Several people have asked me, now that Iranian-American Roxana Saberi has been sentenced to eight years in Iranian prison, if I have reconsidered my opinions about Iran and the importance of American-Iranian diplomacy. If anything, this current crisis has only deepened my convictions on both counts.
As I’ve written here before, I certainly don’t harbor any illusions about the more odious aspects of Iranian politics. In fact, I wrote precisely that upon my return from my trip to Iran this past fall:
None of this is to sugar-coat the more disturbing aspects of the Islamic Republic. If our delegation was ever tempted to do so, we received a hard dose of reality when we read in the Tehran Times about a public hanging of two men convicted of bombing a mosque that was scheduled to take place in Shiraz shortly after we were there. Yes, we are justified in recoiling from reports such as these – and we’d be foolish to deny that there are troubling human rights issues that Iran would do well to address. But at the end of the day, the solutions to these problems are certainly not ours to impose.
How do we further Saberi’s cause and for all who suffer from human rights abuse within Iran? The answer is the same as it ever was: by choosing to speak out and by supporting the grassroots efforts of those citizens and groups on the ground who are directly affected by these violations. However if we make this choice, we cannot do it selectively – we must apply the same criteria to all human rights abuse whenever and wherever it might occur. Indeed, that’s what makes the current diplomatic dance over Saberi’s fate is so complex and delicate. For at the end of the day, we Americans must be willing to admit that we are on fairly slippery moral ground whenever we speak out against things like wrongful arrest, imprisonment without due process, and the absence of legal transparency.
Many analysts are suggesting that Saberi is being used as a political pawn between Iran’s hard line judiciary and President Ahmadinejad, whose administration seems to be inclining toward diplomatic engagement with the United States. Others point out that Ahmadinejad is all too happy to exploit this impasse as a feather in his cap in Iran’s current election campaign. Either way, Roxana Saberi’s plight seems to be a symptom of some significant growing pains within the Islamic Regime as well as in their relationship to the international community. The long-term stakes are high – all the more reason that this crisis must be handed with diplomatic skill and care rather than the tired, counterproductive saber-rattling of old.
Speaking of nasty international diplomatic imbroglios, I’ve got some thoughts about the loud noises coming out of Durban II. More on that later…
Addendum 4/21/09: Click here to send a personal letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, urging him to review Saberi’s trial and conviction and to release her immediately from prison.