In the run-up to the divisive US Congressional vote on the Iran deal on September 17, both camps in support and opposed to the nuclear agreement are sending the US legislature letters expressing their position. From former Congressmen to military generals and rabbis, both sides are putting up a fierce fight to ensure their voices are heard before the final vote.
Latest to join the fray are 74 Iranian dissidents living in the US who have written and signed a letter to their local senators, representatives and the US Congress explaining why they back the nuclear agreement. Dr. Mansour Farhang, a former Professor of Political Science at Bennington College in Vermont, US and Dr. Nayereh Tohidi, Director of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at California State University, co-authored the letter that was sent to politicians on Monday, August 31. With the Congressional vote rapidly approaching, Dr. Farhang explained his inspiration behind sending the letter, who signed it, the impact he hoped it would have and why the letter’s signatories are opposed to a non-deal.
Who signed the letter? Why were they chosen?
There are 74 signatories and many of them are well known Iranians, for instance Abdol-Karim Lahidji who is president of the International Federation of Human Rights or Maziar Bahari, the documentary maker. It is extremely important to publicize the letter and this is easier to do when people in Congress can see famous people signed it. It makes them more likely to take it seriously.
They’re all dissidents. We wanted Iranian dissidents that are well known for their opposition to the Iranian regime, human rights activists, political prisoners, former members of congress and Nobel laureates to sign it; key individuals in terms of human rights advocacy. When Congress sees this unparalleled lists of dissidents living in the States it will encourage them whilst also soothing activists and dissidents still struggling in Iran.
Why did the letter’s signatories write to their local politicians rather than to Congress directly?
We asked signatories across different states to contact their [house of] representatives and senators because they tend to be more receptive than when a letter is sent to Congress itself. However I also sent it to key people in the Senate and had it posted on the Gary Slick blog because I know many people in Congress and policy makers read it.
What do you hope to achieve by sending the letter?
We don’t expect to have a huge impact on the debate inside Congress but we hope to reach journalists, diplomats, think tank analysts and the policy-making community. There’s a lot of anti-deal publicity, which is well financed so we thought it was necessary for those opposed to the regime or those critical of it - many of who are exiles or spent time in prison - to have their opinion on the issue. It’s very important to get this issue resolved because otherwise there could be violence and the victims of this will be the Iranian people. Nobody in Congress is going to say he or she changed their point of view because they read this letter but those supporting the nuclear deal can definitely refer to it as an added piece of evidence for their position.
Do you think the deal will pass the vote on September 17?
Yes I’m optimistic that it will because the debate is now even attracting the support of the Jewish community inside the US. Survey research shows over 55 percent of American Jews support the agreement and want the deal to go through because they know that without one, there could be another devastating war in the region. From everything I’ve read in the media, people are favouring Obama’s position.
In what ways will the deal make a difference?
If the deal is agreed, the extent of its impact on how the regime acts towards Iranian society and the Iranian people, its effects on trade, Iranian relations with the West and freedom of expression is unknown. But as a student of politics, I believe it will undoubtedly have a positive effect in terms of human rights. Historically, one could hope that it will not only energise the human right and democratic movements in Iran but also pave the way for a more relaxed political environment inside the country. I’m personally certain that Iran is going to live up to its commitments in the agreement because over the past two years it has lived up to its obligations. It is so desperate to re-open trade with the rest of the world and end sanctions and the only way that they can do this is by living up to the deal. Iran was compelled to accept it and that compulsion is going to continue. Having said that, there is no way to be certain of how a theological regime will behave when its leaders consider themselves to be viceroys of God on earth. We will have to wait and see.
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