The State Department is set to release the long overdue Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Thursday morning, after a delay, the longest ever, that spurred speculation in some political spheres that it was done in an effort not to upset Iran during ongoing nuclear negotiations, a charge the State Department denied.
The Human Rights Reports, as it is commonly known, is mandated for release on Feb. 25 each year. That deadline was pushed back to April 20 and then postponed yet again until an announcement was made during a press briefing Monday.
Chanan Weissman, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, confirmed Tuesday that the report is due out Thursday morning.
“We’ve been pretty public about it being a scheduling issue. It’s a priority for the secretary, but with his travel and his subsequent medical issues we had to find a time when it could be released,” said Weissman, who said that Secretary of State John Kerry is “very excited to release it.”
But there are those who believe the delay is linked to ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a recent blog post: “There are two likely explanations for the delay and they are not inconsistent. The administration (a) isn’t all that interested in the reports except (b) to the extent that they could be used against the Iran deal, by reminding people in Congress of the nature of the evil regime in Tehran.”
Weissman said, “we absolutely reject that notion” that the delay had anything to do with the P5+1 negotiations, whose June 30 deadline to reach a deal is rapidly approaching.
“Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, we will continue to [report on human rights] and press Iranian respect for rule of law and we’ve been very clear about that,” said Weissman.
The State Department’s 388-page Country Reports on Terrorism, released last Friday, well after the April 30 deadline, noted in the section on state sponsors of terrorism that “Iran remains a state of proliferation concern.”
The report further stated Iran continues to rearm Lebanese Hezbollah, whose fighters “continued to carry out attacks along the Lebanese border with Israel.” Funding, training and weapons were supplied by Iran to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups and to Iraqi Shia militias, one of which has a Foreign Terrorist Organization designation.
As noted in a letter, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), David Perdue (Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.), sent to Kerry in mid-May, human rights sanctions will not be part of a list of phased-out sanctions in a final deal with Iran.
Sanctions related to Iran’s terrorist activities will also remain in place, U.S. counterterrorism envoy Tina Kaidanow said during the unveiling of the Country Reports on Terrorism.
But providing sanctions relief without rolling back sanctions on non-nuclear related issues, like terrorism and human rights abuses, is easier said than done given that many of the sanctions targeted Iran for multiple reasons, including the country’s nuclear ambitions.
As reported by the Associated Press, of the 24 Iranian banks currently sanctioned by the United States, only Bank Saderat is clearly subject to non-nuclear sanctions. The rest have been sanctioned for nuclear and ballistic missile financing. Untangling what institutions are or are not eligible for sanctions relief has reportedly been given to Adam Szubin, the Treasury Department’s sanctions czar.
Adding to the complexity of the talks — which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif recently alleged could go past the June 30 deadline — over the weekend 199 of 213 members of Iran’s parliament voted to ban access to military, security and sensitive non-nuclear facilities, documents and scientists in a nuclear agreement. The bill, which is not yet ratified, reads in part: “The International Atomic Energy Agency, within the framework of the safeguard agreement, is allowed to carry out conventional inspections of nuclear sites.”
The State Department reiterated Sunday that inspections are a key part of any final deal.