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No PR campaign can hide Iran’s malign influence

The massive advertising campaign launched by the Iranian government during the nuclear agreement negotiations about three years ago to influence the Western public opinion was based on the premise that the deal would lead to regional peace and put an end to the long conflict. The  campaign targeted Iranian communities abroad, although most of them have not been on good terms with the regime since the revolution.
It was odd to know that many supporters of the agreement were from the Iranian opposition. I was surprised by the unusual reconciliation phenomenon between the two sides, and when I inquired about it, some praised the influence of the Iranian lobby, others thought it resulted from pressure from the former American administration, while a third opinion was that the opposition supported the agreement regardless of their dispute with the government.
In my opinion, the government of Hassan Rouhani worked hard and managed to paint a positive picture about the future of Iran, promising reconciliation and positive change that would end the dispute with almost five million Iranians living in exile, mostly in the West. And it was natural for the message of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to focus on calling upon Iranians abroad, regardless of their political orientation, to support the right of their country, Iran, to possess a nuclear weapon, and to differentiate between that issue and their dispute with the government. And indeed, many Iranian elites in the US accepted this, thinking that Iran would change for the better, with openness and tolerance.
I do not know the opinion of the Iranian opposition who supported the nuclear agreement after it was signed and implemented. Have they found any signs of improvement in the regime’s attitude toward the opposition, and the whole Iranian people for that matter, since the agreement was signed?
We have not witnessed any improvement in the Iranian regime’s conduct. On the contrary, there has been more repression, even against some known supporters of the regime, such as the children of the late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and some people close to the former president Mohammad Khatami. And recently, even someone affiliated to President Rouhani was arrested in the endless game of balances.

Tehran promised reconciliation and positive change from the nuclear deal, but the regime has delivered neither. 

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Ever since the agreement between Iran and the West in July 2015, we have not heard from the Iranian elites inside Iran or abroad any commendation of the regime or an acknowledgment that there has been any improvement in the dealings of the regime with civil society. Consequently, we do not know the game that President Rouhani may resort to now to rally the support he managed to get last time. At that time, he played on the chord of patriotism, saying that the project was for the whole of Iran, not just for the regime. He convinced them that it was a cultural and scientific pride, and that lifting sanctions after the agreement would improve the life of the Iranian citizens.
Surely, Iranians have the right to be proud of their achievements, but not when these achievements are just another way for more wars and oppression. The agreement strengthened some repressive authorities like the Revolutionary Guards, while Iran, because of the regime's choices and policies, remained in a state of conflict. For despite the international sanctions, the Iranian regime never stopped spending billions of dollars every year to support armed groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and supporting a network of extremist groups in Africa, South East Asia, and even South America.
I expect the Rouhani government to mislead the Iranian people who live under the influence of the regime’s media, just like North Korea. It will depict Donald Trump’s decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the agreement as an aggression against Iranian people and an attempt to make their life even harder, especially since the US has already stopped issuing visas to Iranian nationals. However, Washington should clarify its position for the Iranian people that re-imposing sanctions on the Iranian government is not inevitable, but it has given Tehran a chance to abandon its military adventures and financing extremist groups abroad. The American conditions should be accepted by the majority of Iranians who are fed up with the behavior of the regime, and with squandering their fortunes on different militias all over the world.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published. Twitter: @aalrashed