President Barack Obama issued an executive order this week that sets forth additional sanctions on Iran and the companies that conduct business with the regime. In a statement accompanying his order, the president noted the intent to reaffirm “our commitment to hold the Iranian Government accountable for its actions ... to abide by its international obligations.”
The administration’s rhetoric establishes an important and useful strategic objective. Sadly, its policy misses the mark in truly holding the Iranian government accountable for its long-standing history of flouting international law.
To wit, the Iranian government’s most heinous act — the seizure, detention and physical and emotional maltreatment of 53 American diplomats — remains unaddressed.
More than any previous event, the embassy seizure and subsequent hostage-taking launched the rise of the very state-sponsored terrorism that continues to plague the international community today.
More troubling still, from this episode the Iranian regime has drawn a dangerous lesson — namely that it can continue to flout international laws and standards without fear of reprisal or repercussion.
Any effort to hold Iran accountable to international standards must begin with the beginning. The fact that Iran has never been held to account for its deplorable and unconscionable act serves only to embolden the regime.
Even today, Iranians continue to jeeringly celebrate Nov. 4, the anniversary of the embassy takeover, drawing a sense of national pride for its criminal acts. As such, the regime and its citizens annually celebrate and reinforce the honor of violating international laws and mores.
Such values must not be allowed to stand. For 444 days, our Iranian captors abused we whom they held hostage and flouted the international community. They ignored international pressure and openly flaunted international convention, just as they do today. Iran has never so much as apologized for its violations of international law, let alone for the mental torture or physical abuse we hostages endured.
And because the U.S. government, under threat of our execution, agreed to bar us from suing Iran as a condition of our release, Iran has never been forced to account to those of us victimized.
Our nation’s credibility and that of the international community continues to suffer from our failure to hold Iran to account for its dastardly acts.
Of course, Iran will target Saudi diplomats abroad and assist rogue regimes in plotting terror campaigns when they pay no price. The resolve of the Iranian people remains high in part because of our tepid reaction to the events of 1979-1981. Until Iran is held to account for its actions — until Iran understands the United States is serious — sanctions will do little to unnerve a nation that, if provoked, will fight.
For this reason, our efforts need another element — a declaration that what the Iranians did in 1979 was wrong and that justice to those mistreated is overdue.
The Justice for the American Diplomats Held Hostage in Tehran Act (H.R. 5796) would provide such a message. Introduced by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), this legislation provides a mechanism by which the former hostages — and, indeed, through them, the American people — can finally hold Iran accountable for its unpardonable and inexcusable actions.
The president and Congress deserve accolades for their efforts. However, sanctions in absence of true Iranian accountability deems Obama’s “commitment to hold the Iranian Government accountable for its actions” somewhat hollow.
Moorhead Kennedy was one of the hostages held in Iran for 444 days from 1979 to 1981. He lives in Maine.