The Mullahs Say Thanks

Review & Outlook

The Wall Street Journal

October 12, 2015

President Obama and his foreign-policy admirers—a dwindling lot—hoped that the nuclear deal would make Iran more open to cooperation in the Middle East and with the U.S. Mark this down as another case in which the world is disappointing the American President.

Iran’s judiciary on Monday announced thatJason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent, has been convicted. He was on trial for “espionage.” Security forces arrested Mr. Rezaian and his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, in July 2014. Ms. Salehi was later released, but the regime has held Mr. Rezaian “in a black hole for 14 months,” as his brother, Ali, told us. Mr. Rezaian, a U.S. citizen, has been denied even the basic rights the regime sometimes affords political prisoners, including bail and phone calls.

The timing of the conviction won’t escape students of history. Friday was the 444th day of his captivity. That was the number of days U.S. diplomats in Iran spent as hostages following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mr. Rezaian’s conviction three days later is the mullah equivalent of mailing a dead fish to an adversary.

Mr. Rezaian’s brother also told us that “I’d like the U.S. government to say [about Jason’s detention]: This kind of behavior has consequences. Up to now this has had no consequences. What have been the consequences? It hasn’t stopped them from getting their nuclear deal. And it hasn’t stopped them from getting over half a billion a month in sanctions relief since we started talking to them.”

The Iranian judiciary answers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who last week issued an edict banning any talk with Washington. Supporters of the Iran deal are sure to blame Mr. Khamenei and his hard-line faction for the Rezaian case and the regime’s permanent anti-American posture. President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, deal supporters say, don’t share Mr. Khamenei’s view of America as the Great Satan.

Perhaps. But in a theocracy led by a man who rules as the Almighty’s vicegerent on Earth, the views of Messrs. Rouhani and Zarif count for little. That’s doubly so when it comes to Iran’s weapons programs. There, too, Tehran is already defying the U.S. and reneging on previous commitments.

On Sunday the regime tested a new long-range, guided ballistic missile code-named Emad (“Pillar”) in violation of the nuclear deal. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231—which passed shortly after the agreement to harmonize its provisions with international law—prohibits Iran from conducting ballistic-missile work for eight years.

But the mullahs are nothing if not impatient, and the Islamic Republic has already made clear that it doesn’t intend to abide by the provisions of Resolution 2231 it dislikes. Testifying before the Senate over the summer, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerryrepeatedly vowed to sanction Iran if it cheated on missiles. Well, here’s an early test case, Mr. Secretary.

The more likely outcome is that the Obama Administration will find a way to explain that the missile test doesn’t violate the nuclear accord that Mr. Obama considers a crowning achievement. Meanwhile, Iran’s government will bank up to $150 billion that it can deploy to back its militia proxies in the Middle East. Add the new Iran-Russia offensive in Syria, and Tehran would appear to have taken the nuclear deal as a signal that it can now do whatever it wants without consequence.