As international attention has turned from the disputed June 12 Iranian
presidential election and the regime's crackdown on opposition protesters to
the negotiations surrounding Tehran's nuclear program, neo-conservatives in the
United States, Iranian opposition leaders and some within the Iranian diaspora
have begun employing the same tactics to achieve contradicting outcomes for
Neo-cons are among many groups in the US that have sat by quietly - at best -
through decades of human-rights abuses in Iran. Now, however, after Tehran's
unprecedented move in coming to the negotiating table in October, the neo-cons
have emerged as apparent advocates of Iranians in their domestic fight for
human and civil rights.
The actions and claimed motivations of the neo-cons, however, remain
suspicious; but they are not unique to this group. The
leadership of the Iranian opposition has begun employing the same tactics as
the neo-cons in their own effort to stall negotiations between Washington and
Tehran. Meanwhile, some within the Iranian diaspora see themselves as sharing
with the neo-cons a similar goal for Iran - not realizing their desired
outcomes are in stark contrast.
The history of relations between Iran and the US has been marked by
interference from Washington in Iranian affairs - intervention that was
generally in contrast to the Iranian struggle for human rights and democracy.
Events such as the US Central Intelligence Agency overthrow of the
democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh regime in 1953, the sending of
chemical weapons to the Saddam Hussein regime to use against the Iranians
during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and the Iran Contra Affair, in which the
Ronald Reagan administration sold weapons to the Ruhollah Khomeini regime when
it was killing en masse the Iranian opposition, are just a few examples of
events when hardline conservatives in the US remained silent - at best - even
when the most atrocious human-rights abuses were being committed against the
If history is any guide, behind the neo-cons' newfound concern for human-rights
and democracy promotion in Iran lies an agenda not of behavior or even regime
change, but system change in the Islamic Republic - a change that could
potentially allow the West increased control over a strategically located and
Human rights are becoming an instrument with which to push for military action
or other confrontation under the guise of moral outrage. Preferring system
change to regime change in Tehran, the neo-cons are raising an issue close to
the heart of liberals - human rights - in a final attempt to persuade the
Barack Obama administration to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear
Iranian opposition leaders are employing the same tactics. Seeing the hardline
Mahmud Ahmadinejad regime open to negotiations with Washington, the Iranian
opposition's leadership fears further talks will give legitimacy to and
solidify control of a regime many Iranians see as illegitimate.
In an attempt to draw support for their leadership from other groups in Iran,
and for their goal of regime - not system - change, opposition leaders have
taken up a cause dear to the conservatives in Iran - Iran's nuclear rights - in
a similar attempt to stall negotiations between Tehran and Washington. As such,
opposition factions in both the US and Iran are working to thwart negotiations.
When Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, initially agreed on October
1 to send up to 80% of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for
reprocessing and then to France to convert the 20% LEU into fuel rods for
medical use in Iran, the regime in Tehran did not come out and say Jalili had
no authority to do so. Nor was Iran using this as a delaying tactic, as the US
had set a short deadline for Iran to respond by October 23.
Continued pressure neo-conservatives, however, compelled the Obama
administration to hold strong to the original draft deal without compromise,
while opposition leaders in Iran pressured Tehran to hold strong to its nuclear
rights, that is, that Iran, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, is fully entitled to a civilian nuclear program.
With these two groups pressuring their corresponding regimes, there was no room
for either Washington or Tehran to show any sign of giving in, ultimately
leading to the current situation in which Ahmadinejad announced Iran would
enrich its own uranium up to the 20% level.
Many within the Iranian diaspora have the same goal as the neo-cons - system
change - but for starkly opposing reasons. While the neo-con agenda ends in
system change for the removal of the perceived threat to Israel and the US with
the potential of control and exploitation, the Iranian diaspora seeks system
change in the hopes that a new one will usher in improved human rights,
democracy and enhanced freedoms.
Yet, system or regime change in and of itself does not necessarily bring about
more freedom or democracy, as the 1979 Islamic revolution has shown. The
Iranian diaspora, the neo-cons and Iranian opposition leaders, in their push
for confrontation without knowing what will come in place of the current
regime, ought to be careful of what they wish for.
Grace Nasri is an assistant editor at an international Iranian newspaper
based in Washington, DC. She received her MA in international relations with a
focus on the Middle East at New York University. Her articles have been
published by the Digest on Middle East Studies, Iran Times International, Asia
Times Online and openDemocracy.net. She may be reached at email@example.com.