Friday, October 16, 2009


A Policy Suggestion When Iran Talks with the West: Invite the Green Movement

September 23rd, 2009

Kazem Alamdari

LOS ANGELES–The United States and its allies correctly have pledged to engage with Iran. That is good news; there is no viable alternative. However, considering that the results of the June 12 in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner are widely disputed, any talks should include a leader of the opposition movement. Who can say with certainty that Ahmadinejad, not Mir Hossein Moussavi, the leader of the Green Movement, is truly Iran’s president?

Since the election, the Islamic Republic is experiencing the most serious, unprecedented challenge in its thirty-year history, from within and without. The system faces a crisis of legitimacy, which is the outcome of a gap between the ruled and the rulers and a rigged election. Hatred against the ruling power is so obvious that in the mass rally on “Quds Day,” September 18, Iranians in the opposition responded with new chants to the slogans from pro-government demonstrators. While the pro-government demonstrators chanted, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” opposition supporters responded with chants of “Death to Russia” and “Death to China.” These slogans refer to Iran’s two key allies, both of which supply Iran with technological and diplomatic strength.

It is apparent from the proposal Iran submitted earlier this month to the 5+1, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, that the ruling powers in Iran are unwilling to negotiate over the nuclear issue. Their proposal was primarily an instructive document for peace, justice, and progress in the world. The five-page proposal called for “joint efforts and interactions to help the people of Palestine to draw a comprehensive, democratic and equitable plan.” It also sought reforms within the United Nations “on the basis of principles of democracy and justice.”

One reason Iran is not interested in negotiating over the nuclear issue might be surprising to many Americans: having a nuclear capability plays well with Iranians at home. Iranians generally believe their country has a right to a nuclear program, if not a nuclear weapon, so this is one issue upon which Iran’s rulers and its citizens agree.

During talks with Iran, the United States should raise issues that place Iran in a weak position at home and abroad. These include the brutal repression of protesters, reports of torture and rape inside Iranian prisons, and the forced confessions from defendants who have participated in demonstrations and now face charges, including espionage and attempts to overthrow the state.

The gross human rights violations committed by the regime since the June demonstrations have produced perhaps the greatest damage to Iran’s leaders. Even some of the conservatives’ long-standing, prominent supporters have turned against them. For example, Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and long-time believer in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, issued a condemnation of the ruling establishment. According to the Associated Press, he wrote: “As commander in chief of the armed forces, you didn’t treat people well after the election. Your agents opened fire, killed the people, beat them and destroyed and burned their property. Your role in this can’t be ignored. Your apology can cool down the wrath of the people.”

In a meeting organized by Khamenei’s office for artists and movie directors, Majid Majidi, a leading movie director and Oscar nominee, spoke of atrocities and violence in the country and complained to the leader, while weeping, “I am not well, . . . many other film makers are also not well and refused to come to this session. . . . Sir! Where are we heading? We are shredding everything into pieces. . . . It looks like we’re now in a real war . . . where there is hatred and violence. . . . We are losing everything.”

The survival of Iran’s leaders requires a major change—either profound reform or more repressive action. Thus far, the ruling power has chosen the latter option. Under such political circumstances, negotiations by Western powers with Iran will legitimize an illegitimate government and hurt the movement for reform. This could be mitigated to some degree if the West demands the presence of reformist leaders in talks with Iran.

Kazem Alamdari is a professor at California State University

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