Tuesday, June 23, 2009
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
A key Iranian dissident tells Newsmax he was stunned when he heard President Barack Obama tell reporters that, despite government’s brutal crackdown in Tehran, the Islamic Republic has time to regain “legitimacy” in the eyes of the Iranian people.
“I was hoping President Obama would lead the world and start a boycott of Iranian oil,” said former presidential candidate and opposition activist Mohsen Sazegara. “This is the best way to save the lives of the Iranian people.”
Instead, Sazegara told Newsmax, he listened to Obama’s news conference on Tuesday with a sense of disbelief.
It’s “not too late for the Iranian government to see there is a peaceful path that leads to legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people,” Obama told reporters when asked for his reaction to the violence in Iran.
Sazegara, who was involved in the reform movement in the 1990s but eventually left Iran after the reformist government jailed him, said he listened to Obama with a sense of “deep, deep, deep regret. I never expected President Obama to say something like that.”
“I had been expecting Obama to say we promise the people of Iran we won’t deal or negotiate with any government that does not represent the majority of the people in Iran. I had expected him to be very clear.”
For two years, Sazegara has had a weekly televised commentary on the Persian Service of Voice of America, which VOA polling shows is the most widely respected and listened to segment in its lineup.
When reports began to emerge from Iran of massive demonstrations 10 days ago, Sazegara began getting 1,400 e-mails a day from inside Iran, begging him to appear more regularly to comment on events.
“I was a window into Iran from the outside,” he said. With the crackdown on protest leaders — about 800 of Sazegara’s friends and former colleagues are now in jail — the Voice of America was a key conduit for getting information from inside Iran to the West, and vice versa.
Sazegara went to VOA editor Alex Belida, who initially agreed to put him on air. But after consulting with a Persian-speaking deputy, Belida called him back to say no.
The de facto banning of Sazegara from the VOA airwaves is not the first time Persian-speaking editors at VOA have attempted to suppress information that might be embarrassing to the hard-line government in Tehran.
On Saturday, for example, sources in Iran emailed VOA and Sazegara dramatic video footage that showed the brutal cold-blooded murder of a young Iranian woman in Tehran.
The deputy editor of the Farsi service, Ali Sajadi, refused to air it, saying it was too graphic.
But when overseas media, including the BBC’s Farsi service, aired the footage, Sajadi allowed broadcasters to show a short segment of the footage, which has now become famous around the world.
During Obama’s news conference today, he described the slaying of the young woman, Neda Soltani, as “a problem.”
And last week, when top aides to presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi received a standing ovation from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, VOA refused to give the event coverage on its broadcasts into Iran.
Protesters in Tehran have begun holding up signs in English, asking the United States to increase sanctions on the Iranian regime and to condemn the Islamic Republic.
“Obama claims to be like President Lincoln,” Sazegara said. “Then he should uphold the principles of Lincoln.”
Instead, during his news conference, the president reiterated his fears that the U.S. would become a “tool” in the hands of the regime, who would blame the CIA for orchestrating the demonstrations, Sazegara said.
“But that is already happening,” Sazegara said. “Keyhan daily, which is the organ of the leader, ran a huge front page story recently saying that the U.S. had allocated a $400 million budget to support riots in Iran. And I’ve been receiving reports from inside Iran that the regime is planning to stage televised confessions of people they have tortured with hot irons in prison to get them to say they’ve been paid by the United States.”
Sazegara told Newsmax he plans to write an open letter to Congress that it appears to be the “policy of President of Obama” to prevent Voice of America from airing broadcasters who are close to the pro-democracy protesters inside Iran.
Two months ago, Sazegara spoke with State Department Iran desk officers and urged them to focus more closely on Iranian human rights abuses and to support European efforts to monitor the presidential election to ensure that it was fair.
“They told me that was the policy of Bush, and that they were going for engagement first, and would only talk about human rights and freedom later,” Sazegara said.
Sazegara, who was tortured during long months in Iranian prisons in the late 1990s, warned the State Department that it was making “a bigger mistake than during the 1953 coup.”
“Now the Iranian people love you,” he said. “But if you make this kind of mistake, that could turn to hatred.”