By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
A debate about whether the United States should actively support Iran’s opposition movement appears to have been reignited following recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The country's top diplomat said earlier this week that Iranian opposition members should openly seek outside support as did rebels in Libya.
In reaction to the comments, Amir Ardeshir Arjomand, a close adviser to opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, rejected foreign interference and said Iranian people can achieve democracy without outside help.
In her October 26 interview with BBC’s Persian TV, Clinton suggested that it may have been a mistake for the opposition inside Iran to not have appealed for international support in the state crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
The interviewer said that some of the BBC’s audience had criticized the U.S. for being slow to support the opposition movement. Others, however, had said that Washington‘s potential support would have given the Iranian establishment an excuse to pressure it.
“Why has the U.S. not supported [the] Green Movement in Iran?” asked an Iranian refugee in Turkey who had left Iran following the 2009 vote.
Clinton said the U.S. was torn at the time:
I will tell you it was a very tough time for us, because we wanted to be full-hearted in favor of what was going on inside Iran, and we kept being cautioned that we would put people’s lives in danger, we would discredit the movement, we would undermine their aspirations. I think if something were to happen again, it would be smart for the Green Movement or some other movement inside Iran to say, “We want the voices of the world. We want the support of the world behind us.”
That’s what the Libyan opposition figures did, as you remember. When they began their struggle against Qadhafi, and it seemed like such a hopeless uphill climb, they, from the very beginning said, “We want all the support we can get from the outside world. We want our Arab brothers, we want the region, and we want the United Nations, and we want everybody to help us.” And I think that maybe in retrospect it was an unfortunate mutual decision on the part of the leaders of the Green Movement and the supporters inside Iran and those of us on the outside, who very much hoped that that would spark reform.
In reaction to Clinton’s comments, Arjomand said that it is up to Iranian citizens to mobilize and fight the authoritarian force. Arjomand said he is expressing the position of the leaders of the Green Movement, Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, who have been both under house arrest for more than seven months.
He described the independence of the Green Movement as its strength. “Intervention by foreign powers is not a viable solution for domestic issues and affairs of a sovereign nation,” he said in an interview with the BBC. Arjomand added that Iran is a proud nation and has always sought to resolve its problems independently.
(Although according to cables leaked by WikiLeaks, in January 2010 Arjomand asked U.S. diplomats in Turkey for help after having fled Iran. He apparently didn’t get the help he had asked for.)
While Arjomand, who is based in France, made it clear that the U.S. should stay away from the Iranian opposition movement, another opposition figure Mojatab Vahedi -- a close adviser to Karrubi -- said there are things the U.S. can do to help opposition members.
In a YouTube video from Washington, D.C. where he is based, Vahedi said the Obama administration owes the Iranian opposition movement for two major reasons.
“Right when the Green Movement was in full swing, [U.S. President Obama] said his country is ready to talk with the [Islamic Republic]. By doing so Washington morally supported the Iranian government, [which] was very fearful of domestic and international conditions,” Vahedi said.
Vahedi added that in his view the U.S. owes the Iranian opposition movement also for not pressuring allies that supported Iran in its crackdown, including by providing Tehran with surveillance technology.
Vahedi said there is no need for U.S. support if it can rectify these “mistakes.” He said Karrubi had said in an interview two years ago that Western governments should help so that the voice of the Iranian people is heard by the world’s nations. Vahedi added this remains the demand of the opposition movement.
He also called on the United States to ask former President Jimmy Carter to travel to Iran to monitor the March 2012 parliamentary elections. He suggested the move would put the Iranian government in a difficult position. He noted that Tehran has expressed support and approval for Carter's supervision of the Palestinian and Tunisian votes.
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