Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and Members of the diplomatic corps in Washington,
It is a great pleasure for me to be amongst you tonight in this historic place where so many celebrated members have, in the course of the past century since the very first establishment of this Club in 1904, contributed to shaping our world and the kind of democratic principles and values that we have all come to share. I am especially grateful to Dr. Norman Bailey and Mr. Norbert Kupinski for their kind invitation and their efforts for arranging this event.
Before focusing on the monumental events that are currently in play and will no doubt alter the future shape and direction of my country, it is appropriate for me to underline the fact that we are living in a complicated world where the kind of hopes and visions that we have come to admire and identify with progress, modernity and civilized norms, are being seriously challenged.
But contrary to conventional wisdom and media hype, this challenge is not being made by Islam or any mainstream religion. Instead, this threat is being projected by a radical and revolutionary coalition of religious fanatics who have come to successfully misrepresent the greater majority by pursuing rejectionist and revisionist agendas while at the same time obstructing the broader objectives of peace, stability and development in regions such as the Middle East and beyond.
The pronounced failure on the part of the West to effectively deal with this problem at its roots has in particular led to a situation that after more than 8 years of military presence in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, organizations such as Al Qaeda and its sympathizers have been able to regroup and once again pose a serious global terrorist threat that includes mainland USA as witnessed by the fortunately failed incident that did not take place in the skies of Detroit on Christmas day.
There is no doubt in my mind that the advent of Khomeini’s Islamic Republic in 1979, which turned my homeland into the cradle of modern day Islamic radicalism, was instrumental in opening the flood gates for the spread of militant anti-Western Islamic tendencies, not just in the Middle East region, but throughout the Islamic world. Moreover, it turned one of the World’s richest and most strategic countries into a launching pad for spreading state-sponsored terrorism in addition to becoming the Godfather of numerous sub-state entities that are today destabilizing the entire Middle East region.
So to those anxious in wanting to promote the Middle East peace process or defusing the Middle East as a major source of international tension and instability, I say you can spend or allocate as much money and time as you like but this problem will not be addressed by measures taken in places like south Lebanon or Gaza or for that matter in dangerous environments like Iraq or Afghanistan!
So long as the ruling establishment in Iran continues to retain its agonizing stranglehold over the Iranian people while continuously and more increasingly replenishing itself as well as its surrogates and allies with the misused resources of our nation, nothing will change aside from the fact that the danger posed to humanity and our way of life will only increase as we move forward in time.
However, it is my view that we are now at the edge of a new dawn where the fundamentalist dictatorship in my country may finally be forced to relinquish its hold on power to a new popular uprising championed by forces of freedom and plurality.
I am convinced that any such change in Iran would have a tremendous and potentially immediate effect in places like Lebanon and Palestine, and will in time lead to a situation whereby troublesome elements such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other radical groups may become more easily harnessed or contained.
Having made these broad observations, I now wish to say a few specific words regarding Iran’s nuclear file as well as the current internal situation in my homeland.
First on the nuclear file, it is now fully clear that the Islamic regime has sent an unambiguous rebuke to all of President Obama’s goodwill initiatives and gestures. Having offered the Iranian regime an olive branch and having remained ominously low key in his condemnation of the regime’s brutal clampdown of the Green Movement last summer, the Islamic government’s only reward for the current administration was to play it for time and eventually renege on a much watered down compromise announced on October 1st, which fell significantly short of the kind of demands that had been previously made by various United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
The interesting factor is that, after much deliberation following the Geneva meeting last October, it was the Iranian Supreme Leader and his cohorts who in effect forced Iran out of an agreement that had been sanctioned by the Ahmadinejad administration. What this experience signifies lies very much at the heart of what the Iranian nation is questioning in their internal quarrels with the regime – namely the role of an unelected Supreme Leader who is constitutionally empowered to override the decisions of an elected president, even if he was truly elected by the people!
So, for people here to think that the fate of Iran’s nuclear file could have been any different under say a different president than Ahmadinejad is recklessly unreal. The time to face reality is now. It is clear that the Iranian government has no intention of honoring the wishes of the international community with regards to ending its uranium enrichment or other activities. The question is what can be done about it in the absence of any meaningful leverage on the part of the US and its European allies? So far not even the threat of more economic sanctions or a military strike by either Israel or the US has been sufficient to deter Iran from pressing forward with its nuclear agenda.
As we speak, almost a month has elapsed from the deadline that President Obama had given to the Iranian authorities so that they could make their positions clear. Yet, apart from some general remarks, nothing concrete has been done to even begin the process of meaningful leverage building. On the other hand, Iran has for its part relentlessly pushed forward with its own policy of leverage building to dissuade the West from taking any action against it by solidifying its foothold in places like Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently in Yemen.
Under these circumstances, it would seem most appropriate to describe Western inaction against Iranian transgression, particularly in the course of the past 12 months by quoting a famous great American, President Woodrow Wilson, who once said that “Nothing was ever done so systematically as nothing is being done now”.
But on a more optimistic note, I cannot believe that matters will be allowed to drift on for much longer. There is a most dangerous clock that is ticking, and I am confident that responsible leaders around the globe are not oblivious to its implications. Indeed, I anticipate that, once France relieves China of the Presidency of the Security Council on the 1st of February, we shall witness a new influx of activities whereby the question of holding Iran accountable to the international community will be taken up with much greater vigor and consensus than any time in the last few years. Whether any new punitive measures taken by the Security Council will prove sufficient in persuading Iran to change its nuclear policy will remain to be seen, but I am sure that the clerical regime in Tehran will be left with no doubt that the tone on the part of key actors has changed and that the cost of intransigence will be significantly higher and potentially more dangerous than ever before.
I would like at this time to turn my attention to the internal situation in my country and the unrest which has been raging there since last summer’s presidential elections.
In view of the repeated failures of the West’s “carrot and stick” approach to force a change of direction in the behavior of the Islamic Republic, I have often said that the regime’s Achilles Heel has never been anything other than the courageous people of Iran who have now taken their lives into their own hands and participated in repeated demonstrations against a regime that has consistently abused them in the last 30 years.
In its attempt to quell the tide of opposition, the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad tandem, which has today lost any vestige of legitimacy, has embarked on a policy of crackdown which according to many international human rights organizations has simply turned into a human rights disaster. Since the start of the protests which have now endured beyond seven months, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia, and the regular police have arbitrarily arrested thousands of peaceful protesters and dissidents, including students, women’s rights activists, lawyers, and prominent human rights defenders in a clear effort to intimidate critics and stifle dissent. Government officials have officially confirmed the death of more than 37 protesters as a result of attacks by Basij and anti-riot police, while holding many more in detention. But the true number of deaths caused by government-sponsored violence is believed to be significantly higher. Many of those arrested are reported, by no less a person than one of the defeated presidential candidates, Mehdi Karrubi, to have been beaten or tortured, and in some cases sexually assaulted in prisons and secret detention facilities. In fact, even a parliamentary inquiry a few weeks ago acknowledged that Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor – the notorious Saeed Mortazavi, whose reputation has come to equal that of any worst concentration camp official in the Nazi era – was accused of being directly responsible for the deaths of at least three detainees from torture and neglect in the Kahrizak Prison, which the judiciary had ordered shut down three years ago.
Moreover, since August, the Judiciary has staged a number of show trials whereby hundreds of prominent writers and politicians associated with the Moussavi-Karrubi campaign were publicly exhibited and humiliated for allegedly being connected with “rioters” attempting to promote a “velvet revolution.” During these trials, many of these personalities – including a senior local employee of the British Embassy in Tehran – were subsequently forced to make televised confessions before being sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Indeed, a number of others also put on trial under the dubious title of having been “supporters of the monarchy” have also been sentenced to death.
Although the systematic and brutal targeting of demonstrators and government critics by security forces is illustrative of the regime’s attempt to silence all voices of dissent, I wish to assure you that this exercise has been nothing but a total failure as opposition to the regime under the banner of the “Green Movement” has gone from strength to strength. While, in its early days, demands by the demonstrators had focused mainly around widespread fraud and the rigging of the election result, today it is quite clear that contrary to efforts by the likes of Moussavi, Karrubi and Rafsanjani to try and keep the protesters confined within the boundaries of the Islamic Republic, the thrust of the “Green Movement” as represented by the voices of millions of disenfranchised Iranians representing every facet of national life in Iran want nothing less than a secular democracy to end the current theocratic dictatorship.
Hence what the public wants is no longer a revamped Islamic Republic that has someone other than Ahmadinejad as its president. Instead, they have made it clear that they want nothing less than a complete break with every vestige of the Islamic Republic, starting with its constitution and the powers vested in its supreme leader. As such, it is my view that the demonstrations will continue robustly into the future, and that the leadership of the “Green Movement” as determined by the masses will inevitably shift should its current pole bearers be seen to be settling for solutions that fall short of a complete break with the Islamic Republic – in contrast to the position often stressed by the likes of Rafsanjani, Khatami and others who insist that the solution can still be found within the confines of the current constitution.
It is today an undeniable reality that those wishing to retain the current structure of the Islamic regime by trying to broker a compromise between “the street” and the ruling establishment are more reminiscent of “people walking backwards with their faces to the future” – an endeavor that can only fail in the final analysis.
So let me conclude by saying that I am optimistic about the future, and I am confident that my compatriots will in the end succeed in supplanting this tyranny that has brought so much havoc to our lives in the last 30 years. But the road ahead is anything but easy or straight forward. Ultimate victory will require great courage and sacrifice on the part of millions of ordinary people in my country. But the rewards emanating from a peaceful and democratic Iran will not remain merely confined to Iran. It will be a major catalyst for change, as policies such as promoting instability, terrorism and proliferation will give way to notions such as regional cooperation, economic development as well as the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East region and beyond.
In this regard, every peace loving member of the international community has a vested interest in the success of the Iranian people, and it is my hope that they will not desist from supporting them in every which way that they can as they gather to confront a brutal regime that is bent on brutalizing and intimidating them into silence.
Therefore, the time has come for the people of Iran to be awarded the kind of unreserved acknowledgement and support which they have deserved for so long.