russia began heavily intervening in the conflict, launching airstrikes against rebel groups, including against those backed by the US. Meanwhile Iran sent thousands of troops into Syria. Aided by Russian air support, Syrian troops, Iranian forces, and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah have launched major ground offensives. Yesterday at a hearing in the Senate, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford admitted that the balance of forces is in Assad’s favor.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hoped Iran would play “a positive role in supporting a political transition in Syria.” Rebutting the administration’s claims, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed concern about how Saudi Arabia and other US allies opposed to Assad will perceive Iran’s inclusion in the talks, and asserted that allowing Iran to participate in the talks “seems to reward them [Iran] for their military intervention, for doubling down their support of Bashar al-Assad." Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) stated that the overture to Iran is “is foolish and dangerous… Pretending to be constructive participants in international diplomacy only buys Iran and Russia time to achieve the ends they seek on the battlefield.”
Anti-Assad rebel groups are also opposing Iran’s participation in the upcoming talks. A commander of a CIA-backed rebel group, stated, "We consider the Iranian position that of the Syrian regime, and they should not be on the negotiating table." The Vice-President of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition warned that involving Iran in the talks would undermine any political transition in Syria because “Iran has only one project – to keep Assad in power... they don’t believe in the principle of the talks." David Schenker, a former top policy aide at the Pentagon, explained that the Assad regime’s survival is “critical” for Iranians and that "they're going to see it through."
The Iranian government has jailed two prominent poets and sentenced them to 99 lashes each “for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Both poets have previously published poetry that was approved by government censors. The crackdown against the poets is the latest in a pattern of worsening repression in Iran. The AP noted that at least 30 journalists were imprisoned in Iran at the end of 2014. One of them is Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was convicted of espionage in a widely criticized secret trial.Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s reputation as a moderate, the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated under his administration. According to the United Nations, over 750 people were executed in Iran during Rouhani’s first full year in office, the highest total in over a decade. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over the rapid rate of executions in Iran. In July, Amnesty International projected that the Islamic Republic would carry out over 1,000 executions this year.
In Should the U.S. Take Iran’s Human Rights Problem More Seriously?, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, senior editor Ben Cohen interviewed Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. Shaheed mentioned that institutionalized discrimination against Iranian women was worsening under Rouhani. (via TheTower.org)