Nasser Sharif: Iran's leader not real power in negotiations

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  • 9 Years ago
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Negotiations with Iran are at a major crossroads. Will the undemocratic, fundamentalist dictatorship of the ayatollahs give up on its drive toward nuclear weapons or not? Despite the charm offensive of the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani, a man with no real control over the government, the nuclear issue looms large.

After three exhausting rounds of talks between Iran and the P5+1 – a group that includes the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China, facilitated by the European Union – the issue remains unsolved and a new date for talks has not been scheduled. The optimism that came with Rouhani’s ascent to power has been replaced with the difficult reality that the same fundamentalists running the country during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure are still in charge.

According to a senior U.S. official who demanded anonymity, there was great “difficulty” in finding common ground and “significant differences” between the parties. The Iranian negotiator painted an equally grim picture, admitting that differences remain on more than a dozen issues. This news, though not necessarily surprising, is frightening, because as that same U.S. official put it, “time is not unlimited here.”

For many around the globe the standoff between Iran and the West has been made into a solely nuclear issue. It is not. The regime has continued to rank among the world’s worst human-rights abusers and attacked those expressing even the slightest freedom of expression – several Iranians were jailed recently for singing along to Pharrell’s song “Happy.”

Not only does this regime unjustly imprison its citizens, but it murders and kidnaps them. Iraqi government forces murdered over 50 Iranian dissidents residing in Iraq on Sept. 1 at the behest of the Iranian regime. Six of those lucky enough to survive are still being held hostage at an undisclosed location and are at risk of deportation, torture and death. The latter risk is most likely, as a record number of executions have been carried out under Rouhani.

Further abroad in Syria, the Iranian regime has been a steadfast supporter of Bashar al-Assad as he murders his own people. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 16 that the Iranian regime was even footing the bill for recruitment of Afghan refugees as mercenaries, paying them $500 a month to murder, rape and pillage.

Oppression, instability, murder and incitement have been the trademarks of the Iranian regime both at home and abroad. As we approach July 20, the deadline for a nuclear deal, we must not confine ourselves to asking if Iran will get the bomb or not. We must also question if we are dealing correctly with a regime that wreaks so much havoc.

On June 27 in Paris the largest gathering of Iranians outside of the country will try to address these questions. In discussing the issues of Iran, from the nuclear question to constant human-rights abuses, this conference will add a loud, clear and free voice, that of thousands of Iranians whose opinions the regime cannot suppress.

Aside from the thousands of Iranians in attendance, the conference will host nearly 100 high-level dignitaries, 500 parliamentarians from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia and the Middle East. This group spans the political spectrum in dozens of countries.

The president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, thousands of Iranians and hundreds of international dignitaries will announce acceptable conditions for a nuclear agreement. Attendees will also call for a different approach on Iran, one that is focused on people and individuals’ power to be catalysts for change, something shared by Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Darrell Issa as well as a bipartisan group of other California lawmakers, including Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Loretta Sanchez.

The values of those in the West dictate that individuals should have a say in their government and that democracy is sacrosanct. Bearing these principles in mind, we ask if the West should rely on such a dangerous and deceitful regime, or should it look elsewhere?

For those attending this momentous meeting in Paris, relying on the mullahs is a terrible mistake. The West should listen carefully to the message coming from Paris, because it will mark the largest freely voiced view of Iranians themselves.

Nasser Sharif is president of California Society for a Democratic Iran and a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities.

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