The debate in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal was among the toughest fights of Obama’s second term. The failure of anti-deal hardliners to muster enough congressional support for a disapproval resolution helped advance a broader progressive policy of improving our security through diplomacy, rather than war. It also sent an important signal to the world, and particularly Iran, that the United States can be counted on to follow through on its commitments.
In Tehran, too, the deal was controversial. While Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported the negotiations (they wouldn’t have happened otherwise), he issued regular warnings to Iranian negotiators signaling continued hostility to the United States. The deal was approved in mid-October after an extremely heated debate in the Iranian Parliament in which Iranian opponents argued the deal served American interests at Iran’s expense; one member even reportedly threatened the life of the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency.
As polls consistently showed, the Iranian people overwhelmingly supported the nuclear deal, since it offered relief from the sanctions strangling Iran’s economy and dangled the prospect of greater openness to the world.
Iran’s human rights–activist community was quite vocal during this process, and was particularly helpful in building support for the deal in Washington. In return, it’s hugely important that those of us who have backed the negotiations not forget them, and maintain a strong focus on their plight.
While the years since President Hassan Rouhani’s 2013 election have seen a slight easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, they have been extremely bad for human rights inside Iran. While Rouhani promised reform in the country, enabling him to gain support from many who backed Iran’s Green movement in 2009, his hardline political opponents have, with the backing of Khamenei, increased abuses as part of a broader campaign to contain any potential expansion of influence that the moderate camp might hope to gain in the wake of their recent diplomatic success.
Iran has the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world. Journalists, bloggers, and activists critical of the government continue to be persecuted and imprisoned. Prominent opposition figures, such as 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, remain under house arrest.