Friday, January 20, 2006

Iran: Ebadi, Democracy and Nukes

From the Los Angeles Time. Shirin Ebadi is, of course, a human rights advocate who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Muhammad Sahimi is a professor of chemical engineering at USC:

Defusing Iran with democracy
By Shirin Ebadi and Muhammad Sahimi
January 19, 2006

LOST IN THE international fury over Iran's partial restart of its nuclear energy program, and the deplorable statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding Israel, has been the fact that respect for human rights and a democratic political system are the most effective deterrent against the threat that any aspiring nuclear power, including Iran, may pose to the world.

When the U.S. and its allies encouraged the shah in the 1970s to start Iran's nuclear energy program, they helped create the Frankenstein that has become so controversial today. If, instead, they had pressed the shah to undertake political reforms, respect human rights and release Iran's political prisoners, history could have been very different.

In the three decades since then, India, South Africa, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have joined the nuclear club — and most people would acknowledge that the democracies among them are viewed today as the least threatening. In the 1980s, South Africa's apartheid regime made several nuclear bombs, but the democratic government of Nelson Mandela dismantled them. India has a nuclear arsenal, but few perceive the world's largest democracy as a global threat. Nor is Israel considered likely to be the first in the Middle East to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

But North Korea's nuclear program is a threat because its regime is secretive, its leader a recluse. The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan is dangerous because the military, which runs the country and is populated by Islamic extremists, helped create the Taliban and allowed Abdul Qadeer Khan to freely operate a nuclear supermarket.

Iran's nuclear program began accelerating around 1997 when the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami was elected president — just as Iran was developing an independent press, and just before a reformist parliament was elected in 2000. The reformists supported the nuclear program but wanted it to be fully transparent and in compliance with Iran's international obligations. These were reassuring signs that it would not get out of control.

But instead of backing Iran's fledgling democratic movement, which would have led to nuclear transparency, the U.S. undercut it by demonizing Iran.

While Khatami proposed people-to-people dialogue between Americans and Iranians, Washington chose to block Iranian scholars, artists and authors from visiting the U.S. Although Khatami helped the U.S. in Afghanistan, President Bush designated Iran a member of the "axis of evil."

By 2003, when it became clear that Khatami's reforms had stalled, the world started paying closer attention to Iran's nuclear program. So, what had demonizing Iran achieved?...
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