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An Open Letter to Senator Obama on Iran

Iranian human rights activists in exile find a policy of "unconditional dialogue" hard to fathom.

by
Manda Zand-Ervin & Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi

Bio

May 24, 2008 - 1:18 am

May 24, 2008

Dear Senator Barack Obama:

After the recent days of highly charged commentary about “appeasement,” we thought that as Iranian-Americans, we would convey to you the feelings of most people in Iran and the Iranian diaspora at large. It is important that a decision to dialogue with the Islamic Republic of Iran not be made in haste, for the purpose of winning the election. Instead, you now have a unique opportunity to make good on your message of change.

On September 24, 2004, while a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Illinois, you suggested that “surgical missile strikes” on Iran may become necessary. “Launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in” given the ongoing war in Iraq, you told the Chicago Tribune. You continued: “On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse”.

Your change in approach is now stunning for many Iranians. It is not that we want our country to be bombed, but the point is, why did you so suddenly and without explanation go from that extreme to the extreme of “unconditional dialogue”?

Senator, since 1979 the Mullahs of Iran have killed upwards of one million Iranians, not to mention the nearly one million sacrificed to the 8-year-long Iran/Iraq war. And what the Iranian people have withstood in terms of outrageous human rights violations is shocking; public hangings, stoning, flogging, cutting off limbs, tongues and plucking out eyeballs are an everyday occurrence across Iran. All are meant to strike fear of the ruling Mullahs into people’s hearts.

Since you began talking about unconditionally dialoguing with the Islamic regime of Iran, you too have struck absolute fear in the hearts of the Iranian people, both inside and outside Iran. The few Iranian-Americans who support you are well-intentioned individuals who have been swept up in the excitement and fervor of your campaign. But we can wholeheartedly assure you that your comments have landslide opposition within the much greater Iranian heart both inside and outside Iran.

Iranians believe that the only country who has the moral authority and is able to support them is the United States of America, a country whose foundation as a melting pot mirrors the true character of the once great Persian Empire. But the fact is, as John Bolton so aptly puts it: “Negotiation is a tactic, not policy.” Your policy of direct and unconditional negotiation will give the Mullahs of Iran the legitimacy that they need for more oppression. The real losers will be the already weary people of Iran, whose dreams of freedom and democracy will be dashed for a long time to come. If you empower that regime, the mullahs will continue to harm a country that is already totally economically devastated, as well as socially and politically oppressed.

And rest assured that they will have no qualms about exporting the kind of rule they have established inside Iran to the rest of the world; that is an undeniable fact that they themselves have openly admitted. One can see the proof in Syria and Lebanon.

On September 18, 2001, defying the regime’s warnings and pressure, brave Iranians were the only people in the Middle East to hold a candlelight vigil in solidarity with America. The thousands who marched peacefully down one of the main Boulevards of Tehran were brutally attacked by revolutionary guards and paramilitary forces. Many paid a high price for their bravery: they were arrested and hauled off to prison.

Iranians have struggled since the 1850′s for modernity, sovereignty and progress for our nation; Iran had a constitutional revolution in 1906 to separate the government from religion. Iranians are a progressive people and our cultural identity is very different from any of the other nations in the region.

Cyrus the Great wrote the first declaration of human rights in Iran more than 2500 years ago. The actual Cylinder upon which the declaration was carved is housed in the British Museum in London, and its replica is in the second floor lobby of the United Nations.

Senator, Europeans, through Jack Straw of the U.K., Dominique de Villepin of France and Joschka Fischer of Germany, tried negotiations for five years with the so-called moderate reformist, Mullah President Khatami. That effort ended in disaster, with the European Union admitting its failure. President Reagan tried also. He sent a cake and a Qur’an to Khomeini, but Khomeini fed the cake to dogs and willfully ignored president Reagan’s proposal of friendship. President Clinton worked diligently on negotiations for eight years. Two secretaries of State, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, both failed — during the regime of the same Mullah President, Khatami. In fact, it was Warren Christopher who called the regime of Iran evil after over three years of unsuccessful negotiations. Mrs. Albright even publicly apologized to the Mullahs of Iran for America’s sins. She eliminated trade sanctions on three items as a goodwill gesture and offered incentives on Iranian frozen assets, but at every point the Mullahs ungraciously found excuses not to hail the repeated gestures of good will, and refused to take one step forward.

The most important fact to remember is that while the negotiations were going on between the Clinton Administration and the Mullahs of Iran, they were continuing the development of their hidden nuclear program. Do you really think you can trust these people?

We appreciate the fact that you believe this administration has not done a good job in negotiations, but they have tried. They tried directly and indirectly, behind closed doors and in public. If the Mullahs of Iran wanted to negotiate, there was the April 2006 package approved by the European Allies and Russia and offered by the U.S. with good will and many incentives. Yet typically and inexplicably, Iran remained recalcitrant and rejected it.

Now here is a proposal for you:

America led the world in supporting the Eastern European Solidarity Movement, by which ultimately the Eastern bloc was able to free itself from communist domination and dictatorships. The international community weakened the South African regime by supporting and empowering Mr. Mandela against South Africa’s racial apartheid regime, which was eventually forced to step aside peacefully and allow change for the better to begin.

The Iranian government is, by all definitions and international laws and United Nation’s resolutions, a gender apartheid regime. What would happen if you declare Iran a Gender Apartheid country and not the representative of the oppressed women of Iran? Support the millions of laid-off and destitute Iranian workers, students, and teachers, as well as the estimated 23,000 innocent political prisoners who are being tortured in prisons for speaking out against these tyrants. Support the average Iranian and not the Islamic regime. Put America’s power behind what is right — and watch the people of Iran usher out the Mullahs and democratically elect a government that truly represents the people of Iran.

This will be a bold and thoughtful way of managing the foreign policy of America. It is the picture of your message of change, at work not only for America, but the world at large, Senator. Appeasement of dictators and oppressors is just as unwise as war. A nation is made up of people, not its leaders. The only people in this case who are worth negotiating with are the people of Iran, who are the only friends America should want in Iran — not the tyrants who have hijacked that great nation.

America is in no position to lose more friends.

In closing, Senator, even if you manage to dialogue with the ruling clergy in Iran, they will never keep their word. They are masters of deception, manipulation, rhetoric and spin. They are incapable of even honoring their own signatures, and refuse to abide by the terms and conditions of treaties that they themselves have agreed upon time and time again, as we have witnessed in their reactions to U.N. resolutions.

We were born and raised in Iran, and we do know Iran’s Mullahs.

Respectfully,

Manda Zand-Ervin & Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi

Manda Zand-Ervin & Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, mother and daughter, are human rights activists and president & co-founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women
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