Director, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans
Thursday, June 25, 2009 12:00 PM
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned President Obama on Thursday to "avoid interfering" in Iranian affairs, and his security forces arrested 70 academics overnight after using clubs and tear gas Wednesday to break up demonstrations over the disputed June 12 elections.
Rudi Bakhtiar, director of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, was online Thursday, June 25, at Noon ET to discuss the latest news out of Iran, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's televised call for restoration of order and that breaking the law would lead to dictatorship, and the White House withdrawal of invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July festivities at U.S. embassies around the world.
Rudi Bakhtiar: Hello Everyone, I'm Rudi Bakhtiar, with The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. Thank you for joining me today to answer your questions regarding Iran.
Richmond, Va.: The Iranian president's accusation that Obama is acting like George W. Bush, and insisting that America is interfering with Iran's internal affairs, is EXACTLY why Obama wanted to be very careful on how he addressed the crisis in Iran. I am a huge Obama supporter, but I was so sorry that he gave into the drumbeat of critics who said that he should condemn everything about the elections harshly. His explanation that he, as president, cannot give in to harmful rhetoric was correct. But he did (in my judgment), and so it is being used against him (as he knew it would). So, what would have been the very best Obama should have said? Or was anything he said going to be used against him?
washingtonpost.com: Ahmadinejad Tells Obama Not to Interfere in Iran (Post, June 25)
Rudi Bakhtiar: The president is in a very difficult position. If he says anything at all, as you pointed out, it's used against him by Ayatollah Khamenei, to say the U.S. is trying to replay 1953 Coup, instigated by the CIA to overthrow then PM, Mossadegh. But the president can play a crucial role internationally in putting pressure on countries like Germany and France (which do business with Iran) to not recognize Ahmadinejad and this government. Much can be done in terms of weakening the government via sanctions as well, but until you get the Russians and the Chinese on board (ehem) that won't work too well. My question is, where are the Muslim leaders on this? How come no one from the Arab states are talking? The atrocities playing themselves out are gross human rights violations. Why haven't we heard from the United Nations?
New York, N.Y.: So is this it? It looks like the protesters have been defeated. Iran slides into being an obvious military dictatorship, more people will get passports and move to L.A., and the security apparatus will either put away or shoot anyone they don't like. Maybe Montazeri will move to Paris. Khatami will disappear into a hole, never to be seen again. More disaffected youth will join the Basij so they can feel powerful by beating defenseless women. Do you see any hope, or is this the beginning of a truly dark age?
Rudi Bakhtiar: You are right. Iran could have gone in either direction. It had the possibility of becoming a reformed responsible version of the Islamic Republic, and instead, it has turned into North Korea. I, however, am tremendously hopeful. The people of Iran are strong, intelligent, and fearless. This is not the end. This is the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic. The courage the people of Iran have been showing day after day after day, despite being beaten, jailed, and even killed...tells me that they are more committed now than ever to get their great country back. Unfortunately, at this point, the people cannot win against the force of the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and the Military. They must take their movement underground. They have enough ammunition to bring the oil company, the workers unions, etc to bring the economy to halt. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Islamic leader of Iran, issued an edict on the most religious event of the week, Friday Prayer (equivalent of Sunday p I'm sure he will regret for the rest of his life), and as a DIRECT result, a beautiful girl's brutal murder in cold blood was captured for the world to see. Neda is one face that we all now know, but for people inside Iran she represents the fate of many young college students these passed few days, and for that matter, passed 30 years.
Phoenix, Ariz.: I read that the 70 academics arrested were picked up by police after meeting with Mousavi. Is it clear whether the meeting was being watched, or if these people targeted en masse by the government because of the meeting?
washingtonpost.com: Ahmadinejad Tells Obama Not to Interfere in Iran
Rudi Bakhtiar: The details are sketchy but terrifying. What I know is many (over 70)professors all across Iran resigned as a result of the bloodbath that has been unleashed on the students from various universities of Iran. Those professors have been arrested. This is the iron fist of the Islamic Republic at work. Khamenei has ordered to crush any and all dissent. That's why they are also arrested many journalist, many foreign nationalist. It was very obvious that they intended to crack down heavily after they asked the journalist to leave. I'm sure they are very surprised that people are still risking their lives to get the video and messages out.
Boston: I was struck by a NY Times article on Ahmadinejad stacking the Iranian government agencies and even lower level bureaucracies with his loyalists in a similar way that VP Cheney did during the Bush administration. Both understood the key supporting offices of power and made sure they had people who were loyal to them and agreed with them ideologically in those posts. The volleys back and forth between Bush/Cheney and Ahmadinejad served both sets of leaders well politically domestically. It was interesting to learn both followed similar steps in the internal workings of their governments.
Great article and very accurate. Ahmadinejad was hand picked by Khamenei for the elections. It surprised everyone that he won back then, because he was a virtual nobody, but Khamenei's son was his campaign manager, so that got him a great deal of street cred with the Revolutionary Guards. Shortly after taking power, one by one, Ahmadinejad replaced ministers with his own buddies from the Revolutionary Guard. Back then, I called it a quiet coup.
Khamenei has struggled for power since taking the position of Supreme Leader after serving 8 years as president of Iran. His main opponent Hashemi Rafsanjani who was president at the time, and now is a big player in the reform movement and a supporter of Moussavi.
Belmond, Iowa: Would this Moussavi guy be any better than the current regime in power? Will he be pro-Western, and would the U.S. be able to deal with him better on the nuclear issues?
Rudi Bakhtiar: Moussavi promised what the youth of Iran wanted to hear. That he would bring back credibility to Iran. When I went to Iran two almost three years ago, the students were openly saying they hate Ahmadinejad. In fact, they had burned his picture during a speech he gave at his own son's university. They said to me, we don't want our president to say things like "Isreal must be wiped from the pages of history" or hold three day forums on if the holocaust did or didn't happen. They also said they want open relations with the western world. They want to see the oil money on their dinner tables and being used to better their lives and create job opportunities. Then there is of course, the role that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Moussavi played in this election. Never before had a woman stood by her husband and campaigned every step of the way with him. Never before had one of the topic of the campaign been the WOMEN SHOULD BE EQAUL TO MEN. This was a BIG step for the women's movement. In that sense, there was hope that women's rights would improve with the election of Moussavi, which is why you see the courageous beautiful Iranian women so bravely taking on the basij. And which is why Neda has become the symbol of this movement.
Richmond, Va.: Do you think Iranian officials are using the chaos of the post-election results as an opportunity to allow their nuclear enrichment program to move forward? As important as it is to stop the violence against civilians, shouldn't that subject also stay at the forefront?
Rudi Bakhtiar: No. I think the Iranian official are using this time to brutally bring this movement to a halt. The stories we hear are horrific. They are beating old men and women, and seven year old children. They have unleashed the fury of the basij, a militia which trains boys at the age of thirteen, on the people. These militia, are going door to door in the middle of the night kicking in doors, opening fire and beating people to death. One hospital reported and old men with three bullets in chest. Right now, the government is busy with propaganda, blaming the US and Britain for trying to start trouble, coercing or maybe even producing fake confessions, and instilling so much fear into people, that my closest relatives will not answer my calls.
Rudi Bakhtiar: It's been wonderful chatting with you all. I'm sorry I didn't get to all of your questions!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.