Thousands of Iranian-Americans flocked to the United Nations in New York to protest Iran's recent elections and to assail President Barack Obama for his failure to support the Iranian people after the disputed elections.
The protesters came from all over the country carrying signs. “Thank You Obama 4 Condemning and Not Meddling,” read one sign carried by Fred Maghnati, a 57-year old Iranian-American who traveled to New York from Clarksville, Md. He hastened to explain that his sign was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. “Obama didn’t help us. I don’t see that he is doing anything for us now. He has just been helping the Iranian government behind closed doors,” he told Newsmax on Wednesday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs addressed Iran’s supreme leader just four days after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner — once the nationwide protests had begun in Iran — to reassure him the United States “won’t meddle” in Iran’s domestic affairs.”
As the protests intensified, and pressure on Obama from Congress to take a stronger stand increased, the president issued a tepid condemnation of the violence the regime turned on peaceful protesters, but again denied the United States would meddle in Iranian affairs.
“The United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran's affairs,” Obama said on June 23.
The U.S. and Canadian delegations to the U.N. General Assembly walked out on Wednesday afternoon during Ahmadinejad’s address, to protest his denials of the holocaust and anti-Semitic hate speech.
And yet, on Wednesday, U.S. Secret Service personnel provided close protection to the Iranian president as he hosted an invitation-only gala for Iranian-Americans and selected members of the press at the Barclay Intercontinental Hotel.
A Secret Service officer told Newsmax it was “standard protocol” for his agency to protect visiting heads of state, but he and other officers encountered at the hotel were visibly uncomfortable in their role in protecting Ahmadinejad.
Larry Klayman, a Washington, D.C. attorney who heads an activist group called Freedom Watch, told Newsmax he planned to serve Ahmadinejad during the reception with a subpoena from an Iranian victim of torture seeking damages from the Iranian government in a civil lawsuit.
As Ahmadinejad was scheduled to address the United Nations on Wednesday afternoon, just blocks away the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted two prominent Iranian dissidents who denounced the regime and called for international action to isolate it. (The Iranian president rescheduled at the last minute and addressed the chamber on Wednesday.)
Roozbeh Farahanipour, a leader of the 1999 student uprising, told the gathering about his clandestine return to Iran in July to take part in the 10th anniversary demonstrations to mark the uprising.
He showed exclusive photographs of demonstrations that were violently suppressed by regime security forces taken inside Iran by members of his Marz-e Por Gohar group.
Ardeshir Zarezadeh, who was also arrested during the 1999 uprising and until recently worked for the Persian Service of the Voice of America, said he now saw the possibility of an authentic opposition coalition “that could serve as a temporary government during a transition period” after the current regime falls.
“The possibility for real change in Iran is increasing,” he said.
Both Farahanipour and Zarezadeh called on the United States to work with its partners to enact new sanctions “targeted at the regime leadership,” such as a travel ban for senior Iranian government officials.
“A big majority of people inside Iran are now asking for more sanctions,” Farahanipour said. “This is true even in the Moussavi camp, where they opposed sanctions before.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, vice-dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, introduced the dissidents by showing a photograph of Nazi rallies in Berlin in the 1930s. He compared those rallies to the regime’s efforts to gin up support last Friday during its annual “Qods Day” hate fest demonstrations against the United States and Israel.
“Never at any one of Hitler’s rallies did thousands of people shout ‘Death to the Dictator,’ as they did in Iran last week,” he said. “It was a stunning, historic moment.”
Another protester, 28-year old Nina Moradi, took a day off work in Philadelphia to drive up with friends to protest Ahmadinejad’s New York appearance. “I was angry when I heard Ahmadinejad say on MSNBC that he respected the vote of the Iranian people. We are the vote of the Iranian people,” she told Newsmax. “People need to know we don’t respect him; we don’t support him.”
Supporters of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), sported yellow flags and banners. The MEK played a key role in overthrowing the Shah of Iran 30 years ago, and helped round up officers of the shah’s armed forces and murder them during the early days of the revolution.
Despite this background, they demonstrated without incident alongside supporters of the shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi.
“The majority of the people in the green movement are not pro-Moussavi, but in favor of a secular republic,” said Jason Reza Jorjani, 28, a New Yorker whose family has deep ties to Tabriz and Mazandaran province in Iran. “I voted for Moussavi. But he has lost the support of the people. The slogan now is ‘Independence, Freedom, and Iranian Republic.’”
This was an obvious twist of the slogan that helped propel Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamist supporters to power in 1979 against the shah, he explained. At the time, Iranians chanted “Independence, Freedom, and Islamic Republic.”
Ehsan Zahedani, 28, helped organize Moussavi supporters in Los Angeles to fly in for the two-day protests in New York. “I didn’t support Moussavi before, but I support him now because he stood up to the leadership during these elections. If he stopped standing up for human rights, we would stop supporting him,” he told Newsmax.
The only tension during Wednesday’s demonstrations came when a security officer from the Iranian U.N. Mission in New York came to the plaza carrying an Islamic Republic flag.
A Moussavi supporter who had been tortured in the regime’s jails grabbed the flag, dumped it in a trashcan and set it on fire, as the crowd cheered. Fearing a physical confrontation, the Iranian security officer ran off.
On Thursday, hundreds of Moussavi supporters plan to drape the Brooklyn Bridge with a green scroll 300 feet long, the color of the pro-democracy movement.
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