For immediate release
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
Where DO we stand on Iran?
By Kathryn Jean Lopez
On May 31, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the United States would negotiate with Iran if they agreed to stop uranium enrichment. If Iran did not agree to the sit-down on those conditions, there would be sanctions from the likes of Europe, Russia (who adamantly have not been fans of sanctions against Iran) -- and the United Nations. President Bush seemed hopeful, confident that "this problem can be solved diplomatically."
We really have no business negotiating with the leader of a nation who considers us an enemy and wants one of our dearest allies in the Middle East wiped off the map. However, reasonable people must debate these proposed diplomatic tactics. There really are no easy answers when it comes to Iran. But one cannot help but wonder: How was Rice's announcement received by the oppressed of Iran?
Most likely as confusion.
As our new Iranian policy was announced (immediately available in Persian translation on the State Department's Web site, www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2006/67103.htm) the human rights group Reporters Without Borders released an alert that it was "very worried" about the well-being of one particular student blogger in Tehran. Abed Tavancheh had been unreachable by his family and friends after pro-democracy demonstrations on his campus. On his blog, translated as "in the name of man, justice, and truth," Tavancheh often posts photos from these daring protests. The last post before Reporters Without Borders announced their concern included the text of a letter by an imprisoned lawyer who unwisely spoke out on behalf of families of journalists and others killed in a 1998 crackdown by the Iranian regime.
For folks like Tavancheh and his family, the offer from Washington had to sound like the rhetorical and moral equivalent of a punch in the gut, considering the lack of condemnation typically associated with U.S/Iranian relations. And this is a crushing blow to our eyes and ears on the inside. Tavancheh and other democracy activists may be our best hope in Iran and the region, so crucial to fighting the war on terror. Like Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland before the fall of the Soviet Union, many experts point to Iranian labor unions and largely pro-Western students -- in a country where about 70 percent of the population is under 30 -- as the soldiers of a democratic revolution. They're the Iranians we want to be negotiating with, lending a hand to.
The Bush administration has had a somewhat consistently confusing policy regarding Iran -- in the first term, one senior State Department official inexplicably publicly referred to the oppressive regime as a "democracy" -- which it is most definitely not. But with the high-on-freedom talk the president used to ring in his second term, and the occasional messages and commitments to dissidents, there was reason for Iranian people to believe they had a friend in America. Just last year, President Bush proclaimed, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country." But with America's policy concerning negotiations with Iran in constant flux, some oppressed future leaders must wonder what exactly friends are for.
It's not just Iranian dissidents who got punched in the gut by Secretary Rice's announcement. In Egypt, blogger Alaa Seif al-Islam sits in jail for criticizing the government there. What does America's agreement to negotiate with a regime that clearly does not stand with us say to voices for freedom like him? Our words and policies can have a chilling effect on world events -- and on the hearts of true freedom fighters, the type of person who is willing to put his life at risk to blog or otherwise tell some truth about the regime he suffers under, giving support to his fellow dissidents, and clueing the rest of us in.
In the days after his second inaugural address, even conservative supporters of President Bush criticized him for being a bit too pie-eyed in his freedom talk. The least we could be doing, however, is lending more support, rhetorical and otherwise to our real friends. The continued mixed signals, however, that negotiation offers to a regime of terror masters, is not the way to contribute to any freedom project.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.