Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi urged the U.S. and our Western allies to put human rights at the forefront of upcoming negotiations with Iran, despite attempts by Tehran in recent days to start a new round of talks focusing solely on Iran’s nuclear programs.
Speaking at a conference on Iranian human rights issues at the University of Maryland on Saturday, Ebadi said that President Barack Obama should emulate the behavior of President Ronald Reagan, who would bring out a list of Soviet dissidents and demand their freedom every time he met with Soviet leaders.
“The government of Iran is using the nuclear issue as an excuse to cover up its human rights violations,” Ebadi said, speaking through a translator in response to a question from Newsmax. “So I am glad that the Obama administration named eight senior Iranian government officials as human rights violators and barred them from coming to the United States.”
She urged the European Union to take similar steps, including the recent announcement by the Department of Treasury that it would seize any assets it could find belonging to Iranian government officials that had been designated as responsible for the brutal crack-down on dissidents since the disputed June 2009 presidential elections in Iran.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t want its human rights violations to be revealed,” she said. “So my recommendations to you is that you bring this information to the news.”
Ebadi has been walking a tight-rope in recent appearances in the United States and Europe, careful not to break openly with the regime while seeking to bring outside pressure to bear on Tehran.
She left Iran last year after the regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissidents protesting the disputed 2009 presidential elections, broke into her house, and seized her Nobel prize.
While urging the regime to release all political prisoners, she called those in jail “assets of the Islamic Republic,” and “good children of the revolution,” rather than calling them children of Iran or assets of the freedom movement.
However, in prepared remarks she made an explicit call for the inclusion of Iran’s minorities – who many demographers believe now constitute a majority of Iran’s total population.
“Iran is the country of all Iranians, be they Kurd, Turk, Balouch, Arab speakers, or others,” she said. The central government should “respect the cultural and religious diversity” of the country.
Like most of the participants at the University of Maryland conference, Ebadi has championed the notion that the Tehran regime can be reformed from within and does not need to be overthrown.
Vigorous protests or violence would only give the regime “an excuse on national security grounds” to launch further violent crackdowns, she said.
Other participants at the conference blasted former president George W. Bush while praising Obama, even though Obama remained silent for two weeks as millions of Iranians called out for U.S. support during last June’s mass protests against
“Obama is much better than his predecessor,” said Mansour Farhang, a former UN ambassador of the Tehran regime.
Farhang blasted Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as the world’s greatest human rights violators, and said the U.S. had no right to advocate human rights causes in Iran because it supported countries whose human rights records were “abominable.”
Iraj Gorgin, the former head of Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe, agreed. “From my long experience as a journalist, I have seen that government involvement in human rights causes could backfire.”
Reformists in Tehran have consistently made similar arguments, hoping to retain their legitimacy with the Islamic elites in Tehran by distancing themselves from the West. Any outside assistance will get activists “branded as foreign agents,” argued Davar Ardalan, a National Public Radio producer.
During the Bush administration, the reformists used these arguments to urge Congress to cut off pro-democracy funding intended to help social and political activists inside Iran.
But when mass demonstrations erupted last year to protest a fraudulent election, there was no national organization in waiting that could capitalize on the popular unrest and transform it into an effective social and political movement capable of challenging the regime.
“We welcome the approach of President Obama to name top Iranian government officials as human rights violators,” said Hadi Ghaeimi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“We have to get rid of the nuclear issue,” he told Newsmax. “Since 2003, the Islamic Republic has been using the nuclear issue to put a heavy shadow over human rights issues. In effect, they have Iran’s nuclear development programs rather than on human rights abuses.
The conference organizers acknowledged that the three-day conference was made possible by funding from George Soros.
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