Thursday, April 03, 2008

Iran's Freedom Movement Leader Calls for U.S. to Negotiate Uncoditionally

On April 3, the Middle East Institute hosted an event with Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, Secretary-General of the Freedom Movement of Iran and Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran.

Dr. Yazdi began his remarks by saying that Iran is going through a transition. He said the basic fundamental question is whether Islam is compatible with democracy. To be clear, he believes it is and he said that intellectual Muslims believe Islam is not incompatible with democracy.

Dr. Yazdi was very critical of the current regime saying they are not qualified to lead the country because: they lack the knowledge and comprehension of Iran’s contemporary society; they fail to accept the necessity of change in jurisprudence; they reject democratic rule and insist on establishing outdated forms of government; they fail to provide society with what they need; they lack comprehension of world affairs; and their popularity among the masses is disappearing.

Despite all of these criticisms, Dr. Yazdi reaffirmed that democracy in Iran is a learning process. In Iran, they must learn for themselves through their own interactions to accept the pluralistic nature of human society, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. He also said the age of the revolution is passed. The regime in Iran can not simply be overthrown. He tells young people today not to make the same mistake those who struggled for the Islamic revolution made – things won’t all of sudden be rosy if this regime is gone. It is time for the reform movement now. Dr. Yazdi said the road to democracy in Iran is not paved yet. It is a time-consuming process, but he is hopeful.

Dr. Yazdi emphatically underscored that Iranians do not like any foreign intervention. He was equally critical of U.S. policy toward Iran and said is not helping the cause of democracy in Iran and needs a dramatic overhaul. As a former Foreign Minister, Dr. Yazdi said he fully agreed with the five former Secretaries of State who said the next U.S. president should negotiate with Iran without preconditions. He also noted that the State Department program to “promote democracy” in Iran has undermined the movement for reform. The regime is fearful of a “velvet revolution” and the so-called “democracy promotion” program has made the regime suspicious of everyone. Dr. Yazdi also said that sanctions on Iran were hurting the people of Iran and not having any affect on the regime. He reiterated that the best solution is for the U.S. to negotiate unconditionally with Iran for the normalization of relations.

In regards to Iraq, Dr. Yazdi said that the number one solution is for American forces to leave as soon as possible, but that can not be done unless there are security arrangements and Iran can help with this. He said that one can not blame Iran for wanting to intervene in Iraq, given the history between the two countries and the long border the two countries share. The best way forward is for Iran and the U.S. to cooperate and come up with a solution that is acceptable to Iraqis. He noted that this is the first time in Iraqi history that the majority – the Shiites – have the authority. If democracy is going to succeed, the Sunnis in Iraq and Iraq’s Sunni neighbors are going to have to accept this.

Dr. Yazdi also addressed Iran’s foreign policy issues. He said that in Iran, we don’t think denying the holocaust has anything to do with the country’s national interest. He said in Islam, even if one man has been killed, it is equal to killing all of mankind. He said such a statement has hurt Iran and demonstrates the regime’s lack of understanding of the international situation.

Finally, in regards to the nuclear program, he said he does not believe Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and that America is exaggerating the nuclear issue. He said that Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and it is Iran’s right to develop nuclear power. However, he said Iran must also observe its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and it has had failures in this regard.

Dr. Yazdi said that natural gas is a far better source of energy than nuclear power, but so much money has now been invested in the nuclear program, it should not be ended. It is the position of the Freedom Movement that Iran should suspend enrichment to accept the offer made by the P5+1 with some modifications to the offer. Once Iran has accepted this offer, the crisis will subside over the nuclear issue and the atmosphere will be right for a multilateral enrichment facility on Iranian soil. He does not believe that Iran can rely on or trust the Russians, or anyone else for that matter, for fuel supplies.

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