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President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar amid Gulf crisis

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Recently Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Qatar, which Ankara has supported in its dispute with powerful Gulf Arab neighbors as the key part of his shuttle diplomacy. Erdogan visited Doha, following trips to Russia and Kuwait. President Erdogan and Qatar Emir held the meeting of the third session of the Qatar-Turkey Supreme Strategic Committee at the Emiri Diwan.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas. A group of nations led by Saudi Arabia and including Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar in June. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shia rival Iran. Doha, however, vehemently denies the claims and Ankara has insisted there is absolutely no evidence to back the allegations.

The Gulf crisis was one of the important items on the agenda of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meetings in Kuwait and Qatar. “The crisis which started over five months ago in the Gulf Cooperation Council will be among the top-priority topics of the agenda,” the Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement.

Ankara has a military base in Qatar and deployed more troops after the hostilities erupted. The closure of the Turkish base was one of 13 conditions demanded by the Saudi-led bloc.

Turkey has backed Qatar since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, cut economic and diplomatic ties in July, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, a charge it denies.

However, Turkey does not want to wreck its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia and its hugely powerful new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Erdogan has carefully worked to improve Ankara’s relations with Riyadh which took a blow over the 2013 ousting of President Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, another ally of Ankara.

President Erdogan has strongly spoken out against the sanctions applied by the boycotting countries towards Doha. In a show of solidarity, Turkey has also sent cargo ships and hundreds of planes loaded with food products and other supplies to break the embargo on Doha.

President Erdogan’s visit to Qatar comes within the framework of the growing and distinguished relations of cooperation between the two brotherly countries in various fields. The Emir and the Turkish President discussed means of enhancing strategic bilateral cooperation between the two countries as well as reviewing the latest developments in the region.

As a part of his three nation tour, the Turkish President Erdogan arrived in Doha on Nov 15 for an official visit to Qatar. The State of Qatar’s Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani held talks in Turkey on November15 with the emirate’s chief ally President Recep Erdogan, in his first trip abroad since the Gulf diplomatic crisis erupted.

Over the last years, Qatar has emerged as Turkey’s number one ally in the Middle East, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating their positions on a number of issues including the Syria conflict where both are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

During the meetings held at higher levels, the two countries signed 14 agreements and memorandums of understandings (MoUs) to reach a total of signed agreements between the two sides to about 40 agreements covering all areas of vital cooperation between the two countries ranging between economic, cultural, defence, banking and cyber security as well as food and agricultural security. In addition to an agreement to protect investments and another twinning between Hamad Port and Turkish ports.

Qatar and Turkey have signed a defence agreement in 2014 to establish a Turkish base in Qatar, in aim to strengthen Qatar’s defence capabilities and promote the region’s security, without hostility against any party. When the current Gulf crisis break out and the unjust siege imposed on the State of Qatar, Turkey took the initiative and sent the rapid dispatch of foodstuffs and basic needs to Qatar’s citizens and residents.

The Turkish president has repeatedly called for the lifting of the blockade against Qatar. Erdogan has been a major supporter of Doha in the crisis that has seen Qatar left diplomatically and economically isolated. “We support a resolution of the crisis through a brotherly manner and through dialogue,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, told reporters. “This crisis only serves the enemies of this region.”

While seeking a quick end of confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, however, Turkey backs Qatar in the Gulf crisis that was triggered in June when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar. The four states accuse Qatar of supporting terrorist groups — allegations Doha denies, describing the embargo as a breach of its national sovereignty.

Earlier, Erdogan in July embarked on a regional tour of the Gulf countries, with visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in a bid to defuse the crisis. But his visit then ended without any sign of a breakthrough and Ankara has shown signs of preferring to leave mediation efforts to Kuwait.On 15 Sept 2017 Turkey’s President Erdogan hosted Qatar’s emir. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has held talks in Turkey with

Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that Qatar has US backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance. “The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue,” H E Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said yesterday, Bloomberg reported.

Abdulrahman Al Thani said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders. “The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington yesterday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.”

Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, the Deputy Prime Minister said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defence partners, including France, Turkey, the UK and the US, which has a base in Qatar.  “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the US military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added. “Already, the boycott is impacting the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria,” the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said.

Qatar’s C-17 transport aircraft are the main planes ferrying logistical support to coalition partners, such as Jordan and Turkey.  But because Qatari planes are barred from flying over Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE, “we have only one pathway to fly, which is via Iran,” so that if there’s an emergency the planes may have to land in the Islamic Republic, he added.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that Abdulrahman Al Thani compared Saudi Arabia’s political manoeuvres in Lebanon to its boycott of his country, and accused Riyadh of a dangerous escalation. He said Qatar is ready to come to the table to resolve the dispute under US mediation. But he maintained Qatar’s tough stance, arguing that Riyadh is responsible for detonating a series of Middle East crises, by intervening in Lebanon, boycotting Qatar and bombing Yemen. “This is something we have just witnessed in the region: Bullying small countries into submission,” the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said, suggesting that Saudi aggression is a new regional threat.  “Exactly what happened to Qatar six months ago is happening now to Lebanon,” he said. “The leadership in Saudi and the UAE should understand that there is a world order that should be respected. International law should be respected,” he said. “There is no right for any country to interfere in other countries,” he argued, warning: “There is a pattern that is very risky for the region, and very intimidatory.”

HH Abdulrahman Al Thani said Qatar was a strong US partner in war against terrorism.  To a question about allegations on supporting terrorism, H H Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said it was propaganda and in fact the entire campaign was started with such baseless accusations. Qatar was strong US partner in war against terrorism and was hosting centre of command for global coalition base as a big ally in war against terror. The Deputy PM and Foreign Minister said Qatar was front runner in fighting against ideology of terrorism through supporting education in vulnerable countries and was supporting education of 7m children in East and Central Asia. He said that the US always expressed its appreciation for this relationship and there was no indication that it wanted to close its base in Qatar. “In fact, we are developing this relationship further.”

Qatar is getting support from the USA for putting this crisis to an end but it was behavior and attitude of Saudi Arabia and the UAE which had laid siege Qatar and were taking illegal actions against Qatar.  He said that terrorism was bigger threat in the region but siege countries attitude was undermining the threat through anti-Qatar campaign.

Before his visit to Qatar, President Erdogan went to Kuwait. He and Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah discussed “regional and international developments,” the government-run KUNA news agency said. Erdogan and Kuwait’s leader Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah discussed issues related to bilateral trade, and cooperation in defense, education and culture, according to the statement. Erdogan and the Kuwaiti emir discussed means to improve cooperation on all fronts between the two nations and also inked a direct investment agreement. Turkey’s and Kuwait’s military chiefs of staff held talks on the “developing and strengthening” military cooperation, according to KUNA. Kalin said that regional developments, particularly in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf region, along with bilateral relations between Turkey and the Gulf countries would be discussed in detail.

Former Ottoman Empire is making Ernest efforts to play pivotal and proactive role as a part of his rising diplomatic profile.  Recently Turkey, Qatar and Iran agreed to launch the Qatar-Turkey route through Iran in a move to boost trade between the two countries. The agreement will be signed soon between the transport ministers of the three countries according to the Turkish Ambassador to Doha Fikret Ozer.

Earlier in July, Erdogan had embarked on a regional tour of the Gulf countries, with visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in a bid to defuse the crisis. But his visit ended without any sign of a breakthrough and Ankara has shown signs of preferring to leave mediation efforts to Kuwait.

Turkey has increased trade with Qatar since the start of the embargo and the two countries have held joint military exercises in the Gulf state, where Ankara has a military base. It has said it will deploy 3,000 troops at the base.  The closure of the base was one of the conditions laid by the Saudi-led bloc for the lifting of the sanctions, which was rejected by Doha.

The two countries established the Supreme Strategic Committee under the leadership of H H the Emir and the Turkish President to act as an important mechanism for strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries in all fields. The Turkish exports to Qatar have increased three times more than usual to reach $32.5m since the beginning of the unjust siege, where these exports increased during last June to 51.5 percent on month-on-month (MoM) basis. As well Qatari investments in Turkey between 2011 and 2016 were valued at $1.29bn.

Through joint meetings of the committee, the two countries are explored the best ways to strengthen their bilateral relations. The committee meetings resulted in more qualitative cooperation between the two countries, which opened new horizons for cooperation. Thus the committee has played a major and catalytic role in the development of economic relations between the two countries since its inception.

As a group of nations led by Saudi Arabia and including Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates blockaded Qatar in June; Kuwait has unsuccessfully led mediation efforts in the dispute, while Turkey has stepped in to support Qatar with food imports in the face of a blockade by the Arab states.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City.  Kuwait has led mediation efforts in the dispute, while Turkey has stepped in to support Qatar with food imports in the face of a blockade by the Arab states. Erdogan and the Kuwaiti emir also discussed “means to improve co-operation on all fronts” between the two nations and also inked a direct investment agreement, KUNA said.  The report did not give further detail on the agreements. Turkey and Kuwait’s military chiefs of staff held talks on the “developing and strengthening” military co-operation, according to KUNA.

Prior to his Gulf trip, Erdogan visited Russia briefly, and discussed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Turkey’s expectations regarding the re-establishment of visa-free regime and lifting of all remaining trade sanctions by Moscow.

Following the downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015 over violation of Turkish airspace, Kremlin had ordered an end to visa-free travel with Turkey. Russia also banned some Turkish agricultural imports as well as firms involved in construction, engineering, and tourism.

Later Moscow came to know that Turkish military fired down the Russian jet plane on instructions, as usual, from Pentagon. Turkey as a key member of NATO has to oblige Washington in such military matters. Moscow and Istanbul came to recognize their common foe trying to split European Turkey and Eurasian Russia for strategic reasons. .

As a result, however, the bilateral relations improved considerably in recent times especially during the summer, Russia relaxed trade sanctions placed on Turkey. Most recently, on October 27, Russia lifted its restrictions on the import of tomatoes from Turkey beginning Nov. 1.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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