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Speak up for the Iranian students, Mr. President

By Reza Ladjevardian, Texas

The history of U.S.-Iran relations for the past 50 years has been plagued by a series of well-intentioned, but ill-advised U.S. policies toward Iran -- all of which later came back to haunt American interests in the Middle East. America needs to break free from this vicious cycle of misguided polices. The solution is to support Iranian students, and the time is now.

Iranian students, increasingly joined by the general public, have held demonstrations denouncing the tyranny of the theocracy for the past two days. These spontaneous outcries for freedom are but preludes to plans for countrywide demonstrations against the regime on July 9.

The theocracy is so fearful of these planned demonstrations that it is shutting down all means of communications to Iran by trying to jam satellite and shortwave radio broadcasts and cutting off Internet access to a number of Web sites. It wants to choke off all means to coordinate activities from abroad. It has also placed its security forces on high alert and warned people of severe retributions.

Today, America has a chance to promote the cause of human rights in Iran, be loved for it and with minimal chances of unintended consequences. Yet, the Bush administration is betting on all the outside horses it can for regime change, while only paying lip-service to the real agents of change in Iran, the Iranian students.

Unbelievably, Pentagon officials have, discreetly, held meetings with Mahmud Ali Chehregani, the head of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakeness Movement. Although Chehregani does not seem to advocate secession of Iran's Azerbaijan (yet), even the appearance of American assistance to possible secessionist groups will only solidify support behind the theocracy.

The Bush administration cannot afford even the appearance of following the old dictum of "divide and conquer." Otherwise, even secular, democratic Iranians will be extremely suspicious of or even outright hostile to American involvement in their domestic affairs.

Furthermore, the administration is also supporting two diametrically opposite groups against the theocracy -- the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, a group with a Marxist-Islamist ideology and designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, and the monarchists.

It is bewildering that the administration does not see or refuses to acknowledge the hypocrisy and counterproductive nature of its polices. Sadly, these policies only follow a history of ill-advised American initiatives toward Iran.

In 1953, under the pretext of an unfounded concern of communist infiltration, America and Britain overthrew the popularly elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, thus setting back Iran's struggles to establish democracy for more than a half century.

After the Vietnam War and America's strategy to rely on the Shah of Iran to "police" the Persian Gulf, the U.S. overlooked the shah's increasing human rights indiscretions, thus, unintentionally, helping pave the way for the violently anti-American Islamic revolution and the hostage crises.

During the Iran-Iraq War, America, fearing the spread of Iran's radical Islamic revolution, sided with Saddam Hussein and actively assisted him -- further, feeding his megalomaniac instincts.

The current American concerns with Iran, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorism and undermining the peace process would all be resolved through the promotion of a bill of rights in Iran. Democracies do not fight each other; they resolve their differences peacefully. With democracy and security from foreign aggression, the Iranian people most likely would elect not to pursue nuclear weapons, as the South African people did once apartheid was defeated. They would also focus on solving their domestic problems, such as high unemployment, horrible pollution, etc., rather than trying to destabilize their neighbors, as the mullahs are determined to do.

Unlike Iraq, the Iranian people have experienced Islamic fundamentalism at its worst. For more than 24 years, they have been terrorized and experienced nothing but repression and lack of opportunity. They are now yearning for a genuine democracy with respect for the rights of all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, ideology or gender -- based on the ideals of peace, democracy and free markets.

President Bush should be talking about the peaceful resistance of the Iranian students and their ideals. This would help focus the world's attention on their cause -- a cause that will benefit the world and should be embraced by all freedom-loving people.

... Payvand News - 6/13/03 ... --

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