Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Moral Imperative of Freedom in Iran

Kenneth R. Timmerman,
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday, offering the Iranian regime a clear choice between confrontation and accommodation with the West.

If Iran immediately suspends all uranium enrichment activities in a transparent, verifiable manner, she said,the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran’s representatives.”

If not, then the U.S. and its partners have agreed on a package of “progressively stronger political and economic sanctionsthat will inflict “great costs” on the Tehran regime.

Rice took great pains to spell out clearly the types of rewards a compliant Iran could expect if it chooses to “persuasively demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons.”

The U.S. will back Iran’s civil nuclear energy aspirations, and gradually could expand economic cooperation. Ultimately, this could lead to “a beneficial relationship of increased contacts in education, cultural exchange, sports, travel, trade, and investment,” she said.

At first blush, it would appear that Rice has acceded to those who have been urging the administration to offer a “grand bargain” to Iran. READ MORE

Among the many advocates of doing business with the Tehran regime are U.S. oil giant CONOCO, Boeing, and any number of trade associations, whose interests are obvious.

Their views have been packaged and given a policy veneer by the likes of Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who urged the Bush administration in a 2004 Council on Foreign Relations paper to lift U.S. trade sanctions and seek an accommodation with the mullahs in Tehran.

Ka-ching! as my friends at CNBC would say.

I have always taken issue with the economic arguments of the policy “realists,” because we are not dealing with a realistic regime.

For the past eleven years, this regime in Tehran has endured sanctions. U.S. efforts to block foreign investment, while not entirely successful, have prevented Iran from enjoying the fruits of the oil boom, which are so immediately obvious to Iranians who travel to neighboring Dubai.

Why should a regime that is on the verge of fulfilling a long-standing effort to acquire nuclear weapons, pursued at great cost, now abandon that effort just because we say please and offer a few goodies?

Former German foreign minister Joschka Fisher offered a more Faustian argument for accommodation with Tehran.

Writing in the Washington Post on May 29, Fisher abandoned the niceties of the lobbying crowd and got right to the point. “There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Iran’s ambition is to obtain nuclear weapons capability,” he said.

That is precisely why the West should offer the mullahs in Tehran a “grand bargain,” he argued – if by so doing we can prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon and using it to “become a hegemonic Islamic and regional power.”

As part of the “grand bargain,” Fisher believes the United States and its European partners must offer Iran “binding security guarantees,” including a permanent recognition of the regime. The “horrible consequences” of war “must force the United States to abandon its policy of no direct negotiations and its hope for regime change.”

Joschka Fisher is right about one thing. Legitimacy is the only currency the regime in Tehran truly covets, because U.S. support for their opposition is the only threat they truly fear.

For the United States to acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime of velayat-e faghih – absolute clerical rule – would be taken as a great victory in Tehran.

It would sound the death knell to the aspirations of the Iranian people to freedom, and would remove whatever restraints still remain on the barbaric behavior of a regime that continues to stone women to death, rape children in jails, and pursue Christians and Jews and Bahais and others because of their religious beliefs.

This is a regime that throws students out of third-floor dormitory rooms, for the “crime” of demanding freedom.

This is a regime that murders freedom in Iraq, and boasts of recruiting thousands of suicide bombers to launch against America.

Unlike Fisher, Condoleeza Rice acknowledged a moral component to American foreign policy.

"The nuclear issue is not the only obstacle standing in the way of improved relations," Rice said. She cited the regime's support for terror, its involvement in violence in Iraq, and its efforts to violate Lebanon's sovereignty as additional “barriers to a positive relationship.”

More importantly, she refused to offer the regime any guarantees. And that is why the regime will make the wrong choice (as far as its survival is concerned), and refuse this last best offer from the United States and the international community.

President Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly Iran has a “sacred right” to nuclear technology, and has no intention of abandoning its efforts to enrich uranium. He revels in defying the international community.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency noted just hours after Rice made her offer public that Iran considered it “a propaganda move.”

IRNA quoted Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for the Foreign Policy and National Security Committee of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly as noting that the regime “has announced repeatedly that suspension of uranium enrichment is not in Iran’s agenda.”

The hard work begins tomorrow, or next week – whenever Iran makes its refusal known officially and our European partners finally recognize that it’s all over.

It is not yet time to unleash the dogs of war. It is time instead to help the Iranian people to achieve their freedom.

Given the high stakes, we have a moral imperative to attempt what no American administration has attempted before: to give the Iranian people the means they need to build a massive non-violent movement, well-coordinated and well-organized, to challenge the clerical tyranny that is bent on leading Iran to devastation.

Because devastation is the only alternative future for this regime, for the Iranian people, and for the entire region, should the United States fail to lead and fail to accept the moral imperative of freedom.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, New York), and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.