By Ramesh Sepehrrad
Global Politician – In the past several months pundits and analysts have attempted to provide roadmaps for change in Iran. While some ideas are settling in the minds of Americans, the results are real. More than half of Americans are now prepared to face some kind of confrontation with Iran; to curb its nuclear weapons drive and end its support for international terrorism. Remarkably, beyond popular reason, some analysts still advocate fostering behavioral change through engaging fundamentalist clerics with an "all carrots, no stick" approach. More coherent pundits favor of non-military-style change, by funding Iranian groups and their exiled satellite programs. The least appealing of all is the call for overt military strikes against Tehran’s political, economic and nuclear interests. Unfortunately, none will entirely solve the free world’s Tehran problem.
Tehran has become far too dangerous to the well-being of its own citizens, regional stability, and the democratic ambitions of Iraqi people. The speed of growth of the Tehran’s threat is the reason for a national consensus on the need to act. Most agree, the status-quo in Iran is no longer an option yet before conclusions are drawn, we should keep a few hard-learned facts in mind.
First, we must not ignore lessons learned from an Iraqi-style military actions or futile rapprochement. They both are just as reckless and detrimental to meaningful change in Iran. Second, a clear assessment of Iranian opposition forces is a prerequisite to any discussion that will tip an Iranian version of the "Velvet" or "Orange" revolution. That said, the choices for fostering change in Iran may seem limited to the good (fund satellite broadcasts), the bad (military attacks) or the ugly (appeasement).
Fortunately, the policy quagmire outlined above is an illusion rooted in the ephemeral scope of its authors. The real solution for change in Iran is revealed when one looks to people inside the country who shoulder the changes the community of nations desperately seeks. This approach requires political resolve and concrete actions to qualify well meaning statements such as "support women and youth", "support pro-democracy forces", and "stand with Iranian people". Now is the time to show resolve, in order to steer us all away from the worst case scenarios of nuclear conflict. To do so, the West must pursue a parallel path. One path should be toward the development of a Tehran-policy that represents and the other is the collective effort of the international community, engineered specifically to isolate and eventually eliminate the root causes of the Tehran-problem.
Washington’s leadership was essential in reporting Tehran to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This was a leap in a right direction. To this day, Tehran continues to flout the international community with its nuclear ambitions, therefore the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors submission of Iran to the UNSC should be followed by calls for smart sanctions. Imposing sanctions on Tehran is a necessary step however we should be cognizant of its limitations. Sanctions by themselves are not good enough. More importantly, a clear policy on Tehran must in place in Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin before a concerted effort; beyond sanctions, can take shape internationally. To compliment the sanctions, U.S. and the EU-3 must take immediate steps to develop a robust Tehran-policy geared toward change of regime in Iran. To begin, Washington must such that includes the following components:
1. Tighten and codify existing US sanctions, bar subsidiaries of U.S. companies from doing business in Iran and cut foreign aid to countries that have businesses investing in Iran. Publicly and privately criticize governments engaged in oil, arms, technological, diplomatic relations with Iran. In a bi-partisan effort, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is pushing for a robust Tehran-policy. She recently told Reuters that: "There is a growing restlessness at a bipartisan level in the House to get tougher on Iran and I think that that’s going to build up even more".
Senate Majority leader, Bill Frist, also linked the success of US sanctions to a broader international effort. In his Los Angeles Times op-ed piece he said: "We should persuade other countries to follow our lead. A multinational sanctions regime might begin with an embargo on technologies that Iran can use in its nuclear program". He added "the full spectrum of measures the U.S. has in place to isolate Iran." More than 350 members of congress have called for a more qualified and stronger sanction. It is time to announce it as component of official US policy on Tehran and urge EU-3 to do the same.
2. Open direct dialogue with Iran’s main opposition groups. Isolate Tehran’s regime by cutting all private talks and make them worry about US’s political preference in having talks with the opposition. Specific steps in this area must include lifting the political and legal ban on the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK). These groups have raised international awareness on Tehran’s human rights records since the 80’s, terrorism and regional interference along with missile technology since the 90’s and illegal nuclear activities in recent years. So, it behooves Washington to open and have a direct dialogue with such influential opposition groups. Not to know what Iran’s opposition, the NCRI/MeK, is thinking and doing is not only bad diplomacy but also foolish politics. With an ability to maintain an active network inside and outside of Iran, one can easily measure NCRI/MeK effectiveness and seriousness in changing the regime in Tehran. In a published Whitepaper by Iran Policy Committee, a Washington-based think tank, an 8-month study on Tehran’s fear of its opposition placed MeK at the highest rating among all groups. Members of Congress and Europe’s Parliamentarians routinely hold talks and engage with the representatives of the NCRI and the MeK. Administration officials could certainly benefit from similar engagements.
3. End Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq by encouraging and empowering the progressive and anti-fundamentalist forces in Iraq including the Shiia, Sunni, Kurdish and any other Iraqi religious and ethnic groupings networked with the Iranian anti-fundamentalist MeK. Early this year, more than 12,000 Iraqi Jurists and lawyers declared and emphasized a nationwide support for the MeK and their 40 years of struggle against two dictatorships in Tehran. For the sake of stability, peace and security in the region, Tehran’s role must end in Iraq. As an Iraqi political expert, Dr. Rashid Al-Jubori, recently outlined in his Washington Times op-ed piece "The Iranians like to portray Iraqi Shiites as seeking an Iranian-style regime. However, developments in the last two years, particularly the last 10 months, must be seen as an organized bid to spread Iran’s influence in Iraq by taking advantage of a gap in U.S. policy and political imbalance in Iraq…The Iranian regime has decided that, with its progress meddling in Iraq, it has paralyzed and neutralized the international community." Strategically and tactically, empowering an anti-fundamentalist coalition in Iraq would serve as the best buffer against Tehran’s increasing influence the region.
There is little time left for Washington to act. Similar steps must be taken by Paris, London, and Berlin. Having policies aligned with rhetoric in place will indeed urge others like Russia, China and India to take extra steps in isolating Tehran.
The steps mentioned are actions that constitute the political resolve to qualify declarations in support of Iranian people. Tehran’s terror has gone beyond Iranian boarders and world’s Tehran-problem is far too complex to be resolved just by funding exiled satellite programs. Moreover, Tehran’s regime is too inherently brutal for a "velvet" or "orange" revolution to take place in the streets. However, a country specific policy as mentioned above, in coordination with international efforts is likely to facilitate the prerequisite conditions for positive change in Iran by the Iranian people.
Given time and solid relations between the West and Iran’s main opposition, we might forecast that the United Nations could move beyond sanctions and impose an internationally monitored referendum on Tehran’s regime, as proposed by NCRI’s leader, Maryam Rajavi. Indeed, the world community can assist in a democratic revolution in Iran without violence. In the past, Iran’s civil society has taken on the ruling regimes in the street with protests and civil disobedience. Once coupled with NCRI/MeK’s organized and highly effective network inside and abroad, this democracy movemnet will ultimatley bring the regime down faster than our nation’s pundits and analysts might imagine.
In short, yes, that sums up an Iranian solution to the Tehran-problem. Honestly, if it’s not an Iranian solution, how likely are the Iranian people to adopt it?
Ramesh Sepehrrad is the president of National Committee of Women for a Democratic Iran, founded in 1990 in Washington D.C. Sepehrrad has been published in scholarly publications including the Brown Journal of World Affairs. She has also been published in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and Women eNews.