Amir Fakhravar: First, I want to just explain. Craig said “secular democracy” in Iran. The secularism is a little different, maybe, from the secularism that’s in United States they are talking about. We love God. We are not talking about just get rid of God. We love God.
And I was Muslim, and I’m not anymore. And it’s the same thing happened to the millions of Iranian people. The new generation — they said, okay, if this is Islam, we don’t want to be Muslim anymore. We don’t want to just follow the Shiaism anymore. And they are thinking right now to how we can love our God and not be involved in any type of these religious corruption.
And about having the coalition of the opposition groups — I’m hundred percent agree with Richard. And if — I want to let Richard first to talk about it, and I want to follow this part about the coalition. Because Richard has several experiences about this part that — how much we need to have these type of things. And I will continue.
Richard Perle: I think the first thing to say is that the current approach of the administration militates against doing anything to hasten regime change in Iran. Not only is it not aimed at regime change; it proceeds from the idea that it is possible to sit down and negotiate with Ahmadinejad and his colleagues a set of arrangements that would be beneficial for the United States, centered almost exclusively on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So it contemplates nothing of consequence that would improve the life of the Iranian people.
In any case it’s bound to fail. We have been negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in one form or another, openly, covertly, directly, indirectly, through intermediaries. And we are negotiating with them today. And President Obama has again and again and again held out his hand to the Iranians. And the regime understands that outstretched hand as a sign of weakness. It’s a white flag. So it’s had no effect whatsoever on the regime.
There’s a sanctions program which is better than nothing, but it’s a weak sanctions program. I think there are ways in which stronger sanctions could be put in place, but that’s another topic.
So the first issue is, do we really want to remove the regime in Iran, or is there another approach? The administration believes there’s another approach. And it will be more and more obvious — I think it’s already obvious — that that isn’t going to work.
Once you decide that the goal of American policy should be regime change, then it seems to me you can begin to design a strategy to hasten regime change. You start with the fact that the vast majority of Iranians — and Amir has described how young they are, how they don’t share the beliefs that animated their fathers and grandfathers. The overwhelming opposition to the regime in Iran is fertile ground for organization and communication.
Any movement to turn out an entrenched regime requires that people willing to do that are able to communicate with one another. The first thing a totalitarian regime does is deprive individuals of the ability to communicate with one another, so that everyone is meant to feel he is all alone. And the sense that you are not alone, that in Isfahan and in Qom and in Tabriz you have colleagues, friends, who want to accomplish the same purpose, is really fundamental.
So internal communication is crucial. And that’s simply a matter of hardware and a little bit of organization, and there’s a great deal we could do to facilitate internal communications.
Secondly, if people are going to organize to bring down a regime, they have to be able to devote themselves to that purpose without starving their families to death. So some level of covert assistance, just money, that enables people to devote themselves to the organizational tasks of pulling together this inchoate opposition is necessary. And it’s not all that difficult to organize.
You can’t do it completely by covert means, because the political dimension is crucial, too. This country has to stand for the Iranian opposition. And it has to be clear about that, and Obama has been anything but clear about it. The few comments he’s made that could be interpreted as expressing some modicum of sympathy for the dissidents was made too late, and it was too little, and it was under pressure. There’s no sense that this government is genuinely sympathetic to the aspirations of the Iranian people. We need to change that. Because that is an amazingly powerful galvanizing force.
So you have three things. You have demonstrable political support. You have support with respect to communications. And we could get into the details of that, but it’s very important — including, by the way, the ability to communicate to the outside world in a timely fashion. I mean, there are terrible things going on in Iran. And if they were more visible, more people would be animated to oppose the regime both inside and outside the regime. And thirdly, you need to provide a little bit of sustenance to people who are prepared to risk their lives but have to be able to operate effectively.
The fourth area is sanctions, and we can get into that later.
Moderator: Amir has been extremely busy trying to promote the idea of oil sanctions against Iran, which would, in his mind, deprive the regime of currency. And I think that we all know that, if we could get that passed, that it would be another thing that would help.
But in particular, I want — if you could, Amir, to explain a little bit about the infiltration of the regime into the Persian Service of the Voice of America, and how this has slowed the progress of the Green Movement inside Iran, and how it has actually hurt the movement, and what you’re doing about that.
Amir Fakhravar: And I want to answer this question to just continue and follow up with the last question. We should have plan and strategy. And the US government should have strategy. And right now, [as I see this] administration, they don’t have any type of plan, any type of policy for Iran. They’re just going day by day what’s happening.
And the idea of negotiation is the worst thing they can talk about it. Because they are giving legitimacy to Islamic Republic. And they should just forget about this idea. Because it’s not going to happen. They can’t go and talk with a monster. They should do their homework about the Islamic Republic and about the mullahs to know who they are. They are not the normal humans.
And you can’t go and talk with a monster and say, Please, monster, don’t kill your people. And they would say, Ha. At all they can’t understand what are you talking about. And when you are saying, Okay, don’t stoning your prisoners, and they’re saying, Okay, we are hanging them — they can’t understand it. And we should just forget about that.
Two years ago, during my speech in UK Parliament, the CNN asked me this question—if Barack Obama came to the power and wanted to negotiate with Islamic Republic, what would you think? I said good luck. If he can find someone to talk to, okay, let’s go. He wrote several letter to the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader, to Ahmadinejad. And no answer. And this year, September, during the — what’s it — United Nations gathering, he said the door is still open. And exactly after Ahmadinejad came and said, Barack Obama, are you sure you didn’t do 9/11?
Okay, we should go directly for three things. First, we should cut the lifeline of mullah [through an] oil sanction. It’s possible. I’m not talking about the gasoline sanction. I’m talking directly about oil sanction. Last year, Iran had $83 billion from selling oil. Okay, they are using this money to pay salary, three times more than regular, to the Revolutionary Guard and Basijis to attack the people.
And they are paying this money to buy friends in South America; maybe to create another Hezbollah, the second Hezbollah for United States. They created the first one in 1982 in south of Lebanon for Israel. And they are working here in Venezuela. Just please, look at this part, what they are doing here, and why they are — they spent $1 billion for a new TV, Islamic Republic’s official TV Spanish language. What they want in South America?
And also, they can use that money, petrodollars, to support Hezbollah and Hamas. And the fourth part — they are using that money to continue their stupid nuclear program. Okay, if they don’t have this money, they can’t do any of these things. That’s easy. And I know it’s hard to achieve. But it’s possible to think about it and go for it.
We had lot of success. We had the great conversion with the Canadian government. And they said, We are ready. If you can have the US Congress, we will follow them. And the same thing we heard from the French government, and we heard from the Italian government. And we are right now in the middle of negotiating with them about this part.
The first is oil sanction. Second is having the Voice of America as the best tool to talk with the Iranian people inside Iran. They need education. And right now, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the head of Voice of America — they have $700 million yearly to just broadcast the message. Their mission is promote democracy and freedom, and to tell the truth about United States to make the better face of United States outside of the country.
But what they are doing with this money? Right now, Voice of America became the best help for Islamic Republic. And they are just broadcasting the anti-American message and anti-Israel message. And they’re just making fun of United States government, United States Army. And they are just sending the message to give hope to Revolutionary Guard — you did a great job, you killed today 20 American soldiers. And it’s wrong!
And they are not giving time to the oppositions. They (inaudible) me [and my entire] organization– more than 8,000 student activists inside and outside of Iran. And they directly told us, You are pro-American. We don’t want to give you time. We need Voice of America to educate the Iranian people inside Iran and to educate the Iranians outside Iran.
During their campaign for — Presidential campaign two years ago, the Voice of America — we have officially 900,000 Iranians in United States. They have a lot of money. And Voice of America asked all of them to vote for Barack Obama directly. And that’s illegal. And 95 percent of Iranians in United States — they voted for Barack Obama. Because they thought Barack Obama will help the movement in Iran. And after Green Movement happened, all of them said, Oh, my God, what did we do? Why he is not supporting the Green Movement?
The Voice of America needs to be changed.
And the [third thing] is to create something like government in exile, not maybe calling government in exile — but start to practicing to having alternative. And we are in the middle of this process.
Now sorry, I know I’m talking too much.
Moderator: No, no, no, no, this is good.
I’m going to open it up for questions. I’ll just make one announcement. Because this won’t get there and leave time for questions. But I do want to say that through private philanthropy, the Iranian Freedom Institute, which Amir founded, has announced that it is going to be holding an Iran Democratic Transition Conference in Washington, D.C. in January.
There are Iranian exiles around the world that have been modeling a new constitution for Iran based on the United States Constitution. This conference will be the first of its kind being held under the auspices of the Institute of World Politics in Washington. But this is going to be bringing together Iranians in different groups that have a severe distrust of one another. This is going to be in Washington, D.C. in January — 27th. 22nd, I’m sorry.
Q: Is there any way — this is for Richard and Amir — is there any way, other than like sanctions, to try and peal the Revolutionary Guard and the Basiji away from the government and toward the people, as happened in Yugoslavia? Or are they all imported from outside, so they don’t feel, oh my God, we’re killing our own children?
Amir Fakhravar: It is a short comment. It already happened. Because they realized during the Green Movement, several of the people [they] were killed — they were the kids of the ruling class. Mohsen Rooh-al-Amini. His father was one of the top-10 head of Revolutionary Guard. And it happened in Iran. Then the family started to say, What we are doing? They are not enemy. Why the Supreme Leader telling us they are enemy? They are our kids, they are our family. And they need to just — we need a little more time to see that things will be everywhere.
Q: This question might be a little complex, but bear with me.
I get so concerned about this Green Movement thing. Back in the 1979 Revolution, my crazy Marxist sister ran over to Iran and conducted a march of 250,000 women through the streets of Tehran. And she got up in the city square and called the Ayatollah a male chauvinist pig. And so they came in the middle of the night, and they abducted her and put her into a dungeon, and terrified her for days.
Now, the reason that my sister had gone there was because she was an avid Marxist. Because that was really the Marxists fomenting revolution in Iran. And the mullahs stole the revolution away from them.
Now, this is what concerns me — every Marxist I’ve known for the last 45 years in America is part of the Green Movement in America. And you said something about communists being involved in this movement. Now, somebody said to me, wait — because I was saying, the Greens, the Greens, wait — this is the new Marxist movement. This is the worldwide Marxist movement. They’re all calling themselves Greens now. And they said, no, no, no, the Green thing is an Iranian thing. It’s a different thing.
And I’m wondering, is this a different thing?
Amir Fakhravar: First, the Marxist color is red. And I hate Marxism. And you are right — in this country, the activists calling themselves Green Movement they are trying to just hijack the movement. They are Marxist. I can name the professor in Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi. He’s acting as a leader of Green Movement here, and going around. And he has a lot of access to the universities to make speech.
And a month before the election, he had an interview, special interview, with state TV in Iran, Channel 4. And he said, “You know, I was Marxist during the revolution. But when Khomeini came to power, I did my research on Khomeini. I found Khomeini as a Prophet Mohammad for our age, and I converted to Islam from Marxism, a month before election.” And after election happened, and he saw millions of new generations — okay, I’m the leader of Green Movement. But the people inside Iran, the Green Movement [means something else] — it’s pro-American, they love America. When they changed the chant, “death to America,” to “death to Russia” and “death to China,” that was the best message to the world that we love America, and we don’t have anything against America, we are against the Marxists. So –
Richard Perle: Can I just add quickly to that? You’re right to be apprehensive. Because the Communists are well-practiced at seizing opportunities like this. It is exactly the reason why we should be now putting together the organizations that, after things change in Iran, we can have some confidence in. Because people will emerge out of nowhere. And it’s important to do that vetting now, because you don’t have any time to do it when the barricades are coming down.
Q: My question is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. In June, I was in a conference in Philadelphia. And Vice Prime Minister Ayalon was there and was asked about the United States abandoning Israel and how that would affect Israel striking Iran. And he said — and I was in the audience — “We will do what we have to do, when we have to do it.” Could you guys address the issue of Israel striking Iran in light of today’s session?
Richard Perle: The considerations among Israelis as to whether to take preemptive action in order to stop Iran from crossing a line in becoming a nuclear weapons power is narrowly focused on that — on nuclear weapons — although one could argue that 60,000 Hezbollah-supplied rockets — Iranian-supplied rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon is a pretty menacing situation, too. And so maybe there are other problems that should be dealt with. And regime change solves a lot of these problems.
But the Israelis are certainly going to look at whether, at the last possible moment, they are faced with a choice between a nuclear armed Iran or military action against critical sites associated with the Iranian nuclear program. And there are other things that can be done as well, and we’ve seen some of that. We saw a computer virus infecting some of the control systems in the Iranian nuclear program. No Israeli has told me that that software was designed in Israel, but it seems to me pretty likely. There have been some Iranian scientists who’ve met untimely deaths.
So the Israelis will use the full range of means to stop a nuclear weapon. The question is, when do you get at the point where you have to make that choice? And it is not, obviously, when the first nuclear test takes place.
In 1981, the Israelis attacked the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, years in advance of the ability of that reactor to contribute to a nuclear weapons program. Years in advance. And they did it then because it was the last moment at which they could destroy that facility without spreading nuclear material in a populated area. And that, the Israelis thought, would be politically impossible. So reluctantly, they took the action that they did.
There is a similar breakpoint, tipping point, here. I can’t tell you what it is. But it is almost certainly related to actions by Iran that would put a tailored military operation beyond the realm of the possible or politically feasible. So depending on what judgment the Israelis make, it could happen at any moment.
I believe, if it comes to it, they will not allow Iran to become a nuclear weapon state.
Moderator: We have time for just one more question. And see this young lady in the middle there — has been waiting.
Q: What effect would a strike by Israel have on a potential revolution?
Richard Perle: It’s a very interesting question. There is a lot of groupthink on this question within the US administration and in the intellectual community on campuses and elsewhere. And the narrative is very simple — it will unify the people of Iran behind the regime. There’s no way of knowing that. You can’t collect opinions in any systematic way under the circumstances that exist in Iran. People don’t respond to surveys.
So you’re guessing. And I believe it could go either way. It is possible that people would rally around. It is also possible that people will say the regime has brought us to this terrible situation. In the end, I think a great deal depends on how the attack is executed.
Suppose it could be done without physical violence. Suppose the computer virus had not just disrupted but had actually destroyed the program. Would Iranians rally around the administration? I think not. I think they’d continue to harbor the intense dislike.
So suppose it’s done with great precision. Suppose it is in fact a military strike, but the only things destroyed are a few critical facilities, very few people are killed. The population as a whole doesn’t suffer significantly. Well, we just don’t know. But I think it’s a great mistake to assume that the only possible outcome of what would, of course, be a last resort, last-ditch effort by the Israelis — that the only possible outcome will make the situation worse. Because in at least one important respect, it would make the situation much better.
Moderator: I want to thank you all for being here this morning. And please extend a round of applause to our two guests.
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