Former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky has some advice for the Obama administration on reaching out to the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Don’t forget Iranian dissidents.
Concern for human rights is not only a moral issue, Sharansky told Newsmax at his office in Jerusalem recently. “It’s also extremely important for international relations, because the way the governments treat their neighbors depends to a great extent on how they treat their own citizens.”
The more undemocratic a regime is, “the more violent and aggressive it is toward its neighbors,” Sharansky argued. That in itself should be a warning for the Obama administration as it seeks to tame Iran’s ruling clerics. Sharansky also said the Obama administration should not be lulled into giving the rogue regime more time to complete its nuclear goals, and that "tough measures" should be on the table should Iran stall.
Sharansky believes that the dramatic repression of human rights activists, pro-democracy groups and ordinary Iranians by the regime gives the West leverage, should the Obama administration play its cards wisely.
In every totalitarian regime, the citizens are divided in three categories: true believers, dissidents, and double-thinkers, Sharansky says. “Iran is a unique example of a society which in one generation went from a country of true believers to a country of double-thinkers.”
Double-thinkers are people who no longer believe in the regime’s ideology, “but who are afraid to accept the risks associated with dissent,” Sharansky writes in his 2006 book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.”
[Editor’s Note: Get Natan Sharansky’s book. Go here now.]
During a recent visit to Moscow, Sharansky spoke with friends from the Russian parliament who had just returned from Tehran. They told him that Iran “reminds them of the last days of the Soviet Union. Everybody’s double-think. Nobody really believes in the regime. They are playing with the rules of the game.”
Not only are the majority of Iranians disaffected with the regime, but there are an “unbelievably big number of dissidents, not just individual dissidents, but student organizations, trade unions, and women’s groups that are all behaving on the borders of dissent,” Sharansky told Newsmax.
So much dissent and disaffection create problems for the regime and an opening for the West. “It’s in the interest of the free world to make it clear that these dissidents are the real allies of the free world, to support them openly, to try to open as many conduits to them as possible,” he said.
During the 1980s, when Sharansky himself was in the Soviet gulag, he and other dissidents were encouraged when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”
“Rhetoric is important,” Sharansky said. “When Reagan was speaking about the Soviet Union as the evil empire, it didn’t mean he was declaring war. But for us in the Soviet Union, it was the biggest encouragement. It means that the free world understands who are their allies.”
So far, the Obama team has rejected the harsh rhetoric of Reagan and President George W. Bush, preferring to woo the ruling clerics in Iran by misidentifying the people of Iran with the regime.
Sharansky believes this is a big mistake. Ignoring human rights “is not only morally problematic,” he said. “But practically, it weakens the position and status of those who are pushing for democratic change and makes it more difficult for them to fight.”
Just last week, the White House refused to acknowledge the presence of a pair of young Iranian-Americans who rode their bicycles from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and tried to deliver a letter in support of human rights to the White House.
Shabnam Baharan told Newsmax that she and her companion, Damoon Ashgaei, went on an 11-day hunger strike just outside the White House on April 1, hoping to get someone from the president’s office to accept a letter for the president that had been signed by hundreds of Iranian human rights activists.
In the letter, Baharan thanked the president for the Now Ruz greetings he sent to the Iranian people, and encouraged him to support the people of Iran. “Supporting the Iranian people is the most sensible and least costly investment for a peaceful Middle East,” she wrote.
But on the contrary, “talking ‘peace, security and development’ with terrorists is neither cheap nor a good policy,” she added, quoting Obama’s own message to the regime.
Despite repeated attempts to deliver the letter and to have signatories send it by e-mail or fax, the pair gave up. “We spent eleven days in front of the White House, 24-hours a day,” Baharan told Newsmax. “Nobody came out to say a word to us that whole time.”
Like many leaders in Israel, Sharansky is uncertain how Obama will act as President. “I met with Obama once the year before he was elected, and he was saying all the right things and expressed an interest to know more about Iranian dissidents.”
But as Sharansky looks at the Obama administration, already he notes that “democracy is disappearing from the speeches of the administration.”
While he understands that the United States might chose to negotiate with the regime over its nuclear program, he urged the White House to constantly make clear to the regime leaders “that the real allies of the free world are not dictators, no matter how so-called moderate they are, but people who are supporting democratic change.”
Above all, he urged President Obama and his team to make sure that the Iranian regime understands that talking has limits, and “will be replaced with tough measures” if the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program fail.
“If there is no timeline, if Iran can have a feeling they can play for another year simply to gain time and do what they want, that will be unbelievably risky and dangerous,” Sharansky said.
[Editor’s Note: Get Natan Sharansky’s book. Go here now.]
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