We need to support the Iranian people in their quest to change the regime

June 29 2018

Remarks by Ambassador Adam Ereli, former spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State and Ambassador to Bahrain, in a panel on "Policy on Iran" in Paris, 29 June 2018, organized jointly by FEMO and APA.

Adam Ereli : 

Well, I guess I would start off by saying maybe something we could all agree on is, you know, what a difference a year makes when you think of where Iran was, and United States policy was last year versus where it is today. You know, I mean at least we know where we stand, right? And we also know that where we stand is working. So I think that's something that very salutary. I guess I could also say is what a diff- if one year makes a big difference, two years makes double that difference, so the timeline certainly seems to be moving in the right direction.

The other point I would make is that sanctions are working and we need to remember that and we need, in my view, to take that as our-as a key point of reference. As Maria said, the rial has reached 90,000 to the dollar a few days ago which is extraordinary. And again, let's be clear-it's both good and bad. It's good in the sense that it shows the regime is under pressure. It's bad because for the Iranian people, and we should always bear that in mind, that there are two sides to every coin and the sooner we can free them and turn this around, the better it would be for everybody. But the other, again, sort of to ... I would just commend to you a picture on Twitter of an old man in Tehran who's holding up a sign that says, "I'm offering my left kidney for sale. I'll take $500. Here's the address to come to get it." I mean if that's not a sign of desperation, I don't know what is.

Adam Ereli
Adam Ereli

So in terms of policy recommendations, I would offer three. Well, actually one with three sort of underneath it. Policy recommendation, the basic policy recommendation is double down on the sanctions, and double down on the pressure on the Iranian regime, 'cause that is the only thing that's going to, A, bring it down, B, create a better future for the Iranian people. What does double down on sanctions require? Number one, enforcement of those sanctions. What's critical is cutting Iran off from the international banking system, making sure they can't use SWIFT, making sure that central-for other central banks to European friends, other central banks that might engage in currency transactions with the Iranian regime be sanctioned. This is going to require a great degree of political will from the United States. Enforcing secondary sanctions, meaning those companies that do business with Iran, we sanction them and their assets. And finally, on the oil, cutting Iran off from the International oil markets, which the United States administration's committed doing and which is the right thing to do.

Second, I think the second policy recommendation after doubling down on the sanctions is I think it's important that we, and our colleague from Italy talked about this a little bit, I think it's important that we expand the international coalition that is isolating Iran. But and we've talked about the Europeans, that the Europeans are absolutely critical in making the sanctions work, but also, I think we need to, and we're doing this, but is to expand the coalition of the Middle East states that are working to isolate Iran. Fortunately, we're knocking on an open door there, in the sense that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, certainly Bahrain, which is a country that I know very well, are-have ... on this point in the sense that they recognize Iran as an enemy and they are commited to addressing the threat. We've already seen, I think, those countries take positive steps in cooperation with us, and frankly, in cooperation with Russia to isolate Iran. And I point to the Saudi-Russian cooperation on oil supply and pricing. Believe me-from Saudi Arabia's perspective, their ulterior motive? Beyond securing, you know, the price and their share of the market is to strike a body blow against Iran, and that's a good thing. But I would also point to a place like Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the UAE took a very courageous move, and frankly, put their-the lives of their citizens on the line to prevent Iran from expanding its regional hegemony. I think it's, frankly, a shame that the United States has been so ambivalent in their support of Saudi- of the coalition and its actions in Yemen, because let's make no mistake-this is the southern flank of the Arabian peninsula that Iran is trying to exploit. You know, if Italy is the soft underbelly of Europe, Yemen's the soft underbelly of the Arabian peninsula and we need to-we, meaning the United States and its Arab allies, need to make common cause in pushing Iran out of that part of the world.

And finally, without wanting to be too provocative, you know, who else in the region is the sworn enemy of Iran? It starts with an I, right? Israel. It's delicate, it's sensitive, but there clearly are commonalities of interest between our Arab partners and our Israeli friends that is bad news for the mullahs in Tehran and those avenues of cooperation exist and productively exist, but certainly we see it in Syria where who is the one country-the one country-not the United States, not the Arabs, the one country that's pushing back against Iran in ways that hurt Iran? It's Israel. They're killing more revolutionary guards than any foreign power's ever done in a long time and that should be welcomed, quite frankly.

The final policy recommendation on how we can, the United States policy can support change in Iran is, I guess, getting to the point that really matters which is the Iranian people. And I talked about it earlier, how, you know, sanctions are-sanctions working are both a good thing and a bad thing. It puts pressure on the regime, but it also puts suffering on the Iranian people when a guy has to sell his kidney for $500 in order to eat. So the faster we can make these sanctions work and produce an effect, the better it is for everybody.

But we need to support the Iranian people in their quest to change the regime. And how can we do that? It's really actually not that hard.

Number one, we should not forget the power of the bully pulpit. When the United States says something-when I say the United States, I mean the Secretary of State, the President, former members of Congress, former mayors of New York-it matters a lot. And one of the great what-ifs of history is what if President Obama, during the Green Revolution had actually gotten up at the White House podium and said, "We're with you people of Iran. We support you. We have your back. It's time to overthrow the regime."? I don't think we would be in the situation we are today. So let's remember that as we see these protests growing, you know, in the bazaar citizens marching on Parliament in every city and hamlet throughout Iran, a well-timed high profile statement of support by prominent Americans means a whole heck of a lot and we should use that weapon strategically.

Second, you know, there are 1.5 million students a year that graduate every year from Iranian universities. 1.5 million. That's a revolution right there. They don't have jobs. They don't have prospects for the future. They're educated, they're ambitious, they're hungry, they want to connect to the rest of the world, and they know that their leaders are preventing that. So my discussions, in several of my discussions with our colleagues, with NCRI and PMOI colleagues is, you know, this is a ripe fruit for the picking. And we should, the United States should, and this is a little bit controversial-I don't know where we go with it, but you know, one of the...people have said that the best way to put gasoline on a fire when you're talking about revolution is to give captive populations air to breathe, fuel for their ideas. How do you do that? You bring them to the United States. People come to the United States or who come to Western democracies profit from that experience, because they bring those ideas back home. It's like, you know, again, it's like introducing a good bacteria to a diseased thing. It just brings it down farther.

So the point I'm making is banning Iranians from ... United States is may not be such a good idea. Maybe we should find a way to bring young Iranians to the United States, allow them to travel, you know. They're not, you know, they're not MOIS agents, right? They're not all terrorists trying to bring down the United States. To the contrary. Let's bring Iranians to the United States who want to bring down Iran. And pour gasoline on the fire that way.

So anyway, I'll stop there. Double down on sanctions, broaden the coalition and enhance cooperation between the coalition, and provide explicit support-continuous, verbal, high-profile support to the Iranian people to accelerate the change that's already underway.