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Falling on Deaf Ears

An opinion piece in the Washington Post offers a summation of the Iranian menace and a way forward for American diplomacy:

Since 1979, successive U.S. administrations have “engaged” the Iranian government in negotiations while maintaining a myth of no talks. All the while, Tehran has avoided any real change in behavior. It has amassed greater military might and regional influence, and escalated its repression of the Iranian people and its patronage of Lebanese Hezbollah and anti-Israeli, anti-American Islamist ideology throughout the Muslim world. And along the way, it has managed to convince some on the European and American left of its harmlessness, and even of “Islamic” progressiveness.

Negotiation with Iran can bear fruit if the regime is dealt with holistically. Pressing human rights would bring integrity to any talks and prevent Tehran from using negotiations to obfuscate and avoid real change, including on nuclear activity. The fall in the price of oil and Iran’s coming presidential election create openings for Obama to make strong demands on the nuclear issue as well as demands for verifiable political reforms.

So, what American imperialist is responsible for such a one-sided take on Iran and such a chauvinistic policy prescription?

Mariam Memarsadeghi is an adviser to democracy and human rights promotion programs in the Middle East. Akbar Atri served in the leadership of the Iranian student organization Tahkim Vahdat from 1997 to 2005. They were married in October.

Sure, they didn’t do a week-long press tour of Iran like Roger Cohen, but having actually fought the Khomeinist regime should count for something, right?  Sadly, not with the Obama administration. While these two Iranian-born democracy activists write about what President Obama must “demand,” Obama himself is of the opinion that “all too often the United States starts by dictating” on issues in the Middle East. And Hillary Clinton, while in China, made it clear that human-rights issues must take a back seat to more pressing concerns.

Memarsadeghi and Atri conclude: “Iranians want to believe that the rhetoric of hope and change that marked Barack Obama’s campaign included them. He must not let them down in their struggle for freedom.” Unless Obama can fold it into an anti-Bush signing ceremony, hope and change for Iranian democrats will remain a dream for the foreseeable future.


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