Sugar in a Salty Sea

One thing is clear, the way the U.S. is now handling Iran is wrong - and will backfire

Opinion | Hossein Nababi | March 2010

I am from Iran, a country that has been a constant fixture of the news for over three decades – from human rights violations, the death penalty and support for terrorism, to nuclear enrichment and most recently the current crackdown on the opposition movement.

Criticizing Iran is not the purpose of this piece: First, it truly needs a much bigger space, since there is a lot to say. Second, since the Islamic Revolution, perceptions of Iran have been continually distorted and fabricated by decades of Western propaganda; to be able to analyze the country’s situation properly, extensive background information – vital to a quality analysis – would need to be provided before going further with the topic and concluding anything at all.

As a resident of Vienna, I visit my country every two months, and remain in close contact with both conservatives and reformers. I try not to make any hasty judgments when it comes to the situation in my country. The reason is that Iran is becoming an increasingly complex topic, the victim of propaganda from the West, lead by America. As such, it always takes me a while to get a complete understanding of the situation, if I ever do.

But one thing is clear to me: the way the United States and its Western allies are currently dealing with Iran is without a doubt the wrong approach.

Currently, there are large and productive reformist movements in Iran that are under extreme pressure, their members labeled by the current government simply as "U.S. spies" and "people bribed by the British." I do not deny the fact the United States or the United Kingdom have spies in the country, but not all the protestors are spies, and my friends certainly are not.

Several key questions beg to be addressed. How, you might ask, does the current Western pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear program or its human rights violations affect the reformist movement in the country? Does it bring any benefit to the people inside the country, or even outside the country? Does it weaken the power of the current government? The short answer is: not at all. U.S. and Western meddling in Iran’s current challenges offers little benefit, but rather only provides a very good opportunity for the current government to focus their strength on enemies outside the country, and simply label the reformist movement as supporters of these enemies.

Furthermore, political measures such as enforcing sanctions do nothing more than harm the citizens. The foreign companies are still reaping a profit from the country, and despite three rounds of sanctions, major U.S. oil companies are still very present in Iran. At the end of the day, someone has to make money, right?

Recently, news that Iran has begun enriching uranium up to 20% for the Tehran Research Reactor has raised eyebrows in the West. But Iran is not doing anything illegal. It has this right, according to both NPT and IAEA regulations. Furthermore, all enrichment is under full IAEA supervision (in Natanz itself, there is constant presence of inspectors, video monitoring, and IAEA seals are present everywhere). Additionally, the cameras in Natanz capture any movement or activity, ensuring that nothing happens that goes unnoticed by the West.

Iran’s proposal for a swap or direct purchase is still on the table (as Iran said on Feb. 20 in a letter to IAEA). Still the West is pushing for sanctions. The U.S., U.K. and France are trying to persuade China to abstain from the voting and not use its veto right in the UN Security Council, so that these new sanctions can come into force. And Israel is pushing to extend those sanctions to Iran’s energy sector, mainly the petroleum producing companies,  as Netanyahu said Feb.21.

I am obviously not saying Iran is all good and the U.S. and the West are all evil. I just think these sanctions do nothing but harm the Iranian people, who are trying to change and improve their country. Perhaps Iran is far from perfect, but the West is not any better.

Iran does send weapons to Hezbollah, but the United States also supplies weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom are Iran’s close neighbors and not on good terms. As we all remember, the United States also sold a substantial number of weapons to Iraq and supported Saddam Hussein in his brutal onslaught on Iran, the same dictator they deemed distasteful enough to remove from power just a few years ago.

(For the record, it was Iraq, not Iran, who waged chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War, yet still Saddam was supported over the "evil" Islamic Republic.)

Yes, Iran has problems and can certainly improve. But, Iranians should be allowed to make those improvements themselves, without any disorderly, troublesome and useless involvement from foreign governments. It is clear that the Iranian people want change, let them try; let them change their own country, on their terms.

My people have a better understanding of what we need, and we have the courage to stand up for our beliefs. We are certain that we as a people will get what we want. This will happen sooner when there is no disruptive "Foreign Support."

Funny enough, in my opinion, one of the most difficult challenges that top level politicians in Iran have recently faced was when president Obama sent a Happy Norouz (Happy New Year) message in a very polite and respectable way to the Iranian people, even taking care to send it during the Persian New Year. It seemed as if the Iranian government simply did not have a coherent strategy on how to respond to kindness, it has been so long. The message was not shown in any news reports.

Of course, people were informed over YouTube and Facebook, as well as foreign news providers. This bit of sugar in the sea of salt didn’t change the country, or magically solve all our problems, but this side of the United States and the West was a new and welcome change.

Why have we forgotten the effect that respect brings? When did we forget the concept of a good and tailored strategy? Haven’t the United States and Western countries learned anything about Iran at all in these years?

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    the vienna review March 2010