Ladies and Gentlemen:
It gives me great pleasure to be with you today, and to share with you some of my thoughts and concerns, as well as some of my hopes and aspirations regarding my country and its future.
Let me begin by saying that the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini on the Iranian political scene in 1979, firmly established Iran as the cradle and bastion of modern day Islamic fundamentalism. Since then, people everywhere, when speaking of Iran, have generally associated my homeland with such modern day scourges as the rise of militant Islam and international terrorism. More recently, these concerns have become further exacerbated by a rising fear that the Islamic leadership in Iran is also seeking to equip itself with nuclear weapons.[photo]
Lately, the terrible hostilities that raged for 34 horrible days last summer between Hezbollah and Israel, brought to light another new and undeniable reality concerning the inseparable links that have now come to exist between issues and players in the wider Middle East. The clerical regime in Tehran has been actively exploiting regional grievances in order to promote its own agenda, using surrogates such as Hezbollah and Hamas across the Moslem world.
Only by grasping the true significance of this new development and its implications for international security, can there be some hope of meaningful cooperation and coordination in trying to contain the efforts of an oil rich rogue state that has no compunction in promoting violence and terror in distant lands as a cynical ploy to distract attention away from its own domestic unpopularity and colossal failures.
In my view, it would be a grave mistake to either under-estimate or trivialize the threat that is posed by the theocratic dictatorship in Iran, for the following reasons:
As the first contemporary theocracy to establish itself in a major state, the Islamic regime in Tehran has been able to use the vast resources of Iran to energize other radical fringe elements while promoting its own concept of militant Islam, coupled with militant anti-Americanism throughout the Islamic world. Moreover, the Islamic regime has, at a philosophical level, been a main obstructing bloc in the crisis that is confronting the world of Islam with such important contemporary notions as progress and modernity. Today, this can be seen clearly through the Iranian regime’s vigorous support for anti-status quo, die-hard fundamentalist causes across the Islamic world, as well as uncompromising Islamists and Jihadists in places like Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.
Whether in promoting radical Islam or the pursuance of its own narrow interests – something that is most assuredly separate from the national interest of the Iranian nation – the regime in Tehran has always relied and continues to rely on such tools as subversion and terrorism, as well as utter disdain for well established norms in international law. Here, let us not forget the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran and the taking and holding of American diplomats as hostages, or more recently, the regime’s total disregard for the wishes of such bodies as the IAEA or the United Nations’ Security Council. In the latter case, everyone here is well aware of the fact that, irrespective of continuous assertions and assurances given by the Islamic authorities, there is no doubt in any one’s mind that the regime seeks to ensure and insure the continuity of its evil existence by equipping itself with nuclear weapons and the means for delivering them to targets well beyond Iran’s historical threat perimeters.
On a separate note, without wishing to sound alarmist, I would like to point out that behind the spoken words and the prevailing doctrines adhered to by the ruling establishment in Iran, there are clear indications that there is a real clash of civilization between the clerical regime’s interpretation of Islam and mainstream moderate Islamic teachings – let alone other modern and more secular concepts contained in modernity and liberalism. In truth, and irrespective of certain “PR campaigns” such as the ill-fated project of former Islamist President Khatami, called the “Dialogue of Civilizations”, this, in fact, is a clash that they have sought to promote among their various spheres and circles of influence within the Islamic world.
Having said all this, I wish now to say a few words about the internal picture in Iran by focusing first on the country’s dire economic situation. It is a fact that Iran has 1% of the world’s population and 7% of the world’s resources. Furthermore, while the country enjoys abundant energy resources, it is also blessed by a young and educated work force. However, since 1979, my homeland has faced steady economic decline as a consequence of its general mismanagement and the inability for coming to grip with certain recurring economic problems – such as a chronic over-dependency on the oil income, an antiquated bureaucracy, an untrusting “private sector”, as well as corruption and inefficient monopolies reserved for the select regime loyalists. Added to this cocktail of ills is the regime’s reliance on massive “subsidies” which have brought forth double-digit inflation and the doubling of the national budget deficit during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s first year in office.
Today, with unemployment and inflation both well over 20%, there is general consensus amongst experts that the Iranian economy is in full recession with general demand for goods and services seriously down. The situation is further exacerbated by the regime’s increased militancy with respect to its foreign affairs, bringing into question the regime’s vision and strategy for turning the economy around.
In the social and political sphere, the regime has displayed no compunction whatsoever in using whatever force has been required for savagely containing a population that has been the primary victim of its ineptitude in every conceivable field. The regime’s failure in various economic, social, cultural and political issues have inadvertently led to a situation that over the past 27 years, thousands of freedom loving Iranians have been either imprisoned, tortured, executed at home or exiled and assassinated abroad, simply because of their refusal to submit to what is no more than a vicious “Islamic Apartheid” system that makes mockery out of such notions as democracy or popular sovereignty. These actions have now brought my homeland to the edge of a new precipice that is already showing signs of open resistance and violence amongst Iran’s much neglected ethnic populations – be they in Khuziztan, Baluchistan, Azebaijan or Kurdistan. It is important to point out that unrest in these areas pose a major threat, not just to the stability and the territorial integrity of Iran, but for Iran’s neighbors and the region as a whole. There is no exaggeration when one speaks of the Islamic regime’s bloodstained record of total disdain and disregard for the human rights and individual liberties of all Iranians, and specially the youth and women of our country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having squandered the initial trust of the Iranian people, today the main aim of the Islamic regime in pursing the policies that it does, is to remain in power at all cost. Backed by the wealth of the Iranian nation, they have taken refuge behind an invisible wall they have constructed between themselves and the people. Their strategy for survival is to blackmail the outside world into inaction while intimidating and brutalizing their own citizens at home. To achieve this end, they will stop at nothing…
So what can be done to address this seemingly uncontrollable cancer that has already destroyed the peace of mind and prosperity of the Iranian people, and is threatening to spread its poison everywhere else in the Middle East and the Islamic world? How do we begin addressing a serious issue of this nature that has proven, over and over again, that it will not simply vanish in face of half baked measures and empty rhetoric?
In my view, it is essential that those who are countering fanaticism and extremism under the banner of liberal-democratic values, should, first and foremost, try and respond to certain important philosophical and searching questions: For instance, why has secularism been under such severe strain in the Middle East? Could they have possibly aggravated matters indirectly by having failed to understand or show sensitivity to the kind of social, economic and political pressures confronting their secular allies – past and present?
In my view this is an important question that needs to be addressed if only to reaffirm the belief that extremists and fanatics who purport to have the almighty on their side, are nothing but fakes who are incapable of resurrecting either national pride or national self esteem, let alone overseeing a just society that values notions such as freedom and diversity.
It thus follows that secular democrats in Iran and across the Middle East need to be supported and propped up so that they can successfully meet the challenges that are posed by extremists and fundamentalist.
Moreover, in the case of Iran, it is important that an image be conveyed that the United States can help the ordinary people of Iran out of the jam they are in by raising their depleted morale. Care needs to be taken to portray secular democratic leaders, as enlightened and patriotic figures who are risking everything for their people. It should be stressed, in no unmistakable way, that they will never compromise on any issue that is against the interest of their people. In this regard, lessons learned from Iraq can be usefully employed to avert certain avoidable impediments, by enhancing the notion that US allies are honorable people, who are both popular and well capable of gaining the trust and respect of their people. Also, it must be reiterated that Iran will not be a carbon copy of Iraq and any positive change towards democracy will not result in chaos.
At the same time it is important to emphasize that Iranians who are urged to stand up against the current dictatorship, are also most concerned that they should not be sold out or compromised. The example of what happened to Iraqis in 1991 is vivid in my compatriots’ minds. Hence, any diplomatic overtures towards the current regime must show sensitivity by taking this factor into consideration, if only to ensure that repeated appeals – such as those made by President Bush to the Iranian people – are neither diluted nor made to look disingenuous. Therefore, communicating in a meaningful way with the Iranian people, while at the same time projecting the image that the United States wants to support the people of Iran in their quest for democracy and human rights, is a key factor that will continue to require added attention as we move forward. But let me be forthright by affirming that words alone cannot be enough!
In closing, let me say that I firmly believe that one of my country’s unique features is the fact that it is the ripest candidate for the promotion of democracy and civil society in the Middle East. Hence, what is needed is to continue with the messages of support for our people, while actively looking for practical ways of making those messages actually make a difference on the ground. Even then, the peaceful path for promoting the change we all seek will not be an easy one. But, my compatriots and I will take heart by knowing that we are not alone. Have no doubt that we are determined to save our country and secure our future by bringing democracy and modernity for a well deserving nation. As such, Iran will once again be and reliable partner for the free world in contributing to greater peace and stability in our region and beyond.