Patrick Goodenough / CNSNews.com – 2005-04-24 10:33:48
(March 10, 2005) — As President Bush continues to voice support for democracy in Iran, calls are growing for the US to take more active steps to exert pressure on the Islamic regime and hasten political change.
In a speech at the National Defense University this week, Bush said Tehran should “listen to the voice of the Iranian people, who long for their liberty and want their country to be a respected member of the international community.”
“We look forward to the day when the Iranian people are free,” he added.
Last month, in his State of the Union address, the president told the people of Iran: “As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.”
Iman Foroutan, director of the US-based Iran of Tomorrow Movement, said most Iranians supported Bush’s policy of non-engagement with Tehran and welcomed his expressions of solidarity. But he said it was time for the president to “put those words into action.”
He called on the US to declare that the Islamic regime is “an illegal occupier of Iran,” a view he claimed had been held by the majority of Iranian citizens over the past two decades.
Washington should also provide “financial and moral support to Iranian opposition groups, Foroutan added.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) last month introduced legislation authorizing $10 million in assistance to pro-democracy groups opposed to the Iranian regime.
Co-sponsored by six other Republican Senators, the Iran Freedom and Support Act says to be eligible for funding, groups should oppose the use of terror and support an Iran that is democratic, adheres to non-proliferation treaties, and respects human rights, including equality for women, freedom of speech, press, association and religion.
Santorum said at the time the legislation “will provide much-needed assistance for pro-democracy groups who are committed to advancing democratic ideals and principles, despite living at the hands of a government that views freedom as a threat to their power.”
Santorum tied the need for a change of government in Tehran to the terror threat facing Americans “at home and abroad,” citing State Department assessments about Iranian backing for terrorism.
Regime Change in Iran
Analysts have also argued that regime change would help to resolve another pressing problem — Iran’s attempts to acquire a nuclear capability.
Iran says its nuclear program is purely peaceful civilian one, but the US suspects that it is being used to mask a bid to build nuclear weapons. Britain, France and Germany are holding talks with Iran aimed at resolving the standoff, but no breakthroughs have been reported.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) resident fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote this week that “talking with a democracy about [nuclear weapons] is entirely different from trying to appease a dictatorship, which is what the French, British, Germans, and certain quarters at the State Department and the National Security Council would like to do.”
The Iran of Tomorrow Movement (IOTM), which runs a Los Angeles-based Iranian satellite television station, says it is working to support Iranians’ efforts to replace the Islamic Republic with “a democratic, secular, and modern government.”
Foroutan called recent developments in the Middle East – elections in Afghanistan and Iran, mass protests and anti-Syria sentiment in Lebanon, and calls for reform in Egypt and elsewhere – “extremely encouraging for Iranians.”
While Iraq and Afghanistan still faced “a long road ahead” in achieving full democracy, he said the emergence of democratic governments on either side of Iran was “making the Islamic Republic very nervous as they feel the vise tightening firmly on both sides of their neck.”
“More recent events in Lebanon and Egypt are extremely alarming for The Islamic Republic,” he added. “They see the American influence as a more widespread occurrence in this region, and no longer limited to Iran’s immediate neighboring countries.”
Unrest, Referendum Calls
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi responded to Bush’s latest comments by saying the US should “stop its futile efforts to divide the Iranian people.”
Experts say Iran is, however, deeply divided and likely to become more so this year.
The country faces presidential elections next June, but observers see little chance for meaningful change.
All prospective candidates are screened by the Guardians’ Council, a 12-member body which ahead of parliamentary elections 13 months ago barred thousands of candidates — mostly reformists — from running.
Among the strongest of the likely contenders are cleric and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Neither is considered a “reformist.”
Protests over Iran’s Elections
Reports emerging from the country indicate growing calls for a boycott of the election, with many calling instead for a referendum on the drafting of a new constitution, compatible with international human rights treaties. A referendum campaign is underway, and according to its website, more than 35,000 Iranians have signed a petition supporting the call.
On Sunday, students at Iran’s Isfahan University reportedly upset the visit by a presidential election candidate by singing a pre-Islamic Republic patriotic song that is viewed as a nationalist alternative to the official national anthem. Students also held up placards denouncing the election and calling for a referendum instead.
The student calls came just days after the publication of an unprecedented open letter signed by more than 500 Iranian politicians, scholars, students and others, condemning the regime’s “incompetence.”
In the absence of true democratic reform, it said, the next president, like the current one, would be no more than a figurehead for “unelected organs,” according to the independent Iran Press Service.
AEI scholar Michael Ledeen wrote in a FrontPage magazine article published Wednesday that the time was right for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others to support the referendum call.
“The Iranian people are clearly ready to vote for their freedom, and nothing would so damage the terror network as the fall of its greatest supporter,” he said.
Foroutan of IOTM said the organization supported the campaign for a referendum, but felt it would be pointless if held before a change of government. He noted that the Guardians’ Council and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were empowered to reject any legislation or election or referendum result if they deem it to be contrary to Islamic law.
Foroutan said the referendum could be used by the regime to prolong its life, arguing that Tehran had in a similar tactic installed “moderate” President Mohammed Khatami in 1997 in a bid to manage “unrest within the Iranian community.” In 2001, Khatami was handed a second term, which ends this year.
“A constitutional referendum, while the Islamic Republic is still intact, will only extend the regime’s life, and enable them to continue toying with the international community as they have in the past two elections and [with] their current nuclear program agenda.”
Foroutan urged Washington to continue its policy of isolating Iran, and not give in to calls to re-establish diplomatic ties severed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
He said Bush should also take a firm stand against the European Union, which he claimed was prolonging the regime’s life through its economic engagement with Iran. “The fall of the Islamic regime is just a matter of time,” Foroutan said. “This regime has been cornered internationally and internally and is on its last breath.”
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