Brazil's outreach to Iran ignores brutal repression

Saturday, May 15, 2010

LAST SUNDAY, Iran hanged five Kurdish dissidents, including a 28-year-old woman, who said they had been tortured into confessing to charges of terrorism. On Monday it announced that the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who covered last year's fraudulent presidential election for Newsweek, had been sentenced in absentia to 74 lashes and 13 years in prison. This is probably just the beginning of a brutal wave of repression aimed at preventing the opposition Green Movement from rallying as next month's anniversary of the election approaches.

But on Saturday, Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva will arrive in Tehran in yet another effort to "engage" the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Lula and Turkish President Abdullah Gul claim to be making a last effort to broker a deal with the regime that will avert another round of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program. No one outside their own governments thinks they will succeed. And will Mr. Lula even bother to mention the blood spilled by his hosts this week? Don't hold your breath.

The faction that staged last summer's coup in Iran, backed by the Revolutionary Guards, has demonstrated over and over since then that it has no interest in accommodation with either its own people or the U.N. Security Council. It has been as unrelenting in its repression as it has been in pressing ahead with the enrichment of uranium -- for which it is now manufacturing another generation of centrifuges.

The persistence of the Brazilian and Turkish leaders in negotiating with these thugs is partly about their ambitions to demonstrate that they are the leaders of emerging world powers capable of defying the United States. The intervention comes just as the Obama administration is nearing agreement with the other permanent members of the Security Council on a new sanctions resolution, which it hopes will be put to a vote in the coming weeks. Brazil and Turkey happen to hold rotating seats on the council, which provide them with a platform for posturing.

The Obama administration has disowned the Brazilian-Turkish initiative; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Turkish foreign minister on Thursday that "Iran's recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program," according to her spokesman. But the administration is still vulnerable to self-delusion: Ms. Clinton recently said that sanctions could lead to "the kind of good-faith negotiations that President Obama called for 15 months ago."

That reasoning is wrong for the same reason that Mr. Lula and Mr. Gul are wrong to visit Tehran this weekend. A regime that is actively engaged in murdering its citizens is not going to engage in "good-faith negotiations." If there is to be change in Iran, it must come from those whose repression the two presidents are ignoring.

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