Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed Western countries for the failure of international efforts to tackle drug trafficking and claimed that the Islamic Republic pays a high price for its contribution to combating the global illicit narcotics trade. “West’s failure in preventing drug trafficking is a major problem. The fight against drug smuggling should also not be politicized,” Zarif said yesterday in a meeting with visiting United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (U.N.O.D.C.) Executive Director Yury Fedotov in Tehran. The top Iranian diplomat pledged his country will increase its cooperation with the U.N.O.D.C. and urged other countries to shoulder more responsibility as well.

Comment: Zarif is right that Iran has suffered immensely from drug problems for decades. As a neighbor of Afghanistan, which produces more than 80 percent of the world’s illegal narcotics, Iran is a major transit route for opium and its derivatives smuggled from Afghanistan to Europe and the Middle East. The trafficking and use of narcotics have created major security, economic and health problems for Iran.  The country’s health ministry officials recently warned that drug problem has become a national epidemic as the number of addicts have now surpassed two million people. The U.N.O.D.C. has also warned that Iran is facing one of the worst addiction crises in the world. Photographs of homeless people, most of them drug addicts, published in the Iranian media triggered a national outcry inside Iran last December.  

But while Zarif and other Iranian leaders often portray the Islamic Republic as the world’s stalwart ally in the fight against drugs, the reality is that some of the Iranian government’s policies at home and actions abroad exacerbate the drug problem in the region as well as in Europe and beyond.

First, although scores of Iranian police officers and border security guards have lost their lives fighting drug kingpins and seizing large shipments of narcotics entering the country from Afghanistan, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) is said to resell some of the confiscated drugs to international smugglers. In 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated General Gholamreza Baghbani, a top commander of the I.R.G.C. Quds Force, as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker. “Today’s action exposes IRGC-QF involvement in trafficking narcotics, made doubly reprehensible here because it is done as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism. Treasury will continue exposing narcotics traffickers and terrorist supporters wherever they operate,” then-Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said. Moreover, the I.R.G.C. has contributed to Afghanistan’s instability and growing opium cultivation and trade there by assisting Taliban groups fighting in western and southern Afghan provinces - a region where most of Afghanistan's narcotics are cultivated and produced.