RFE/RL Iran Report
A Weekly Review of Developments in and Pertaining to Iran
RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY
18 April 2006, Volume 9, Number 14
INTIFADA CONFERENCE IN TEHRAN HAS MULTIPLE OBJECTIVES.Tehran hosted, on April 14-16, a Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference. This is the third time Iran has organized the conference -- and with talk that it may face a military strike against its nuclear facilities, Iran's association with the new Hamas government in Palestine and other Palestinian rejectionist groups is even more relevant to global affairs than it was when it held the conference in 2001 and 2002. There are strategic, ideological, and political reasons for Tehran's decision to host such gatherings.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Iran, during a March 9 roundtable in Washington, as "a kind of central banker for terrorism in important regions, like Lebanon, through Hizballah in the Middle East, in the Palestinian territories, and we have deep concern about what Iran is doing in the south of Iraq." The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a "state sponsor" of terrorism since 1984, and it lists a number of the groups that participated in previous conferences -- such as Hamas, Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- as "terrorist organizations" backed by Iran.
Iran's frame of reference is a requirement in the country's constitution that calls on the government to support "the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe." The secretary-general of the conference series, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, referred to this requirement in an interview that appeared in the April 6 issue of "Iran" newspaper. He went on to speak of the ways in which Palestinians will benefit from the weekend's event. The more than 500 participants, he said, "will discuss the dangers of the anti-human activities and policies of Israel, which have the backing of America, and they will think of some ways of countering those policies."
It is not just ideology or charity that motivates Iran. Mohtashami-Pur suggested that the creation of a Palestinian state would contribute to Iranian security. "Naturally, if the Palestinian nation restores its legitimate right, even the threats [against] the Islamic Republic of Iran, which come from abroad, will be reduced substantially," he said.
Security interests, furthermore, explain meetings held in Damascus on April 13 between one of Iran's top officials and leaders of Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, which oversees the workings of government, met with the secretary-general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, and told him that unity is a key factor in ensuring survival, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He repeated that message in a meeting with Ramadan Abdallah al-Shallah, the head of Islamic Jihad.
Given this perspective, one would expect success for the Hamas delegation that came to Tehran on April 11 to secure funding. Hamas needs to compensate for the refusal of Israel, the European Union, and the United States to sponsor the Palestinians until Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist. Indeed, Tehran welcomed the Hamas victory in Palestinian legislative elections earlier this year. At that time, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged the Muslim community to come forward with funding, and the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khalid Mish'al, reportedly secured a pledge of financial assistance when he visited Tehran in February. More recently, on April 12, Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who now serves as a foreign affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei, urged Muslim countries to fulfill their promises to fund a Hamas-led government, IRNA reported.
Superficially, then, it would appear that Iranian support for Hamas will be overwhelming. But there are indications that Hamas would not be similarly supportive of Iran. When Khalid Mish'al spoke at Tehran University on February 21, he was asked how Hamas would react if Israel attacked Iran, "Etemad-i Melli" reported. "Have no fear," he responded, "we will pray for you." When one of the students retorted that Israel would be destroyed if it attacked Iran, Mish'al laughed and said, "if you destroy Israel, you will be doing so over our heads." He went on to criticize U.S. polices, but added that this disapproval does not mean Hamas should go to war with the United States. This level of commitment is likely to give decision-makers in Tehran pause when it comes to aiding Hamas.
There may be another reason to wonder about the level of Iranian support for Hamas. U.S. Secretary of State Rice questioned Iran's willingness to fund the $1.9 billion that the Palestinian Authority needs annually, "Al-Hayah" reported on February 18. "We will wait and see whether Iran will provide aid of this magnitude," she said.
When it comes to return on investment, Iran's relationship with Hizballah may be more likely to pay off. Iran was once Hizballah's main sponsor, and Mohtashami-Pur, the secretary-general of the Intifada conference, was instrumental in Hizballah's creation when he served as ambassador to Syria in the 1980s. Iran's Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-i Shahid), a semi-governmental charity, continues to openly fund Hizballah activities, such as schools and hospitals. Hizballah, furthermore, seeks to recreate the Iranian model of a theocratic state and continues to regard Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei as a leader. The importance of the relationship was made clear when Hamas's Hassan Nasrallah visited Tehran in August 2005 to meet with the newly inaugurated President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the two met again in Damascus on January 20.
In Lebanon, a number of political actors are expressing concern about an Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis. The Supreme Leader's representative in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Mujtaba Zolnur, referred to potential Hizballah support when discussing the possibility a U.S. attack. He said, "Iran has a lot of supporters in other countries and once our interests are endangered, the enemy's in other countries will also be endangered," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on January 23.
Aside from strategic interests and constitutional requirements, Iran probably has another reason for hosting Support for the Palestinian Intifada conferences. It is a Shi'ite state, whereas Sunnism is the predominant school of Islam in the world. Moreover, the Persians are a distinct minority in the predominantly Arab Middle East. Through its activism on this issue, Iran is portraying itself as a committed leader -- more Palestinian than the Arabs, and more Muslim than the Sunnis. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATORS CITE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS.A leading Hamas figure, Khalil Abu-Layla, said on April 7 that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad should announce his readiness to fund the Palestinians, Al-Alam television reported. "We call on President Ahmadinejad to announce clearly and unambiguously that he is totally ready to cover all the financial needs of the Palestinian Authority and that he will do his utmost to get this aid [to the Palestinians], and if he does so, the situation will change a great deal," Abu-Layla said.
Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, a member of the Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on April 8 that the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not need Western funding, IRNA reported. Falahat-Pisheh said the Hamas victory in Palestinian legislative elections has resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the United States and EU. He urged the governments of Islamic states to act so Hamas and the Palestinian Authority do not have to depend on foreign aid. Falahat-Pisheh said the upcoming Intifada conference in Tehran (see item above) will provide an opportunity for the Islamic community to put an end to its inaction and support the Palestinians. Falahat-Pisheh also denounced perceived inaction on the part of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Qazvin Province parliamentary representative Rajab Rahmani said on April 8 that Israeli activities against Palestinians violate international law, IRNA reported. Rahmani said the Islamic community is concerned about this issue. Rahmani described Israeli activities against the Palestinians as "genocide," and added that countries that purport to promote democracy and human rights support Israel unconditionally.
Just two days before the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference gets under way in Tehran, 195 members of the Iranian legislature issued a statement of support on April 12 for the "Palestinian Resistance Movement," IRNA reported. The statement called on all Palestinians to participate in a general referendum and added, "The courageous Islamic resistance of the noble Palestinian people is a clear legal response to the occupation and tyrannical, racist and expansionist policies of the Zionist regime." The legislators also congratulated Hamas on its success in January elections in Palestine.
The same day, Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister who now serves as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's foreign-affairs adviser, urged Islamic countries to fulfill their promises to fund a Hamas-led Palestinian authority, IRNA reported. "The dignitaries taking part in the conference are expected to encourage their own governments to extend more assistance to the Palestinian government," he said. Velayati criticized the Organization of the Islamic Conference for its inaction on this issue. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CLAIMS TO MAKE LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM.Speaking in the northeastern city of Mashhad on April 10, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad promised his audience a big surprise in the near future, state television reported. "God willing, while I am in Mashhad, I will announce good news about the nuclear issue which will be a cause for pride," Ahmadinejad said. He also predicted that officials from other countries would be pleased with the development, according to IRNA.
Parliamentarians, government officials, and nuclear experts have recently made similar predictions of forthcoming "good news" in the nuclear field, iranews.org reported on April 10. Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, visited the legislature on April 9 and announced the upcoming news, according to irannews.org. Two anonymous legislators told irannews.org the news is that Iran has managed to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent. One of those sources reportedly went on to say that Iran therefore is not dependent on other countries and will be a member of the so-called nuclear club.
Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced on April 11 in Mashhad that Iran has enriched uranium, state television reported. He said, "Praise be to God, the start of the operation and achieving results from the pilot and testing process of this complex and the establishment of its technical and operational knowledge, which is considered as the frontier of passing this progressive knowledge...were successfully passed by enriching uranium at 3.5 percent on 20/01/85 [April 9, 2006]." Aqazadeh predicted bigger things in the future, saying, "This has paved the way for starting [the process] at industrial-scale in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And in order to enter this phase, we are trying to operate a complete 3,000 [-centrifuge] complex by the end of this year." The level mentioned by Aqazadeh, 3.5 percent, is considered low-enriched uranium and is appropriate for a light-water reactor.
Speaking afterward, President Ahmadinejad said, "we have completed the nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level and our young people enriched uranium to the enrichment level required by nuclear power plants on 20 Farvardin [9 April] of the current year, 1385," state television reported.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani pre-empted Ahmadinejad's nuclear announcement. Rafsanjani told the Kuwait News Agency on April 11 that the 164 centrifuges at Natanz were put into operation and produced enriched uranium. He noted that many more units must be made operational in order to attain an industrial level of production. Hashemi-Rafsanjani's suggestion that Iran is far from industrial production of enriched uranium may be intended as a reassurance to the international community. It also could represent an effort to undermine Ahmadinejad politically.
Mohammad Javad Saidi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on April 12 that Iran does not intend to enrich uranium beyond the level announced by state officials the previous day, state television reported. "We are currently able to carry out 3.5 to 5.0 percent enrichment, and because our main purpose in producing nuclear fuel is to provide fuel for our power plants we have no intention to go beyond this level of enrichment because we are committed to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and the Additional Protocol," Saidi said.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during an April 12 visit to Damascus that Iran has used 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, Iranian state radio reported. He went on to say that many more centrifuges are necessary if production is to be on an industrial scale and to make enough fuel for a nuclear power station. "We are moving in this direction," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "Our steps are very firm, calculated, scientific, and independent. And in no point of this technology [do] we depend on foreign assistance -- be it the supply of raw material or in the field of technical requirement." (Bill Samii)
RUSSIA SAYS IRAN HEADED 'IN WRONG DIRECTION.'A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 12 that the statement the previous day by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that his country has successfully enriched uranium shows that Iran has taken a "step in the wrong direction," Russian news agencies reported. The spokesman added that the Iranian move "goes counter to the decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and the [position] of the UN Security Council. [Iran should] stop all work to enrich uranium, including research." The diplomat noted that his government backs the mission of IAEA head Mohammad el-Baradei to Tehran, which is slated to begin on April 12. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said later on April 12 that one should not make "conclusions in haste" regarding Ahmadinejad's statement, adding that "emotions too often run high over the Iranian nuclear program."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on April 12 that the media should not "exaggerate" the importance of claims by Ahmadinejad, news agencies reported. Lavrov argued that "Iran has never declared it seeks to possess nuclear weapons. On the contrary, Iran has declared repeatedly at the highest level that it has no such plans and that it intends to develop nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes." Referring to recent media reports that Washington is considering a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lavrov said that "if such plans do exist...they cannot resolve the problem but may, on the contrary, create another extremely dangerous explosive hotbed in the Middle East, a region which has enough such hotbeds already." The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stressed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is "the one and only authoritative international body with sufficient expertise and power to verify state compliance with commitments under the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty," the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" reported on April 12. Lavrov has urged Tehran to cooperate fully with that body. The paper commented that his "call does not seem to have been heeded."
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, which is closely linked to the Kremlin, said that the latest Iranian statements about having joined the group of countries with nuclear technology show that Tehran is ready to scrap the results of all previous talks with the international community and indicate Iran's readiness to provoke a dispute regardless of the consequences, Interfax reported. Markov added that Tehran's moves are the result of "a total inconsistency in U.S. policies.... The crisis suggests that the United States' power has failed to evolve into a leadership capable of uniting the largest countries in an effort to solve global problems." He added that Washington's foreign-policy mistakes include unspecified differences with Russia over the "post-Soviet space." He stressed that "since the world community will not be able to shape any pertinent policy [on Iran because of the United States]...the crisis, by all accounts, will linger on, culminating in the emergence of one more nuclear power, then another one, and then more in a chain reaction."
Academician and nuclear expert Yevgeny Velikhov, who heads the Kurchatov Institute, said in Moscow on April 12 that the Iranian media have exaggerated the level of sophistication of their country's nuclear technology, which he called low-level, the website mosnews.com reported. Velikhov described some of the Iranian claims as "fairy tales" that reveal the "full incompetence" of the authors. Moscow-based researcher Vladimir Yevseyev said on April 12 that President Ahmadinejad's statement is "largely a bluff...to apply pressure on the West and ensure a better negotiating position," RIA Novosti reported. For his part, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that same day that "Tehran has made us understand the firmness of its position and its readiness to continue nuclear [research], which will complicate further talks." (Patrick Moore)
LEGISLATORS CRITICIZE EARTHQUAKE RELIEF.Mohsen Yahyavi, a legislator from Luristan Province, which was hit by several earthquakes in late March, said on April 8 that most of the survivors must spend their time outdoors despite rain and cold because they fear their homes will disintegrate, Mehr News Agency reported. Yahyavi added that relief operations were slow in the first few days and survivors had to buy their own tents at inflated prices. Uncoordinated efforts by government agencies are further delaying relief efforts, he claimed. Hussein Papi, another legislator from the same province, said the tents were not distributed properly and Luristan is not adequately equipped to deal with such emergencies. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENTARIAN GIVEN JAIL SENTENCE.The Tehran Province Penal Court has sentenced a member of parliament to jail, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on April 9. Ali Dirbaz, who represents Bandar Abbas and is also managing director of the banned "Tamadon-i Hormozgan" weekly, must serve 20 months behind bars and is banned from press activities for insulting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran's Islamic revolution. The weekly reportedly published what it thought was a foreign report about AIDS without realizing that it criticized Khomeini. If a higher court confirms the sentence, Dirbaz will finish his term in office before serving jail time. (Bill Samii)
RIGHTS GROUP ALLEGES OFFICIAL ABUSE OF ETHNIC ARABS.Amnesty International issued an "urgent action" report 4 April documenting alleged torture and ill treatment of prisoners of conscience -- including a pregnant woman and the wife and children of an Arab activist -- in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Radio Farda reported on April 6. The report claims that Hoda Hawashemi and her 2- and 4-year-old sons were arrested and their whereabouts are unknown; they are the wife and children of fugitive Arab rights activist Habib Farajallah Chaab. Amnesty International expressed concern about Masumeh Kabi and her 4-year-old son and Soghra Khudayrawi and her 4-year-old son. In another case cited by Amnesty International, an abortion was reportedly performed in early April on Sakina Naisi after blood loss "possibly caused by torture and ill treatment." Naisi's husband, Ahmad Naisi, also is a wanted Arab activist. (Bill Samii)
BALUCHI GROUP CLAIMS TO KILL HOSTAGE.Al-Arabiyah television broadcast on April 12 a videotape in which the ethnic Baluchi group known as Jundullah claimed to have killed Ahmad Zahed Sheikhi, an officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Sheikhi's identity card was shown, and Jundullah leader Abdulmalik Rigi spoke on the tape. Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the March 16 attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and another seven were injured (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2006). The group released a videotape in which it said it is holding several hostages.
In a 13 April press conference in Mashhad, Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi refused to confirm the alleged death of the military officer, IRNA reported. He said operations against insurgents in Sistan va Baluchistan, as well as efforts to free the hostages, are continuing.
In an April 14 speech to Shiite and Sunnite clerics in the southeastern city of Zahedan, Pur-Mohammadi said the government would deal with efforts to cause insecurity in Iran, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
AHMADINEJAD ADDRESSES UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM.President Ahmadinejad has discussed the issue of unemployment -- estimated to be at least 11 percent and closer to 20 percent -- in several recent speeches, hinting at his recognition that he must satisfy voters' most immediate concerns. He announced in the northeastern town of Quchan on April 11 that 180 trillion rials (approximately $200 million) will be distributed in the provinces for job creation, IRNA reported. In a speech in Mashhad on April 10, he said, "Employment is one of the most important issues to be tackled by the nation and the government," state television reported. "There are so many young people who have a specialization. They have learned and studied but there is no employment opportunity for them." (Bill Samii)
TURKMENISTAN, IRAN SIGN GAS AGREEMENT.Iran and Turkmenistan have signed a natural-gas agreement on Iran's purchases of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006 and 2007, turkmenistan.ru reported on April 12. Iran will pay $65 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, effective February 1, 2006, for 2006 shipments, which are set to total 8 billion cubic meters, Reuters reported. Iran will purchase 14 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2007. DK
IRAN SAYS NO DATE SET FOR PURPORTED IRANIAN-U.S. TALKS.Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters in Tehran on April 9 that no date has been established for purported Iranian-U.S. talks concerning Iraq, adding that there is no hurry to do so, Radio Farda reported. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani announced on March 16 that Tehran will discuss Iraqi affairs with Washington. Assefi emphasized that Tehran has agreed to the talks in order to encourage a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The "Financial Times" on April 7 quoted an anonymous "top Iranian adviser outside the U.S." who said that Supreme National Security Council official Mohammad Nahavandian is in Washington to plead that the talks also cover regional security and the nuclear issue. The Iranian-interests section in Washington, however, said Nahavandian is in the country on private business, and anonymous "White House and State Department officials" claimed ignorance about the alleged visit. It is unlikely that an Iranian official could enter the United States without the State Department's knowledge.
A demonstration by the Justice-Seeking Student Movement (Junbish-i Idalatkhah-i Daneshjui) took place outside the Supreme National Security Council building in Tehran on April 8, ISNA reported. The demonstrators called for the cancellation of purported Iranian-U.S. talks, but the reason for their stand is unclear.
Legislator Imad Afruq said on April 8 that holding such talks would legitimize the U.S. occupation of Iraq and confirm accusations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, Mehr News Agency reported. Hussein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the "Kayhan" newspaper, said his precondition for the talks is a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Iran's participation in the talks, Shariatmadari continued, would fulfill Washington's desire to show that Iran has yielded after 27 years of resistance. (Bill Samii)
INTERVIEW: PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN IRAN SUCCESSFULLY.U.S. media and opinion makers have devoted much comment to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's proposal to provide $85 million in assistance to help promote democracy in Iran. One of these opinion makers is Dr. Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution, who has spoken out about the U.S. government's proposal in articles published in "The Wall Street Journal" and elsewhere. In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda's Fatemeh Aman, Milani discusses his views concerning the promotion of democracy in the Middle East and Iran.
Radio Farda: In your recent article with the interesting title of "Checking Account for Democracy," you welcomed the Bush administration's allocation of $85 million for the promotion of democracy in Iran. But in the article you don't sound very optimistic that this move will have a significant impact on the democracy movement in Iran. Why?
Abbas Milani: I think that if it's well spent -- in other words, if it is not squandered on things that cannot be done and it is not given to groups that cannot manage it wisely -- then it can be very effective, particularly if it is used primarily to create something like a surrogate radio and a surrogate television. Something that would be the equivalent of what an Iranian television and radio would have been, had Iran been a democratic society. I think, if Iran had such a media outlet a few years ago, for example, I think things would have been very different in Iran today. And I think they will be very different in a few years once such an institution is created with the help of this money.
Long Democratic Tradition
Radio Farda: Do you think the United States and the West have been successful at promoting democracy in the Middle East and in Iran? And if you think they have not been successful, what do you think is the reason?
Milani: The chance of promoting democracy, successfully, in Iran is greater than anywhere else in the Middle East for two very, very prominent reasons. One is, the Iranian society has an indigenous, powerful, now 100-year-old democratic movement. This is not something that has to be created ex nihilo, from nothing. This is something that is there; the United States doesn't have to create it.
Secondly, the United States faces in Iran a reality that is the opposite of every other Middle Eastern country with the exception of Israel, and that is that the government talks anti-American rhetoric, but the people, the street, is predominantly pro-American. What you have in the rest of the Middle East is that the government is trying to be, at least ostensibly are, pro-American, but the people, often influenced by advertisements in the media of those very countries, are anti-American. So in the case of Iran, you have a democratic movement that exists, that has made great strides in the past (it is now in a period of relative retreat because of the [former President Mohammad] Khatami defeat, the disappointment that came as a result of Khatami, but those forces there, they haven't gone away), and the population is predominantly pro-American. In other words, they will listen. It is not like they will not listen to something that is openly, transparently American.
Radio Farda: You said it is easy to promote democracy in Iran, but I also asked whether you think the United States has been successful in promoting democracy. If not, what has been at fault?
Milani: The problem in Iraq, the reason that democracy promotion in Iraq has not been successful is because in the case of Iraq there was not [an] indigenous democratic movement. The United States decided to invade Iraq, and that created a Pandora's Box that some scholars had anticipated but many planners did not anticipate, in other words, the emergence of this kind of insurgency and all of the other things that have happened.
But at the same time, if you look at the Middle East today and compare it with 15 years ago, you, I think, have to admit that there are more democracies in the Middle East than there were. The Palestinians just had the freest elections in the history of probably any Arab country. In Lebanon, the people succeeded in pushing out Syria. There is a very viable democracy in Kurdistan, in the British part of Iraq. There is at least the possibility of democracy coming to Egypt; at least flickers of it are on the horizon, at least [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak knows the old trick of saying, "If you push me, you will get Islamic radicalism" is no longer enough to dissuade the U.S. from pushing for democracy. There have been failures in the other places, or small successes as in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan.
What has happened in Kurdistan is truly incredible. It's a very viable, democratic part of Iraq that thrives. But there, the U.S. had to face the problem that it was working in a milieu, in an atmosphere, which was very, very anti-American. And it had to face the reality that there wasn't much of a democratic movement in these countries to begin with.
The U.S. had to sort of force democracy on these societies, and that can't be done. You can't force societies to become democratic. Democracy needs a lot of things. It needs civil society, it needs a middle class, it needs a technocratic class, it needs a culture of tolerance. And these things are beginning to exist on a very extensive basis in Iran. In the case of Iran, I think if there was a television and radio station that was doing this kind of a promotion of democracy, I think it would be a very different story.
Helping Iranians Help Themselves
Radio Farda: You wrote that this help can be used by those who are denouncing violence in their fight for democracy in Iran. As you have indicated, U.S. financial support for Iran-based democrats is a sensitive issue. So how can these forces be helped by the U.S. without being hurt?
Milani: Fist of all, several things have to be very clear. One is that the U.S. is not looking for a [exiled Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad] Chalabi in Iran. Second, that the U.S. is not trying to decide who the next ruler of Iran will be. Third, that the U.S. will not support any group that has a history of terrorism, a history of violence, a history of oppression. Fourth, that the U.S. will not help movements that want to dismember Iran, that are trying to break Iran apart.
The U.S. could be tempted to do that, and it would be easy because there is a lot of national resentment among Kurds, among Turks. The U.S., I think, has to say clearly, categorically, unmistakably: "We won't do this. We won't support terrorists. We won't support anyone who is advocating the violent overthrow of the government. And we don't plan to force a solution on Iran."
The only thing that the U.S. should say it wants to do is to help the Iranians themselves in this process. That's a very crucial thing. That's a big difference between Iran and Iraq. In Iraq, the U.S. essentially went in, occupied the country, ran the country for a while, and then said, "OK, let's see if you can have a democratic government here." That's hard to get. But my suggestion is that that should be avoided in Iran, and a different path can be tried. And I think that if it is tried and if it is made clear that the U.S. respects the rights of Iranians to determine their own future, then you will get a different result, and you will get a good result.
Radio Farda: Regarding your suggestion of the creation of an American visa office in Tehran, how should we imagine this? How realistic is this idea?
Milani: Well, as I said there, I don't think the Islamic regime will allow it, but the U.S. should make the offer. It should be clear to the Iranians, who now are forced to go to Turkey and Dubai and Germany and to spend a lot of money and wait in a lot of lines and be humiliated to get a passport, that this is essentially the fault of the regime. It's the fault of Mr. [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's rhetoric.
It is crucial, I think, for the U.S. to separate the Iranian people from this regime, to speak to the Iranian people and say: "Look, we don't have any problem with you. We respect your right to develop a nuclear program within the existing laws. But the problem is with this regime, and if we don't give you visas, it's because the regime doesn't allow us to have a visa office there."
It must be made clear who is responsible for the problems that the people of Iran face. Because it has a monopoly on the media, the regime has very successfully told people a lot of stories. They have sold the nuclear issue as a David and Goliath story. America, they have tried to sell -- tried, they haven't been successful -- as being a bully, singling Iran out and denying Iran its rights. It must be made clear that it is the regime's irresponsible rhetoric and its action, its lying and betraying the trust of the Iranian people and of the global community, that has gotten Iran into the current impasse. It has to be made clear to the Iranian people that the U.S. is willing to work with them. A truly, editorially independent media would go a long way toward doing that.
Compiled by A. William Samii
Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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