From Aaron Wood, PJST Minor

On September 22-26, students and professors from Utah Valley University traveled to New York to meet with President Ahmadinejad from the Islamic Republic of Iran, in conjunction with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. However, the trip also included meetings with various scholars, academics and activists. The itinerary is listed below:

Sept. 23

  • Hadi Ghaemi: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
  • Farhard Kazemi: New York University Department of Politics
  • Erica Ehrenberg: American Institute of Iranian Studies
  • President Ahmadinejad: Islamic Republic of Iran

Sept. 24

  • Hooshang Amirahmadi: American Iranian Council
  • Madhav Kumar: Prime Minister of Nepal

Sept. 25

  • Eliza Young and Arch Pudding: Director of Research at Freedom House
  • Iranian Parliament Members
  • Eshan Yarshater: Director of the Center for Iranian Studies, Colombia University

We learned from Hadi Ghaemi that a critical mass of people in Iran have been looking and asking for socio-economic rights since the beginning of the “reform movement,” which many scholars attribute President Khatami’s first term as a catalyst for. However, following the movement was a clerical conservative backlash to many of the reforms enacted. President Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005 seemed to solidify the clerical elite’s hold on power. Ahmadinejad showed disdain and implemented oppressive measures to anyone in the opposition and gave a political face to the military dictatorship, which is jointly controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and some the conservative clerics in Iran, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Ghaemi explained that the people protesting in Iran are engaged in a civil rights movement who feel like they have a moral obligation to stand up to Pres. Ahmadinejad. The protesters that have been arrested and detained are subject to a number of human rights violations including rape, torture and murder.

Ghaemi also talked about the plight of religious and ethnic minorities in Iran. The issues raised by Azeri, Baluchi and Arab minority groups are often not made a priority by members of the pro-democracy movement because these groups reside in the periphery and outer provinces away from Tehran. The human rights issues raised and poor living conditions of these groups are a direct result of discriminatory policies. Afghan immigrants are rounded up and deported to Afghanistan, if not placed in Iranian prisons along the Iran/Afghanistan border and tortured.

Farhard Kazemi mentioned three components that are present in the coalitions, which have formed dating back to the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, the era of Mohammad Mosaddeq in the 1950s, the 1979 Islamic Revolution and in the 2009 protests. Liberals, clerics and merchants from the bazaar have historically put their differences aside and come together to form the coalitions witnessed during these significant periods of time in Iran’s history.

Kazemi went on to explain that the 2009 protests are not Islamic in nature but revolve more around human rights issues. In addition, while the ruling elite in Iran continue to fight amongst themselves over the formulation of Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, the younger generation is inspiring change and increasingly attracted to the American way of life. This dynamic poses many challenges for America’s foreign policy as it relates to Iran. A majority of Iranians believe that the enrichment of uranium for the development of nuclear energy is a fundamental right. Also, sanctions imposed on Iran and statements like “all options are on the table,” heard from American politicians can have an adverse effect and work against U.S. interests. U.S. foreign policy must be crafted in a way that prevents Iran from building a bomb, and embraces Iranians at the same time.

Hooshang Amirahmadi, from the American Iranian Council in Princeton, explained that the council’s purpose is to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran. In this pursuit, sanctions should be avoided and replaced with direct diplomacy. Also, Iran should be able to enrich nuclear material for peaceful purposes. Amirahmadi also stated the importance of not dismissing Iran’s security interests in the region. Some of Iran’s neighbors do have nuclear weapons and the region is not stable. Two of Iran’s neighbors are engaged in war with the U.S. and Pakistan is considered to be a failed state by many experts.

Amirahmadi mentioned four pre-conditions, which must be met in order for the U.S. and Iran to improve relations. First, both countries must listen and understand each other. Second, the policy agenda must be attractive and both countries must be willing to make concessions. Third, both countries must acknowledge the historical significance of each other. Fourth, the U.S. must understand and recognize Iran’s motivations.

The meetings and information mentioned above represent some of the activities that members of the UVU delegation engaged in while spending time in New York. The students who made up the delegation will be required to write a paper, which will be presented in a forum.