Even before the widespread anticlerical protests in Iran, President Trump made clear what he thinks of the regime. In recent days, he has even gone so far as to support those Iranians protesting the regime, in stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s desperate attempt in 2009 to curry favor with their oppressors.
Yet matching rhetoric with action has bedeviled Trump’s predecessors for decades. Confronting the mullahs is more important than ever at this moment. Here’s how Trump can prove to the mullahs he isn’t bluffing.
The first step is reversing the Obama-era policy that enriched the regime at the expense of the people. The Iran nuclear deal took regime officials and their assets off US sanctions lists, giving back an illicit business empire to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.
America suspended sanctions on the regime’s financial hub for terrorism, missiles and human-rights abuse: the Central Bank of Iran, where money gets diverted from the Iranian people to Syria, Hezbollah, the Basij militias and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
At this moment of historical significance, the president should not sign off on new congressional legislation reportedly under consideration that further codifies the fundamentally flawed nuclear deal into law. The Iranian regime will view any such action as weak and unserious.
Nor can he waive sanctions on institutions that bankroll the mullahs’ terror and oppression. It would send a message to Iranians putting their lives at risk to fight for their inalienable rights that America continues to support a system that lines the pockets of corrupt leaders, fueling the very dysfunction and disastrous regional policies at the heart of the protest movement.
Instead of continuing to protect the supreme leader and his tyrannical regime, the White House and Congress should move in a new direction — backing policies that hold the regime accountable and siding with the Iranian people.
All regime officials and assets should be re-designated under US sanctions, immediately freezing the supreme leader’s vast business empire in all its parts.
Any person or company found complicit in the regime’s attempts to block communications between protesters should feel the enforcement of US sanctions prohibiting censorship in Iran. Key entities involved in the oppression of the Iranian people and in the diversion of resources from the people to terrorism and missiles must be targeted with maximum sanctions as well — starting with Iran’s terror-finance headquarters, the Central Bank of Iran.
Next week, Trump will have to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran. With the Iranian people crying out for a new government — and given the bank’s continued involvement in terrorism, missiles and human-rights abuses — sanctions should be reimposed on this financial backbone of the regime’s non-nuclear-related illicit activities.
President Trump must also confront Iran’s regional aggression, especially by blocking Iran’s attempts to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Iran, as well as our regional partners, needs to understand that America isn’t abandoning the Middle East.
Finally, the administration should put its talk about peaceful regime change into action. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has publicly endorsed a peaceful transition in Iran and in his October Iran speech, Trump said, “We stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.”
The president should announce a comprehensive review of US assistance to the Iranian people and reallocate and increase funding to groups and activities that have the best chance of assisting change from inside Iran.
In response to the growing protests in Iran, Trump declared on Twitter, “The world is watching!” Indeed, the world is watching and wondering what the White House and Congress will do next.
Failure to change US policy at this moment away from the amoral approach of recent years would send a message that America does not care about the fate of the Iranian people. It would repeat the original sin of the Iran nuclear deal at great cost to both our security and moral standing.