The foiled kidnapping plot against activist and journalist
an Iranian-born U.S. citizen living in New York City, has sparked a wave of outrage. The Justice Department’s indictment and detailed court documents indicate the Islamic Republic’s significant investment in the plot. The most troublesome part of this case, however, has been the
administration’s weak public response, which invites more malign behavior from Tehran.
Hundreds of dissidents have been threatened, kidnapped or assassinated since 1979, when the current regime rose to power in Iran. Since 2018, however, the Islamic Republic has carried out its campaign of terror with a new fervor. In 2019, Tehran lured, kidnapped and killed Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian dissident journalist residing in France. In July 2020, the Islamic Republic abducted
in Dubai and brought him to Iran, where he has been detained ever since. Mr. Sharmad is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. The regime also abducted
an Iranian-Swedish political activist, in October 2020.
Like other Iranian activists, the Brooklyn-based Ms. Alinejad has long faced threats for her opposition to the clerical regime. But attacking a U.S. citizen on American soil is something the Islamic Republic hasn’t attempted in more than four decades. Why now?
Iran, pressed to show its strength by the tide of discontent rising among its restive population, is likely taking these actions to send two messages. The first is to the Iranian people: No matter where you flee to, if you speak up, we will find you. This is at a time when antiregime protests are erupting in the country. The second and more important is meant for the U.S.: We will come after your people on your soil, spreading terror and brutality in the belief that, as the regime’s founder, Ayatollah
put it, “America can’t do a damn thing against us.”
So far, President Biden has proved Khomeini prescient. His cowed stance is dangerous not only for those residing within the U.S. but for liberty’s advocates all around the world. The plot to kidnap an American citizen from New York has thus far gone unrecognized and uncondemned by Mr. Biden. The one tweet that did come from Secretary of State
didn’t even name Iran as the perpetrator or mention that an American citizen had been threatened on U.S. soil.
Ignoring this threat will have three lasting consequences. First, for dissidents of all types, it sets a horrifying precedent. Those who left their homelands for the promise of safety and freedom are realizing the current administration doesn’t care. If Tehran can be caught trying to kidnap a U.S. citizen in Brooklyn and receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief on the same day the U.S. government announces the foiled plot, what stops the Chinese or Russian government from attempting the same? The Biden administration is putting not only Iranian-Americans but also Cubans, Venezuelans, Hong Kongers and other dissident communities who sought refuge in America in physical danger.
Second, the message to the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna couldn’t be clearer: Washington wants a deal at any cost. Word is already emerging that the Biden administration has made massive concessions to the world’s leading state sponsor of terror in negotiations to return to the now defunct Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. By letting the Islamic Republic get away with the plot against Ms. Alinejad and other dissidents, the U.S. shows there’s nothing it isn’t willing to give away for a deal.
The third, and perhaps most lasting, consequence of ignoring the threat against Ms. Alinejad, is that the world now knows Mr. Biden’s promise to give human rights priority in U.S. foreign policy was nothing more than a slogan. Dictators and tyrants will feel emboldened, realizing there will be no price to pay for abusing their citizens.
The president can avert this. All he needs to do is put serious pressure on Tehran. At the very least, Mr. Biden should halt negotiations in Vienna, expel the remaining diplomats at the Iranian regime’s Interests Section in Washington—the country’s de facto embassy—and open a substantial dialogue with activists, dissidents, and the secular democratic opposition.
The president has a choice to make. He can show that while his administration values diplomacy, it values the lives of Americans more. Or he can shirk his most basic responsibility to keep American citizens safe and let dictators’ sovereignty extend into places like Brooklyn.
Mr. Mohebbi, a former political prisoner in Iran, is policy fellow at the Washington-based National Union for Democracy in Iran, where Mr. Khansarinia is policy director.
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