Iran Keeps a Promise

While it remains to be seen whether Iran will keep its word on the nuclear agreement even under the elaborate inspections regime, there is evidence that Iran can be trusted to keep its promises about some things.

For example, on Sunday, Tehran announced that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was convicted on espionage charges last month and has been sentenced to a prison term.

This was a promise kept. For on November 4, Tehran announced Rezaian would next appear in court on November 16, preparatory to a ruling in his case.

According to much of the West’s judiciary system, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” It would almost seem as if the courts of Tehran have acted with impressive alacrity to make sure that this American journalist is not denied his right to justice. Or maybe that wasn’t their motive at all.

What about the 16 months Rezaian was held in detention before this, without the state ever producing any evidence that he had broken the law? Well, that was before the nuclear deal…

Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl has a different interpretation of justice. “Every day that Jason is in prison is an injustice. He has done nothing wrong,” he said on Sunday, in response to the news from Tehran.

“Even after keeping Jason in prison 488 days so far, Iran has produced no evidence of wrongdoing,” Jehl added. “His trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby also called for Rezaian’s release.

“We’ve seen the reports of a sentence in the case of U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian in Iran but cannot confirm the details ourselves at this time,” Kirby said. “If true, we call on the Iranian authorities to vacate this sentence and immediately free Jason so that he can be returned to his family.”

Kirby should be commended for his circumspection. True, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, confirmed the punishment in a statement posted on the Official Islamic Republic News Agency’s website. But since the State Department has not confirmed it directly, one must give the Iranians the benefit of the doubt.

It’s not only the Americans who are calling for his release. United Nations human rights investigators recently called on Iran to cease its harassment and prosecution of journalists ahead of parliamentary elections in February. They specifically name Jason Rezaian as one of those who have been “arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested for their peaceful exercise of fundamental rights.”

The day the Iranians made their promise to conclude Rezaian’s case was, as CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan noted, a day of special significance. On that day, thousands of people took to the streets to shout “Death to America” and to burn the American flag. It was their quaint way of celebrating the events of  Nov. 4, 1979, when a revolutionary vanguard of students stormed the U.S. Embassy compound and took dozens of Americans hostage after Washington refused to hand over the toppled U.S.-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, for trial in Iran.

The “death” in “Death to America” need not be taken literally. Just as some experts in the language of radical Islam have pointed out, jihad does not necessarily mean war in the literal sense; it can mean war on sin, or a struggle against one’s own immorality. Included in this is death to McDonald’s and Starbucks, those harbingers of Western decadence.

But whatever it means, they’ve been saying it consistently, and not only once a year. They’ve kept their promise to the Revolution, to strive to destroy America. And if they haven’t succeeded yet in doing so literally, at least they can keep Jason Rezaian in prison, no matter what the State Department says. Or, in other words, “Death to the U.S. State Department.”

It is troubling, to say the least, that Iran, which denies any intention of seeking nuclear weapons, which professes a desire for peace, will not make the minimal gesture of releasing a U.S. citizen who is guilty of no wrongdoing.

What does it say about Washington’s influence with Tehran? What does it say about the future of the nuclear agreement? What does it say about Iranian intentions in general?

The answers are obvious.

One thing we can say for the Iranians, though: They mean what they say when they say they have made no change in their policy toward the United States. Furthermore, in their eyes, whatever they got in the nuclear deal was owed them. They owe us no favors.

There is, however, reason to be hopeful in the Rezaian case. The Iranians have disclosed few details, because, they say, no formal verdict has yet been handed down.

The vagueness leaves room for hope that the sentence will be either suspended or very short, and that Iran is doing it this way to minimize the embarrassment at being caught behaving once again like the brutal tyranny it is.