Iranian Opposition Divisions Mar Visit to White House
Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
A planned meeting in the White House of Iran's opposition fell short of expectations yesterday as a rift among the factions emerged.I have spoken to a number of those who attended the meeting at the White House and they were encouraged by the meeting with US officials.
While two senior Bush administration officials met with 30 Iranian activists and academics to discuss the future of Iran, the son of the late shah, Reza Pahlavi, and Iran's leading dissident, Akbar Ganji, who is touring America this month, did not attend. READ MORE
The meeting with the Iranian opposition groups — hosted by a senior National Security Council aid, Elliot Abrams, and Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns — is significant in light of Iran's role in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah. Following the militia's cross-border raid of July 12, President Bush blamed Iran and Syria, suggesting that the two states, which have supported terrorists in Iraq, were conspiring to plunge the region into a wider war.
Nonetheless, one attendee of the meeting said the senior officials made clear that America did not support a policy of regime change for Iran. "The administration's line was that this was not the policy of the United States to engage in regime change in different countries, even if they did not like the policies of that country. They said they hoped the people of Iran would achieve their goal of a democratic Iran,"said Sam Kermanian, who attended the meeting as a board member of the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights.
As The New York Sun reported Tuesday, there have been credible reports that Iranian soldiers are fighting alongside Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. This week a few Iranian Web sites and news outlets reported seeing American and Israeli planes cross into Iran's airspace. American officials would not confirm the Iranian reports.
Yesterday, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it would give a formal response to an offer by the permanent members of the U.N.Security Council for negotiations on its uranium enrichment program.
A unified Iranian opposition would pose an existential threat to Iran's ruling mullahs in a way that limited airstrikes on the country's nuclear facilities would not. But White House efforts to organize such an opposition may be doomed to fail. Mr. Ganji — who has drafted a two-part manifesto outlining a theory and plan for Iranian civil disobedience — told the Sun before he landed in America that he has no plans to meet with American officials unless they give him the opportunity to plead for America not to bomb Iran's nuclear installations.
"The quality of the people invited differed widely. I am not referring to the political affiliation, but their gravitas. Many people were invited at the last minute and were not told what the meeting was about and who else was there," the main organizer of this spring's London conference for a constitutional referendum in Iran, Fred Saberi, said in an interview from Stockholm, Sweden.
Mr. Saberi, who has been an intermediary between Iran's student opposition movement and Western governments, said one of the main concerns of some of those who declined the invitation, such as the Revolutionary Guard founder and former political prisoner, Mohsen Sazegara, was working with supporters of the former shah's son. Mr. Ganji has said in Persian interviews that he would avoid working with Mr. Pahlavi. Messrs. Pahlavi and Ganji have been two of the loudest voices calling for nonviolent means to achieve regime change in Iran.
"Those that have refused to work with monarchists made a mistake by not showing up," Mr. Saberi said.
One former student leader and political prisoner, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, did not make the meeting because of a scheduling difficulty. Yesterday at 1:30 p.m., he testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security. The meeting at the White House began at 3 p.m., and he arrived 10 minutes late.
In his testimony before the Senate committee, Mr. Fakhravar formally apologized on behalf of free Iranians for the 1979 hostage crisis."Iranians do not believe in this," he said in an interview yesterday. "For 440 days it was advertised internationally that Iranians are terrorists. We are not terrorists."
Mr. Fakhravar, who was met upon his escape from Iran by a former senior Pentagon official, Richard Perle, has been criticized in some quarters of Iran's opposition for being too close to the Bush administration and particularly neoconservatives. On some Web sites, Iranians have accused Mr. Fakhravar of seeking a war between America and Iran, a claim he denies.
This week in New York, Mr. Fakhravar reunited with his old comrade Mr. Ganji, who asked him about his position on an American invasion of Iran. "He was under the impression that I was pushing for war. I informed Mr.Ganji that I never said I was pro-war. I said there is movement in Iran and that America needs to support it. We are not supporting a war," he said. He said he told Mr. Ganji, "The reformists who have surrounded you are putting me down. You are a smart man. Don't listen to these people. You should do your own research and decide on your own."