Next week tens of millions of Americans will head to the polls to vote in the 2016 election, celebrating the time-honored tradition of our nation’s electoral process. This year also marks the 37th anniversary for those Americans who were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days during the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. In this unusual presidential campaign cycle, we have seen a lack of substantive discussion about Iran and foreign policy from the candidates. This oversight comes at the most critical time in decades, with the nuclear deal well underway despite continued hostile behavior from the Iranian regime. It is imperative that the Presidential candidates and our policymakers in Congress understand that the Iranian regime that held my colleagues and me hostage has not reformed its ways.
Nearly four decades after we were held against our will, subjected to torture and abuse, denied contact with our families with no idea if or when we would ever come home, my fellow survivors and I are dismayed to see the same actions being taken against fellow Americans in Iran today. There have been a number of dual nationals held on unsubstantiated charges—just like I was—sentenced to years in Iranian prisons without recourse.
Over the last month, we have seen three Iranian Americans receive some of the most stringent prison sentences. Siamak Namazi, a businessman has been sentenced to 10 years in prison along with his father, Baquer Namazi. Their family is known for working to foster better relationships between the U.S. and Iran. Robin Shahini was sentenced to 18 years for “collaborating with a hostile government”—by which the Iranian courts mean the U.S. These detainments and sentences are viewed by many as push back by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his regime for any efforts by Iranian President Rouhani to forge better ties between the U.S. and Iran. I believe these latest sentencings send a clear and direct message to America, specifically to whoever will be the incoming President, that Iran is ready to test the bounds of our renewed relationship.
Despite assurances by Rouhani to world leaders that there is a new appetite for diplomacy and negotiation in Tehran, Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are ultimately in control. They operate unchecked, funneling millions of dollars to terrorist organizations worldwide; they commit atrocious crimes against innocent Iranian citizens; they perpetuate hacking and cyber-crime, and hold hostage innocent dual nationals, subjecting them to unspeakable torture.
All the while, the Iranian nuclear deal forges along, with no clear sign of action by the U.S. or its allies from the P5 + 1 to bring Khamenei and the IRGC to bear for behaviors that violate the spirit of the nuclear deal. And with Iranian elections on the horizon in March 2017, you can be sure the clerical establishment and security services will continue to test Rouhani to make way for a far-right candidate who will serve as a puppet for the regime.
It’s likely that the next U.S. President will not be through the first 100 days of the administration before Iran is once again a problem that cannot be ignored. The nuclear deal has done nothing to bring about crucial change in Iran. And there is no more clear an example of this than Iran’s involvement in the Syrian crisis. The American government is foolish to ignore the growing threat that is Iran.
The next President must acknowledge the realities of inner turmoil in Iran, and be prepared to take a hard line against Khamenei and his regime as they push the envelope. Regardless of who wins the Iranian elections in March, we already know the regime holds the power and has no intention of working diplomatically with the West. The fanciful notion that the nuclear deal would bring about better relations between our two countries has been dispelled; a new administration will have the chance to cast a spotlight on Iran for the bad global actor it is.