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Moment of truth for Iran

By ALI SAFAVI, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Aug. 25, 2011 at 8:19 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The moment of truth is upon us. The Iranian regime has raised the nuclear stakes even while struggling under international sanctions.

The regime has already begun transferring centrifuges to a secret facility deep inside the mountains some 90 miles south of Tehran as part of a plan to expand production of uranium enriched to more than 20 percent.

And, this week it was revealed that North Korea has supplied Tehran with software that is instrumental in the development of nuclear explosives.

All this is taking place as people in Libya have finally succeeded in unseating a 42-year-old dictatorship while the Syrian people are struggling to depose another. The overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi is another watershed moment for popular movements in the region and especially Iran.

Coupled with an eventual people's victory in Syria, it marks a severe blow to the regime's regional alliances, which were designed to promote fundamentalism and terrorism as a means to project power. Circumstances in the Middle East are changing rapidly but Washington is surprisingly behind the curve, especially when it comes to Iran.

The Iranian regime is fissured at the core and melting away. The recent row between the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his hand-picked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked a dangerous escalation in the crippling infighting that has gripped the regime since its 2009 elections.

The mullahs, now in their death throes, can sense the West's formidable financial, diplomatic and military muscle. Despite that, however, the regime keeps coming back defiant as ever. So, what's missing?

To begin with, there is a near pathological absenteeism in coming to terms with what scares the living daylight out of the mullahs. Plain and simple, the rulers in Iran fear nothing more than the popular opposition that is now arrayed against them, determined to once and for all put the regime out of its misery.

The missing piece of the puzzle is recognizing and liberating a crucial factor in Iranian politics: the Iranian people and their organized opposition.

There is no question that anti-regime sentiment in Iran is profound and widespread.

Two years before the recent Arab revolts, people in Iran carried out a mass uprising. After months of upheaval, unrest, rape and torture, in the YouTube age, the West was in denial. And it was indeed ironic that it took much less for the West to champion the Arab Spring this year.

A new approach is needed that might just work; an outreach to the Iranian people and the organized opposition. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in June, "The United States stands with all Iranians who wish for a government that respects their human rights, their dignity and their freedom."

Better late than never, as they say!

But, there is a concrete way for the secretary to demonstrate that her expression of goodwill toward the Iranian people and her warnings to the tyrants of Tehran are more than just words.

To the Iranian people she should say that her State Department will immediately lift all the unwarranted duress it placed on the main democratic opposition force, the Mujahedin-e Khalq in a lame attempt to buy the mullahs' friendship.

Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously adopted an amendment on Camp Ashraf, Iraq, where 3,400 MEK members reside, making it the policy of the United States to prevent their internal displacement as demanded by Tehran.

"The MEK was our ally in the war on terror ... But the State Department was left behind, left behind with a document that is irrelevant today. And the courts have said, check its relevance. My prayerful hope is that the State Department is checking what is relevant today and they will see today for what it is rather than a yesterday that they didn't understand or know ... I hope that the United States will say the MEK is that ally that we need on the war on terror," said Andrew Card, former President George W. Bush's chief of staff, in a Washington conference in April.

The clock is ticking and the State Department has missed its statute-mandated deadline to provide a shred of evidence for maintaining the designation, thus dragging the only decision the department can legally make: delisting the MEK.

This is despite the fact that H.R. 60 has called on Secretary Clinton to delist the MEK. The resolution now has 94 co-sponsors, including Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairmen of the Select Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

Some 50 former senior U.S. government officials have joined that call as well.

The mullahs are clearly terrified of the prospect of MEK delisting, reflected in a desperate propaganda campaign by their lobby inside the Beltway over the past month. That's not unexpected.

To the Iranian mullahs, Secretary Clinton should say, we've tried waving the sticks like sanctions, military threats and encirclement and we've tried offering the carrots like the blacklisting of the main opposition for the past 14 years. But, it's clear to us now that you don't fear us, or respect us, or want to join our community of nations. We're beginning to come to terms with what really keeps you awake in your bunkers.

Going forward, Secretary Clinton should announce that economic sanctions will be complemented with removing the stigma of terrorism from the main Iranian opposition movement, which has striven, at the cost of tens of thousands of its members and sympathizers, to make the Iran Spring a reality.

The timing could not be better. On Friday, thousands of Iranian Americans from 40 states across America will rally outside the State Department to echo that call.

That democratic future that heralds a non-nuclear Iran and averts a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is something that the people of Libya, Syria and the entire region will benefit from as much as the people of Iran. All eyes are now on Secretary Clinton.

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(Ali Safavi is a member of Iran's Parliament-in-exile and president of Near East Policy Research, a policy analysis firm in Washington.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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