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Trita Parsi Unable to Defend Legitimacy of Engagement Policy

On December 2, 2009 at 6 pm Trita Parsi came to American University to speak about his stance on engagement with Iran.

Mr. Parsi, head of NIAC, stated that the policy of engagement was meant to further cooperation between the U.S. and Iran and further human rights as well as resolve the nuclear issue. Mr. Parsi specifically addressed the nuclear issue and claimed that there is a bright line between nuclear use of energy for civilian use and the issue of nuclear weapons. In addition, he asserted that the policy of the Obama administration to engage with Iran, even though it has failed for the past 8 weeks, needs more time.

When a student in the class pressured Mr. Parsi to explain this approach, she stated the following: “When it comes to the nuclear issue, there is not a bright line between nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear use. These two issues are parallel as the fissile waste gained from peaceful nuclear sites can be used to make a dirty bomb. Additionally, the steps to enrich uranium from which it is able to be used for civilian use to that which can be used for weapons is very small. So given that the civilian use of nuclear weapons grants a de facto eventual use of military capabilities, we (as in the United States and the International community) don’t have the luxury of time. In addition, Iran has been behaving in a North Korea style of agreeing to certain conditions and then later retreating, threatening to remove themselves from the NPT while buying the time needed to go ahead and eventually create a nuclear weapon anyway. So, the policy of engagement with the regime is a futile one given Iran’s present actions and past dealings. Essentially, the U.S. and the World doesn’t have the luxury of time when dealing with Iran and is risking delegitimizing the freedom movement in Iran by engaging with Ahmadeinjad, whom the people of Iran count as illegitimate. The Green Movement for democracy has spoken out against Ahmadenijad and by the United States engaging with the Iranian regime, it is legitimizing the government in power in complete disregard of the will of the Iranian people while gaining nothing in regards to the nuclear issue. The Iranian people themselves called out to Obama in the November 4thdemonstrations when they said “Obama ya ba mah ya ba una” <Obama either you’re with us or against us>. It is a failing policy that will gain nothing for the U.S. in terms of the nuclear issue and will only end up hurting the Iranian people and Green Movement.”

Mr. Parsi retorted that he didn’t accept these premises and that this sounded like a neo-conservative stance. Mr. Parsi went on to say that the United States is not important when it comes to legitimizing a regime. Mr. Parsi asserted that by recognizing and working with the Iranian regime, the US was not legitimizing them. And, even if the U.S. were doing so, other countries like Brazil met with Ahmadenijad so it was not damaging if the U.S. did.

Mr. Parsi later retorted that he knew the heads of the Green Movement and that they wanted a policy of engagement with the regime.

Then the same student in class asked him exactly which “heads” of the Green Movement he knew and was in contact with, Mr.Parsi claimed that Akbar Ganji was one of the heads of the Green Movement he was in touch with.

The student responded that this was false, as the heads of the Green Movement are those involved with Takhim e Vahdat. These are the same people who were responsible for the massive protests in 1999 and call for freedom and democracy. These activists, like Akbar Atri, spoke to Congress in 2004 and told them that the reformist movement could not succeed in Iran because the structural institution and powers that be would not allow it. It is their word who has been proven true and it is they who are the true leaders of the Green Movement because they have been there since the beginning of the movement 10 years ago.

Mr. Parsi relented and said that yes, Mr. Atri is one of the most important people outside the regime that is integral to the movement but Moussavi is a leader of the movement from within and it is his hope for reform that is the true nature of the Green Movement.

The student pointed out the falsity of Mr.Parsi’s assertion in stating that reform is the hope of the movement. Another colleague of Moussavi, former President of Iran, Khatami, came out and said that the regime was illegitimate and reform was no longer an option. Khatami called for a complete referendum on the legitimacy of the government in power thereby unifying the opposition movements core message of the government of Iran being illegitimate and not reflecting the will of the people.

At this point, the student noted that there will be a panel in which Mr. Akbar Atri himself will be speaking on a panel at Georgetown on Sunday and if Mr.Parsi would like to defend his position,  which is in complete opposition to that of those who lead the Green Movement, that Mr. Parsi was more than welcome to come put his position forward. Mr. Parsi said he would be unable to attend and had no further comment on the issue.


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