Roundtable Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -
"Iran At A Crossroads?"
Chaired By: Senator John F. Kerry
Witnesses: Karim Sadjadpour, Associate, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace; Hooman Majd, Journalist; Michael Singh, Ira Weiner Fellow, The Washington Institute For Near East Policy; Mehdi Khalaji, Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute For Near East Policy; Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
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SEN. KERRY: (Sounds gavel.) This roundtable will come to order.
And I appreciate everybody's patience. We apologize. We had a vote on the cloture motion on the legal adviser to the State Department. And we hope that that will sometime get completed in the next hours. But we also had a Finance Committee discussion on health care which went over a little bit. And I apologize to all.
But we will now at least be able to proceed uninterrupted, which is helpful to everybody here.
This format is different from the standard way in which the committee has held hearings, and I really look forward to maximizing the possibilities of this format. And I thank my colleagues for being here.
The purpose is really to have a discussion, which others can share in, but to have a discussion without the formality of a hearing where, you know, it's sort of Q&A and time and it's over. And if you're on a good track you don't necessarily exhaust that track. And I think we lose something in that sometimes.
So this can be really a session where we're trying to make a policy, if you will. And you kind of have the give and take and the tug of war that you often have in those kinds of discussions -- in our offices or with the administration or with others. But it's a little more public. And I think can be valuable in that respect.
I invite my colleagues -- there is no protocol here in terms of seniority or first-come, first-served. We want people just to weigh in and have a give and take. And likewise, we ask our panelists to take each other on a little bit and push the thinking. And I think that makes it more interesting.
Let me just say that as an introduction to this effort, obviously the events of the last 12 days in Iran have captured the world's attention and its sympathy and its outrage as well. Those events have also raised many profound questions about the trajectory of Iran's policies, as well as our own.
So we're all looking for a clearer picture of what is happening behind the scenes and a better understanding of the fissures that are emerging within Iran's ruling establishment and society. We're all grappling with what these changes might mean for the diplomatic engagement that the president has undertaken and that we're all engaged in in the hopes of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon -- not simply an American goal, a goal expressed by Russians, by Chinese, by all of its neighbors, by nations that might be forced into a nuclear arms race, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, others in the Gulf states, not to mention our European allies.
It is too early for definitive answers to many of these questions, but it's not too soon to consider the historic events with a fast-paced, free-flowing dialogue that hopefully sheds some light on a complex society that is at a crossroads.
We all condemn the brutality perpetrated against nonviolent protesters. I think everybody felt sick, to say the least, when we saw the murder of unarmed woman who apparently was simply taking a break from a music lesson and came outdoors because it was hot and moments later found a bullet in her heart.
And our sympathies remain with those Iranians who seek a more respectful relationship with the world. But if we truly hope to empower moderates rather than merely score rhetorical points, we have to recognize how our words are heard half a world away.
America has a long and troubled history with Iran. While the echoes of the 1979 hostage crisis and the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing resonate still in our country, Iranians are acutely aware of a different history, whether the topic is the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953 with the support of the CIA, or support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, or the axis of evil.
This is not an abstract point or abstract points for the Iranian people; it's visceral. And it's visceral for the protesters in the streets, not just the hardliners. If we inject ourselves too forcefully into Iran's moment, we risk having our words manipulated by Iran's hard-liners to undercut the very people that we hope to empower. And we don't say that out of conjecture. We say that knowing what has happened there and listening to some of those people.
I believe that President Obama has gotten a difficult balance just about right.
We're fortunate to have with us a diverse group of experts to offer insight on this moment and its meaning. All of our guests have distinguished records of real Iran expertise. And I'd like to get, therefore, to that discussion as quickly as we can. So let me keep the introductions brief.
Karim Sadjapour is a familiar face to the committee and to many Americans. He's been seen on television. He's an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Previously he lived in Tehran as an analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Michael Singh is the Ira Weiner fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's a former senior director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council where he dealt with Iran issues on almost a daily basis.
Dr. Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and is the author of a forthcoming book on Iran. And prior to joining Brookings she was a senior member of the State Department's policy planning staff.
Hooman Majd is a journalist and the author of "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ." He served as a translator to former President Mohammed Khatami, and he spent several weeks in Iran during the run-up to this month's election.
Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, having trained for 14 years in the seminaries of Qom, the center of Iran's Islamic learning. He has a rare insight into the inner workings of Iran's clerical establishment.
So I think you can see -- the folks here who really carry the expertise are the ones we look forward to listening to. And we hope to have a spirited and informative conversation.
I ask each of the panelists if you'd keep your opening comments to just a few minutes each so we can get as rapidly as possible into that dialogue. And then we'll get the members involved in the questions. And as I said previously, once the discussion is under way I invite everybody to go at it. And I'll try to be a decent referee here.
So without further ado -- Karim, do you want to begin and we'll run around the table?
MR. SADJAPOUR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members --
SEN. KERRY: Have you pushed your -- everybody push the button on your -- the light is on, your mike is on. I think in the interest of facilitating, just leave them on.
MR. SADJAPOUR: Okay, great.
SEN. KERRY: Unless you fear something you say as an aside to the person next to you. (Laughs.)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN): Mine is off. (Laughter.)
MR. SADJAPOUR: I would like to start my introductory remarks with four points.
The first point, Mr. Chairman, as you mentioned in your introductory remarks, the harrowing images of the last week, the videos and the photos which have come out of Iran really underscore for us the brutality of this Iranian regime and the tremendous courage of the Iranian people.
When I was based in Tehran I attended many of these protests in the past. And the regime shock forces which people are up against are often indiscriminate in their use of violence. We've seen images of brutality against women, against the elderly, against even children.
And I think the fact that we had crowds of hundreds of thousands shortly after the election despite this tremendous risk which people are taking by going to the streets really underscore for us people's sense of injustice and people's sense that they were wronged with these elections.
The crowds have subsided over the last week, and I think it's due in part to the brutal practices of the regime shock troops. But it's also due to the fact that Tehran as a city is more akin to Los Angeles than it is Manhattan in the sense that it's a vast city, widely spread out. And it's very difficult for people to congregate in one area if the government has blocked off major highways and thoroughfares.
And so what we've seen is that instead of these mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, we see smaller pockets of demonstrations throughout the city. And these demonstrations are much more manageable for the regime shock troops to manage.
Second point is about the state of the opposition. The opposition is entering a new phase. Instead of flexing their muscles on the streets and trying to bring together large crowds, I think they recognize that the next step for them is to try to target the major arteries of this Iranian economy. And they've called for strikes amongst the merchant classes, the bazaar, among key industries like the petroleum industry, labor groups.
And what we've seen so far is that because of a breakdown in communications -- the cell phone networks are down, telephone conversations are closely monitored -- these calls for national strikes haven't picked up great steam yet. We've seen periodic strikes, but we haven't seen the types of strikes which happened in the late 1970s which helped bring down the shah's government.
The third point I'd like to make is about the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. And I did a long study on Ayatollah Khamenei where I read all of his major and even minor speeches over the course of a two-decade period. And one thing that's fundamental to his worldview is that you never compromise when you're under pressure. Never compromise when you feel under siege, because if you compromise it projects weakness and will invite even more pressure.
So I haven't been surprised that since the election results he's come down very firmly on the side of President Ahmadinejad. And the regime's reaction to popular protests has been quite brutal and fairly intransigent, because again, he believes that if he shows signs of compromising people are going to feel emboldened and ask for even more.
Lastly, about the role of the United States: I would agree with you, Mr. Chairman, that the Obama administration's approach has been well calibrated. It's been mature and well intentioned. I do think we need to continue to condemn these brutal, egregious abuses of human rights in Iran at the same time mindful of the history we've had with Iran.
I do think we need to be very careful about inserting ourselves into this momentous international Iranian drama which is unfolding. And I tell people, I defer to the leaders of Iran's opposition movement themselves. And if they continue to ask the United States to tread carefully and refrain from a more direct role -- they know their situation much better than we do.
The last point I would like to make is about the internal fissures which we're seeing amongst revolutionary elites which is really unprecedented. Someone like Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is a pillar of the 1979 revolution and Ayatollah Khamenei's kingmaker as supreme leader -- without Rafsanjani, Khamenei would have never become supreme leader -- is now in the opposition. And this is just emblematic of the types of fissures we're seeing.
And I do believe that whereas the Bush administration's approach unwittingly united Iran's disparate political factions against a common threat, I do believe that the overtures which the Obama administration has made so far has accentuated these existing divides between Iranian political elites, between a small minority who want to continue this death-to-America culture of 1979 and the vast majority of the Iranian population -- but, I would even argue, the majority of Iran's political elite -- who recognize that this death-to-America culture of 1979 is bankrupt in 2009.
SEN. KERRY: Good points. And we thank you for that.
Mr. Khalaji. Khalaji, is it?
MR. KHALAJI: Yes.
SEN. KERRY: Yes, Khalaji.
MR. KHALAJI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to make two brief points about what's happening in Iran.
What's happening in Iran in terms of election was not an ordinary election. I believe it was the result of a long power struggle inside the Islamic Republic between Khamenei and people around him and the old generation of revolution which -- who are known as reformist, including Mr. Rafsanjani, Mr. Khatami and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate.
This power struggle started 20 years ago when Khamenei came to power. And since Khamenei lacked Ayatollah Khomeini's charisma and his political and religious credential he could not -- he was not comfortable to work with the revolutionary generation.
So he started to create a new generation of politicians and he picked up his figures from Revolutionary Guard and Intelligence Ministry. And now the prominent figures of Khamenei's generation are Ahmadinejad, the president, and Ali Larijani, the speaker of Majlis, and other people who are now in very important positions.
So this new generation who were brought up by Khamenei, they did a coup d'etat through an election against old generation of the Islamic Republic. And we know that since several years ago Rafsanjani is talking about abolishing the position of the supreme leader and creating a council of the leadership. And it shows that this struggle was there much before the election.
I think one of the most important conclusion that we can draw from this election was that Ayatollah Khamenei was known in the West -- for most of Westerners as a pragmatist, rationalist, nonpartisan leader. And we were hearing here a lot about the difference between Ayatollah Khomeini and Ahmadinejad. And we were saying that while Ahmadinejad is a reckless, radical hard-liner, Ayatollah Khamenei is not like him, and his policies are different.
What happened this time is that Ayatollah Khamenei himself unmasked himself and explicitly said that "My policies" -- especially in his Friday speech -- that "My policies are closer to Ahmadinejad than Rafsanjani and other people." And while the reformist candidates during the presidential campaign were criticizing Ahmadinejad's various policies, Ayatollah Khamenei played the role of the spokesman of Ahmadinejad. And in his public speeches he was defending and supporting Ahmadinejad's foreign policies as well as economic and domestic policies.
He even responded to the critics who were criticizing Ahmadinejad speech in Durban Conference in Geneva. And he said even his statements in Durban were "wonderful" and they --
SEN. KERRY: You view that as a transformation, in effect, for the ayatollah?
MR. KHALAJI: Yes.
SEN. KERRY: This is something different for the supreme leader?
MR. KHALAJI: Yeah. I think that Khamenei unveiled himself. We knew that this is Khamenei who is behind this scene. And Ahmadinejad is not an important politician in Iran. And without the help of Khamenei and his office, especially his son, Mojtaba, he couldn't come to power without their help.
So the headquarter of this -- managing this election was in the house of leader, not in the interior minister or the Guardian Council. And that's why I think that this controversy in Iran is not something that happened last week and could be managed very soon.
It's much deeper, and it has fundamental consequences. And I think the Islamic Republic has already changed fundamentally.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. We'll come back to there. There are a number of questions obviously to pursue.
MR. MAJD: I'll try to be extremely brief.
Can you hear me? Oh, sorry.
Yeah, I think both Mr. Sadjapour and Mr. Khalaji made some very good points.
I think it's really important, given the context where we are, what we're talking about and who we're talking to -- the U.S. government. I think it's really important to -- for Americans in particular not to try to put a Western face on what's happening in Iran, not to try to view Iranians or what is happening in Iran in Western terms and what we like to think of -- or try to have some wishful thinking about Iran.
There are a lot of opinions here --
SEN. KERRY: Why don't you explain what that means a little more so people --
MR. MAJD: Well, I mean, you know, you see things in the media and you see things -- people talking about things like the Twitter revolution. I'll give you that as one example.
Up until last week there were 19,000 registered Twitter users in Iran. That is not a significant number of people. Plenty of people across the world changed their Twitter accounts to show that they're in Tehran, for example.
And so the idea that there's a Twitter revolution think is farfetched at this point. The vast majority of Iranians who went out and demonstrated initially, in what was -- Karim was referring to the 3 million that, according to the mayor of Tehran, who is a hard-line ex-Revolutionary Guard himself, was that the number was 3 million. They wouldn't have had 3 million people if they were using Twitter.
That's -- the Twitter generation is a small generation in Iran. It may be bigger here, but in Iran it's still not quite there in terms of that kind of -- the Internet use is not as much as it is here.
Internet penetration I think is something like 34 percent in Iran, which is quite high by the standards of the region. But most people in Iran use dial-up. The vast majority of people use dial-up, which means -- think back to 15 years ago; you used it two or three times a day. You don't -- you're not always on the Internet. And apart from that you've also got the government blocking the websites and so on and so forth.
And when I say we shouldn't put Western notions or Western ideas behind what is going on in Iran is because Iran is a very unique country that we have not basically understood for many, many years. We didn't understand it before the revolution. We don't understand it now.
There are people who do. I'm not saying nobody understands it. I'm just saying the vast majority of Americans don't understand it, including our diplomats and our politicians who have not had the opportunity to either visit Iran or to engage with Iranian officials or to engage with ordinary Iranians.
The Iranians -- and I'll include myself in that group -- the Iranians who live here, the Iranians who are sitting at this table -- we are not necessarily representative of Iran. We're very different form the average Iranian person.
The reform movement in Iran could not have gotten the kind of support they got after the election if this was about regime change, if this was about a tremendous anger at the system, a tremendous anger at the supreme leader, a tremendous anger at any of the clerics. They would not have had the broad, widespread support that they got -- women in chador, for example, marching in the protest, men with -- unshaven men, people who are known to be the religious classes.
If it was the Twitter people it would have been a very small demonstration and it would have been very easily suppressed by the government as they did in 1999 and 2003.
The student movement in 2003 got no traction outside of students mainly because most Iranians could not identify with their goals, could not sympathize with their goals. And yet those are exactly the kind of goals that we identify with in America.
So we like to put that face on what is happening in Iran. People are standing up to the regime. They're standing up to, you know, Ahmadinejad and his rhetoric about Israel, or standing up about his rhetoric about the United States.
I don't think that it's that yet. And I'm not saying that in the future it cannot become that. But right now it hasn't been that so far. And it's not a --
SEN. KERRY: What are the other great misunderstandings, if you will, of Western perception?
MR. MAJD: Well, up until now I think we've had this idea that Iran is very monolithic both in terms of its leadership and in terms of its people.
And the opinions of the people are the same. And the opinions of the government are the same.
This has shown that the leadership, as Mehdi pointed out earlier, is split. And there are these people -- I like to call them the people who believe that Iran should move into a post-revolutionary phase and the people who believe that Iran should remain a revolutionary state forever. Obviously the Ahmadinejad and supreme leader kinds of people in Iran are those who believe that Iran should remain a revolutionary state.
A lot of people, including religious people, including clerics, including people who have supported the Islamic Republic and have supported the system -- (inaudible) -- the rule of the supreme leader, believe it should move into a post-revolutionary state, which means to lose the slogans, to have better relations with the West, better trade, a better economy, which would result from better trade and better relations with the United States. I think most people recognize that.
The other misconception we have is that rural Iranians are not very well educated or their not particularly savvy or they're not very political. That may have been true 30 years ago, but I've spent time in rural communities. I've talked to all kinds of people, including farmers, truck drivers -- almost all of them have a child in college now in Iran.
Iran has a huge population in university. And this would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. So some of them are influenced -- and they've told me -- are influenced by their children, which is a very good sign and is a very good sign for America and for what we want to see in Iran -- what the West wants to see in Iran.
But these are things that basically people don't know. People talk about things like, oh, Ahmadinejad has a lot of support in the rural community, has support among the poor. That is true. He does still have a lot of support. But there's also a lot of people -- there are also a lot of people who do understand what Ahmadinejad has brought to Iran.
So I wanted to be brief. So I don't want to keep going on.
SEN. KERRY: No, it was very helpful.
SEN. : (Off mike) -- you said what it wasn't. What is it? What was it that brought 3 million people out? You're talking about --
MR. MAJD: Real anger.
There was one -- in the Islamic Republic of Iran, for all its faults -- and in people of Iran recognize its faults -- but they have gotten accustomed to -- generally accustomed to the idea that this is what their system is going to be.
The one thing they had, the one democratic aspect of the Islamic Republic that they had was their vote. And nobody could have imagined -- up until now -- that the vote would have been as fraudulent as it is. There's always been questions of vote-rigging, as there have been in this country and in every country in the world. And that's very important to remember. (Laughter.)
And in terms of legitimacy -- (laughs) -- you know, anyway -- not to go there for too long -- but I think the anger that they felt -- and it's again across a broad section of Iranian society -- not believing the numbers and the way the numbers were announced. There was this incredible anger. And when I speak to people in Iran who are in the leadership -- and I'm still able to call them on their phones, even cell phones occasionally, when I can get through -- that's really -- and that's one of the messages that they want to get out, that this has not been about regime change.
This has been about a real anger across the board that they were fooled into thinking that they had a vote. Up until now they kind of did. I mean, Khatami, when he was elected in 1997 he ran against Nateq Nouri who was the supreme leader's favorite at the time -- and the supreme leader all but said, "I want this guy to win." And yet Khatami won in a landslide and was accepted by the supreme leader.
So there's always the idea that the vote is actually pretty fair. Khatami himself once told me that the vote in Iran -- "Oh, they could never cheat by more than 300,000, maybe half a million." Well, the supreme leader upped it last week at Friday prayers. He said maybe a million, so -- (laughs) -- but he said not 11 million, which actually resonates with the Iranian people. They're thinking, well, you know, yeah -- 11 million votes -- how do you stuff 11 million ballots?
But the thing he didn't say was maybe they never bothered to count the vote in the first place, which is what a lot of people in Iran think.
MR. KHALAJI: If I may, I'd want to make two different --
SEN. KERRY: Can I just -- and I apologize for doing this, because I know I said I want everybody to get in, and I do. And I've broken it a little bit. But Suzanne Maloney has a time issue. And that's the only exception I'll make to this is that if we can get her comments in earlier and then we'll come back to you, Michael, and then free-for-all.
MS. MALONEY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KERRY: Is your mike on there? Can we --
MS. MALONEY: Hello? Yes, I'm sorry. It just wasn't quite close enough.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I will take full advantage of my 90 seconds, because, as you noted, with deep regret, I am forced to leave earlier than I would like to because this is already been I think a very important and interesting conversation.
And I would agree with so much and potentially take issue with a few things that some of my co-panelists have said. But I think the most important element of today's discussion is simply that it's actually taking place in this chamber.
Let me just say that -- three points. I think that what we've seen over the past 12 days in Iran has been absolutely unprecedented. I was in Iran in July 1999 when the student protests erupted in the streets of Tehran. And I believe that what we've seen -- obviously I haven't been there in the past 12 days -- but what I have been able to witness via YouTube, via the amateur video that's coming out is something of an entirely different nature, simply to the -- in the scope of, in the breadth, in the involvement and engagement of a population that really spans social class, ethnic groups and has transpired across the country.
So I think this is very important to recognize. Iran has experienced a lot of turmoil over the years -- a certain regularity to the eruptions of labor strikes and unrest in the provinces over economic issues. But this is unlike anything we've ever seen before.
My second point -- it echoes some of what both Karim and Mehdi and Hooman have said already - is that this is going to have profound implications for the future of the structure of power in Iran. What we've seen is not simply a profound and probably irreversible schism within the political elite -- and we don't even fully know the nature of it, because one of the key actors in all of this -- Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has not been seen or heard in public since this all began. And we're effectively speculating on what he may or may not be doing behind the scenes.
But at the same time we have I think on a popular basis something truly unimaginable up until two weeks ago, which is the development for the first time since the revolution and the end of the civil war that raged for the first few years of the Islamic Republic the skeletal organization of an opposition movement and at least, to some extent, a symbolic leadership in Mir-Hossein Mousavi. And potentially I think, as others have suggested, more tactical leadership if and when we begin to see some of the hundreds of reformist activists and dissidents who've been arrested in recent days emerge from prison. I would expect many of them to be hardened and to react differently than they have in the past.
I would not that even Mr. Khatami, the former president, who didn't go to the barricades in July '99 or in June 2003 when there were additional student protests in the streets of Tehran, came out very quickly and actually backed Mir-Hossein Mousavi and defied the edict of the supreme leader. This is something unprecedented and truly important.
We simply just don't know how it's going to play out.
But importantly, I think what we have seen is a crossing of what was still the final taboo or the final red line -- to use the Iranian vernacular -- of Iranian politics in the Islamic Republic, which was the infallibility and the "untouchability" of the supreme leader. I think what has happened over the past two weeks permanently calls into question his legitimacy in a very public way and makes his role up for debate in a way that it has never been in public in Iran since the start of the revolution.
Let me just conclude with a point or two about U.S. policy. I fully support what the chairman has said about the administration's response. I think the tone has been precisely right. It's been a difficult process simply because the situation has been so fluid on the ground. But I think, more importantly at this stage, we need to get beyond the semantics of did the president use the word "condemn"? Did he use the word "deplore"? Obviously we all deplore what's going on. There can be no debate about that. And obviously there are serious implications to inserting ourselves into what is very much an Iranian struggle for democracy.
But I think at this point the political debate in Washington ought not to be focused on parsing the president's rhetoric but on two primary issues: First, how are we going to go about implementing engagement? The president has suggested that we're going to move forward as he had intended with a policy of engagement. I think it's going to be tougher, obviously, given the context. There are those who would suggest that a consolidated conservative leadership in Iran will in fact expedite some sort of a deal on the nuclear issue.
I can understand where that comes from. I imagine it's conceivable, but I think it's unlikely. It's going to be a very tough road to engage the leadership we have, in my belief. But at the same time there is some precedent. The people, the interlocutors we were dealing with back in 1980-'81 to try to resolve the hostage crisis were not a particularly palatable group of characters. Their authority was up for question. We used a variety of efforts, including secret negotiations, the involvement of a third-party mediator, and frankly a lot of patience and persistence to come to a resolution of what was a very charged conflict that has been durable and lasting and respected by both sides.
So I think there is at least the possibility that even in this very -- in this environment that is not terribly conducive to engagement -- that we can in fact succeed.
One final point on policy: The other issue that we need to be thinking about is how we advance the broader cause of democracy in Iran. And I think we have to be careful to avoid jumping too quickly to what was perhaps the policies adopted by the Bush administration of "do it from here." Democracy promotion programming has not proven successful. Iranians have said time and time again they're not looking for this kind of support.
But there are things that we can do, whether it is interceding with Twitter to request that they defer some scheduled maintenance or more broadly set the tone in the environment for a more open involvement of Iranian dissidents and advocates with the rest of the world. I think there are ways that we can promote that cause without intervening in a way that would set them back.
I think, you know -- to conclude -- what is so important about the past two weeks has been what we've seen on the ground. I work on the Iranian economy and people are constantly asking, and I think expecting, some sort of uprising in Iran because of the state of the economy, which has been deplorable for many, many years. And particularly under Ahmadinejad's leadership we've seen double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment.
Iranians have accepted, very unhappily, those conditions. What they were unwilling to accept was an effort to steal what they considered to be the fundamental democratic right that they had. And in a sense, at a moment that is in many respects quite tragic, as we've seen a crackdown that has succeeded, there is something very hopeful in that recognition I think at this time.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Suzanne.
Are you able to stay for a few minutes?
Michael, thank you.
You wrap it up, and then everybody just -- we'll go in.
MR. SINGH: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. It's an honor to be here and I want to just reiterate your comments, your expression of admiration for the Iranian people and what they've been doing over the last few days. It's been, I think, remarkable.
In my last position in the Bush administration I was responsible for coordinating Iran policy. And I have a lot of respect for those in the Obama administration that have to do that now in a very challenging environment.
If I were in a policy meeting, as you described this, I think I would want to go through sort of what happened, what are the consequences and what should we do? And I'll try to do that in just 90 seconds.
I think it's -- I agree with what everyone's said. It's important to avoid the trap of solipsism here. This is not about the United States. And we shouldn't try to make it about the United States. This is very much about the Iranian people and about Iran and its future.
It does, however, have ramifications for U.S. policy -- I think very serious ones. And I'd point to three developments which I think are relevant and which others have pointed to as well.
First, the regime I think has demonstrated a surprising degree of insecurity: the brazen way that they manipulated the results, also the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei's personal involvement of it and his -- the fact that he felt the need to really defend Iran's system of government from what he felt was a -- perhaps an existential threat points to this insecurity.
Second, I think you've seen an acceleration of the consolidation of power by hard-liners in Iran, as others have pointed to. I think the Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a coup de grace in a sense -- or tried to deliver a coup de grace -- not only to personal rivals, Mousavi and Rafsanjani but also to other strands of Iranian politics that have existed since the early 1980s -- the pragmatists and the reformists.
Third, the Iranian people I think -- there's this great frustration at their inability to express their views and to effect change via the ballot box, and that then poured out onto the streets. And although they've subsided now, I think this is just the beginning of this crisis for Iran. I don't think it's the end of it by any means.
I see three results of this for U.S. policy -- three relevant consequences for U.S. policy.
First, I do think that prospects for engagement have dimmed as a result of this, not simply because of the optics, which are obviously something to be considered, but also because an insecure, unstable and increasingly hard-line regime is going to be less responsive both to U.S. outreach and to U.S. pressure, I believe.
In fact, I'm concerned that one thing we need to watch for as the United States is that this regime may try to stir up trouble elsewhere in the region -- on the Israel-Lebanon border, perhaps or elsewhere -- to distract attention from what's happening inside Iran, to change the story and change the headlines.
Second, I do think, though, that there'll be greater international support for pressure on the regime. Recent events I think have exposed Iran's regime for what it is and dispelled any notions that you've got a regime there that's interested in democracy or interested in political reform.
And although those first two points paint a somewhat bleak picture for the near term of U.S.-Iran relations, I do think that in the longer term this sort of clamor for freedom in Iran represents the best hope we have for peace in the Middle East and for stability in the Middle East.
So how should we respond? I know this has been a matter of fierce debate in Washington. And I think we need to sort of look beyond the next few days and think about sort of our longer-term policy.
And certainly, as the White House has said, our concerns about Iran's nuclear aspirations and its support for terrorism remain. And we still urgently need a successful approach to head off the confrontation that may result from those aspirations.
At the same time, I think it's natural that any administration would want to help the people of Iran as they seek freedom, as they seek their own rights. The question is, can we do both? And I do think that we can. In fact, I think that our policy would be enhanced and helped by vigorously supporting freedom in Iran.
I think that doing so would enhance the credibility of the United States with the Iranian people -- credibility that I think will be needed as we enter either engagement or pressure on Iran.
And second, I think that it would demonstrate to Iran's regime that there's a cost to flouting international norms in such a flagrant way. And I think that this is an issue that we can get our allies behind.
I think that this is also -- it would also reassert to people everywhere, and in particular to political reformers in the region, that the United States does in fact stand on the side of people who are struggling for justice. And our response in this sense transcends Iran policy and affects the world's perception of America's role within it.
I think that there is -- if a policy isn't done right, there is a good chance that it could be seen as meddling, it could be seen as interfering. That's something that we need to avoid. But I think that we have to try not to make this about 1953 or about 1979 or any of those dates. I think that that's probably what the regime wants is for it to be about those things.
This needs to be about 2009 and about forging a new policy and a new relationship, one that advances our shared interests along with allies while giving Iranian dissidents the respect they deserve and all the support that we can muster for them.
I think I few can do that, we'll write a new chapter, a much brighter chapter in U.S.-Iran relations.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN (D-MD): Mr. Chairman, can I --
SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much.
Of course, yeah; Ben, go.
SEN. CARDIN: I'm interested what happens to the reformers. What do you think is going to happen to the reformer in Iran and how stable the supreme leader is? Is there a real -- is there any real challenge to his authority either directly to remain as the supreme leader or to modify his stance as a result of the growing influence, at least prior to this election and immediately after of the reformers? Or does he just quash it and maintain his iron hand control of Iran?
SEN. KERRY: Who's got the best handle on that answer?
MR. KHALAJI: I think that Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, and President Ahmadinejad are relying most on the military and Revolutionary Guard and intelligence ministry rather than their social power base.
And we know that my father is an ayatollah, and as you said, I'm coming from a Qom and studied in the seminary -- and my recent contacts with Qom I've heard that the clerics are very scared about what's going on because they cannot take any position against Khamenei and they cannot support him.
And you know that the assembly after Khamenei's Friday speech, Assembly of Experts, the body which has the constitutional right to appoint and dismiss the leader, issued a statement supporting the supreme leader's speech, but there was no signature on it. And none of ayatollahs in the Assembly of Experts signed it, including Rafsanjani. So the signature was for the HR of -- the human resources of the Assembly of Experts. And I think that's very significant.
These reformists are relying more on the mass mobilization of the people on the social power base, on the clerics and they want to put pressure from the bottom of society on the head -- on the top of it.
SEN. KERRY: How long can they do that?
MR. KHALAJI: I think --
SEN. KERRY: Can they do that in a sustained basis?
MR. KHALAJI: I think that it's a lose-lose game for Ayatollah Khamenei. If he manages to crack down on people on the street he will lose his legitimacy. And it would be very difficult for him to maintain a military government for a long time. And he -- if he gives up, it means that we're going to have a president, a new president in Iran, who is not like any other president, but he's the president who's able to challenge the supreme leader power.
MR. MAJD: I think that's absolutely correct. I think we should be aware of what the Iranian government is doing right now and how they're managing this and how the supreme leader and his allies are managing.
First of all, what's very important to note is that Mohsen Rezaei, who was the conservative candidate of the four candidates who -- it was said that he had gotten 600,000 votes; he believed he got a lot more and was challenging the vote in the Guardian Council -- withdrew his challenge today.
So this is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards. This is someone who has up till now been very close to the leadership and the supreme leader. He was, by challenging the vote and asking for annulment or a re-vote -- a recount or a re-vote -- challenging the supreme leader directly. He's been picked off. So right now what's going on in Iran the way I see it and the way I read it and the way I -- people I speak to is that there are these groups, as Mr. Khalaji suggested -- in Qom there are clerics, people who are discussing these things behind closed doors. But the supreme leader is not idle. He is also working to start picking off the people that he can pick off from the opposition to his side.
And what Rezaei said was, "I'm doing this for the sake" -- he didn't admit that the vote was legal. What he said was, "I'm doing this for sake of the stability of the regime." So that's going to be a very big, key thing for supreme -- the supreme leader to do -- I'd say akin to the 2000 vote here, where it was -- Supreme Court made a decision which was really more of a political -- in my mind -- a political decision than a legal decision. And it was for the stability and, you know, the national interests of the United States.
That's the argument that they're making. There's another argument that's being made right now in Iran which is starting to work a little bit. And that is that this whole thing has been instigated by the CIA and by the British intelligence services.
It may seem comical to us -- and I know President Obama dismissed it yesterday and said it was outrageous -- but it's not as comical to a lot of people in Iran, particularly when they're bombarded by propaganda, state media propaganda and they have -- do not have access to Western media.
I said to one of the people in the Iranian government, today's government, just yesterday, I said: "You guys are making a big mistake by kicking out reporters, by not letting the media report, because if you let them report then they wouldn't have to rely on Twitter and on images from cell phones that you are now saying are all fake and being manufactured in Europe or manufactured in Langley.
All those things that you're saying they have no way of verifying them, and they're the media, so they're going to report it."
And he said, "Well, we would rather not have media that is biased than -- we would rather not have any media if it's going to be all biased," because they really believe that the BBC, the CNN network and some of the other networks are -- kind of have this coordinated plan.
Last night on state television, Channel 2 in Tehran -- I got a phone call -- they were showing what they claimed in Iran to be the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, they're biggest enemy -- a concerted effort by the Mujaheddin to start riots on the streets, including the killing of Neda, the girl you were referring to. And they said they had witnesses and they had people, they had film of this being rehearsed the day before with, you know, people with cameras and cell phone cameras with -- of the person. She was picked out of the -- you know, just picked out randomly, but they had an actor rehearse it the day before.
These are all things that are being shown on television. This is part of a concerted effort to convince the people who did come out on the streets, not -- they know they're not going to get the students or the intellectuals or the intelligentsia to believe any of this. But they understand that they can get some people to believe it.
And as they pick people off slowly and slowly, we have to be careful not to play into that. So every time we talk about anything in terms of how, you know, we're with the Iranian people or we're, you know -- any kind of statement we make is going to be watched very, very carefully by the Iranians and will be used.
And it's true of our media, and it's true of our government.
SEN. CORKER: Mr. Chairman, in light of that -- so with the backdrop of what's happening right now, the world community's looking, also with the nuclear issue, at increasing constraints. I think there'll be a resolution that comes before the Senate soon talking about constraining or stopping refined petroleum from making it into Iran.
There's a number of people I know that support Israel that are pushing that here in Congress.
I wonder, against the backdrop of everything that's happening right now, how you view efforts like that that may gain momentum that actually affect the population directly -- how you view those and whether they are constructive at this point in time or destructive.
MR. SADJAPOUR: I always like to defer to the people on the ground, the people who are leading these opposition movements.
And again, I have not heard from people like Mousavi or Khatami or even the former -- the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi that they welcome these types of measures, that this would necessarily help their cause. When and if they do say these things, even privately, I'm willing to change my mind. But I think it's -- we have to be quite humble about what we -- making proclamations about what the Iranian people want form Washington. And again, I defer to the people on the ground.
I would like to make a couple points on what we can do in my opinion which could be effective, however. And that is I think that what could concentrate minds in Tehran is not necessarily more strident statements from the U.S. government, but I think if we look to some of our allies, non-Western, democratic countries like Japan, like South Africa, like Turkey, like India -- if these countries also begin to condemn some of the practices taking place in Iran and express ambivalence about a relationship -- the future relationship with the Iranian government.
I think it's important for the regime to see that they're not only alienating the United States and Western Europe, but this is a worldwide movement which condemns behavior of the Iranian government. I think this is more effective than simply an amplification of existing U.S. punitive measures against Iran.
MR. MAJD: To go along with that, I would also -- I agree with what Karim says about leaving it in the hands of the leaders of the opposition to make the judgment about whether they want either assistance from abroad or even rhetoric from abroad.
SEN. CORKER: But the question wasn't really in context -- it has nothing -- the question is not related to what's happening on the ground right now. It's related to the separate issue of nuclear activity and the fact that there is a movement towards looking at blockading refined products separate from this democracy movement or the vote movement -- separate from that -- as it relates to the nuclear --
MR. MAJD: But they're linked. Right now they're linked. They cannot --
SEN. CORKER: I understand that --
MR. MAJD: They cannot not be linked at this point. So anything the United States Senate does or the Congress does or the president does is going to be viewed in Iran as being linked to the movement right now. If there's a --
SEN. CORKER: And so the --
MR. MAJD: -- sense of urgency I would say -- if there's a real sense of urgency -- and that's not my job to determine that -- then go ahead.
If there's no sense of real urgency, if you can wait, I would suggest waiting.
SEN. CORKER: Which was actually the point of my question, is it's a much more complicated issue now and that we need to watch knowing that there is this movement that has legs inside of Iran. It does complicate the other issue and should -- calls us, I think, to pause and think about what we're doing and --
MR. MAJD: I would agree with that a hundred percent.
And to just add to what Karim said about our allies: I think if we could put some pressure on Israel to not make any comments whatsoever one way or another about the Iranian situation it would be very helpful, because Israel is unfortunately a real flashpoint in Iran. And the minute Israel makes any statement it will be used by support for Ahmadinejad, support for Mousavi, support for the people of Iran -- any kind of statement from Israel is particularly damaging to anybody in Iran trying to do anything.
MR. SINGH: If I could, on this issue: I agree with Karim and Hooman that you'd be doing the regime a favor at this point if you changed the subject. I think that's what this sort of gets to. But I do think that you need to show the regime that there is a cost to the actions that they've taken, and that's where I would come back to what Karim said about perhaps -- in a sense we did this -- or this was done in the late 1980s towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war when Iran was lashing out in ways that were very destructive. There were Iranian diplomats expelled from capitals, Western ambassadors withdrawn. We've seen some of that recently. We saw it -- two U.K. diplomats expelled from Iran in a tit-for-tat action by the U.K.
I do think that if Iran sees that there's no cost to this when there's been such international outcry that that will really hamstring us on the nuclear issue when we do sort of eventually get back to that, which ultimately we'll have to. We have no choice.
SEN. KERRY: The news reports are obviously that there are some pretty brutal, repressive efforts taking place right now. What, if anything, can any of the observer countries and neighbors do with respect to that? Or is there a powerlessness with respect to it?
MR. SADJAPOUR: Well, let me tell you, Mr. Chairman, that yesterday when I read these reports of Siemens Nokia providing Iran the telecommunications infrastructure to more efficiently monitor communication and essentially more efficiently repress the Iranian population, I was quite outraged -- all the wasted hours I've spent in the past years with German diplomats who want to talk to me about human rights abuses in Iran. Well, they've provided Iranian regime the most fantastic tool to suppress human rights in Iran.
And I do think that, you know, Suzanne mentioned talk of engagement.
I think any talk of engagement should be put on hold right now. That's the last thing we should be talking about right now. It's kind of talking about renovating your house during hurricane season. This is truly a political hurricane which is taking place in Iran. And I think the signal which the regime should be sent now is not that the world is eager to engage with you, but the world is outraged.
And I think some of the practices under -- going back to the issue of sanctions -- we need to be a bit more intelligent about some of these sanctions which are in place. I'll give you an example.
It's forbidden for many companies to export washing machines to Iran because they could be considered dual-use technology. They could be used as centrifuges. Yet it's not prohibited for again a country like Siemens Nokia to engage Iran economically on a billion-dollar telecommunications infrastructure which the regime uses to suppress popular movements.
I think that there are many things that -- in the past the Europeans have been critical of the United States for not engaging. But I think there are areas in which we can lean on the Europeans and also the Chinese and the Russians to --
SEN. KERRY: How would you judge the moment when you think engagement is something that can go forward?
I mean, assuming -- I don't want to make assumptions that are contrary to what may be possible. But if you wind up with an Ahmadinejad presidency and you have the ayatollah -- even though it's been obviously secured through this remarkable oppression, et cetera, what's the sort of moment where the nuclear issues and the potential of the flashpoint with Israel don't assert themselves where you have to say, "We've got to talk, no matter what -- how badly we feel?"
MR. SADJAPOUR: Yeah, I don't think we're there yet.
SEN. KERRY: Obviously we're not there now.
MR. SADJAPOUR: Sure, sure.
SEN. KERRY: And I don't want any illusion that we are there now. But I'm asking when do you sort of either feel that or see that? How does -- how does that settle here?
MR. KHALAJI: If I may, I would say bluntly that as long as Ayatollah Khamenei feels that he has the full control over the situation, especially inside Iran, he would not give up. As long as we have a powerful Khamenei leader he would not give up.
I think that this -- what happened in last two weeks had twofold goals. First, it was in order to get rid of this -- the first generation of the Islamic Republic who were criticizing Khamenei for last 20 years directly or indirectly. And the second was to send a clear message to the West. I think the Khamenei's narrative about the West and this profound hatred of the United States and the Western countries toward Iran exists there. And after this election it was somehow reinforced. And I think that Khamenei now is very happy that the Western world condemns Iran. And he has a good pretext to say that okay, there is no way for negotiation. He's looking for a pretext to disrupt negotiation, the path to negotiation.
And as President Obama yesterday mentioned, the United States is offering this negotiation but it is up to Iranian leaders to show whether they want to go through this path or not. And we heard from Tehran through the state news agency that Khamenei is going to speak this Friday, too.
So what analysts expect from Khamenei this time is a tougher stance, especially against the United States. It would be a reaction to President Obama's remarks yesterday and if he would be tougher even on the reformist and opposition groups.
SEN. KERRY: Where does that leave us, from a specific sort of security interest with respect to the nuclear program?
MR. KHALAJI: I think that the -- Obama's offer for negotiation from my point of view has already been refused by Ayatollah Khamenei. Ayatollah Khamenei would not accept his offer.
SEN. KERRY: Do you -- the rest of you agree with that?
Do you agree with that?
MR. MAJD: I don't agree with that.
MR. SADJAPOUR: Let me just make a point about Khamenei's leadership style.
For the last --
SEN. KERRY: Can you speak to the --
MR. SADJAPOUR: Yeah.
SEN. KERRY: Do you agree that it has actually been refused? Or is there something else happening?
MR. SADJAPOUR: I think Khamenei is not interested in having an amicable relationship with the United States. But for the last 20 years his leadership style has been power without accountability.
The president has always had the accountability in Iran, despite the fact that Khamenei has wielded power behind the scenes. That situation is over. It's very obvious now that Khamenei has shown himself to be Iran's "despot in chief." He's a modern-day shah wearing a turban instead of a crown. And I think when and if the opposition sees its demands and calm is restored in Iran, when and if we decide we want to engage Iran, we need to go about it differently in the sense that instead of sending Nowruz greetings and talk preaching mutual respect -- I'm not calling for "axis of evil" either. But instead of that type of engagement, it's going to be a cold, hard dialogue -- as my friend -- (name inaudible) -- says, an adversarial engagement.
And we need to cite Khamenei for who he is instead of beating around the bush going to Ahmadinejad and say, "Okay, you're Iran's despot in chief; we'll deal with you as you are." It's not going to be friendly. We don't have to use gratuitously insulting rhetoric, but let's put the accountability on him. And let's make it clear to the Iranian people, to the Iranian political elite and the world that if engagement doesn't go forward that Khamenei is the impediment, because for the last 20 years he has not had accountability. And --
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Can I raise a different issue?
One of the things that we saw very visibly over the last couple of weeks is a different role that women played in this resistance. What does what has happened do in the future for the role of women in Iranian society? Will there be an effort to further restrict women's rights in Iran?
MR. MAJD: I don't think there'll be a specific effort to further restrict them. I think there was -- the leadership was somewhat uncomfortable with the role of Mr. Mousavi's wife, and people like Ahmadinejad are very uncomfortable with her playing that kind of front-and-center role. And the things she said, I mean, she said directly -- I saw her three weeks before the election and she directly said she didn't think the government should impose its religious values on the people. Those are the kind of statements that some of the clerics are very, very uncomfortable with, particularly clerics such as Ayatollah Khamenei.
But I think it's unstoppable. I mean, you've got a Nobel Prize winner in Iran who's very visible; you have now Zahra Rahnavard, who's the wife of Mr. Mousavi who is going to be influential whether the reform is to lose this round or not. You have plenty of other women. Now you have martyrs, women martyrs, which Iran really hasn't had since the times of the prophet and his daughters. (Laughs.) So now we have women martyrs.
So I think the role of women is going to be significant.
With 60 percent in college, you have so many factors right now that would indicate that yes, the role of women is going to be -- by the way, a lot of the things that women are fighting for right now in terms of equal rights are battles they've been fighting since before the revolution, not exactly -- some of them are after the revolution -- but something that a lot of female women activists, women dissidents in Iran say to me when I speak to them is that, the West -- again, going back to what I said earlier about now trying to put our values on Iran -- it's like we concentrate on something as simple as the hijab, and we see that as a symbol of oppression. And they say -- often people say to me, this is the last thing; we will get to that at the very end. We have much bigger issues in terms of equal rights to deal with. The hijab will be the last thing that we will deal with, partly because they know that the hijab is still a popular cultural topic for most people in Iran, so for us to say that you've got to take your hijab off and stuff like that and that will show that the Iranian women are free, they said well under the shah, we couldn't travel without the permission of our husband. We only inherited half of what our brothers did, and we didn't have the hijab. So we want to get those laws changed and then we'll deal with the hijab.
SEN. CARDIN: There's another factor, if I might. Do you want to respond to that issue first?
I want to know how significant you think it was that the Russian Federation almost immediately recognized the legitimacy of the elections, and whether this was the clear signal that Russia is moving even closer to the regime in Iran, making it more challenging for the U.S. policy of trying to isolate Iran and it's difficult without the support of Russia.
MR. SADJADPOUR: I wasn't surprised by that. I don't think we have much history of seeing a moral conscience in Russia in foreign policy. And to be very blunt, I think that Russia does not benefit from profound reform in Iran, and I think Russia, in fact, has an incentive to see this conflict between the United States and Iran persist for a variety of reasons.
One is that -- I'm just looking at it from Moscow's vantage point that the only major challenger to Russia and European gas markets is Iran. Iran has the second-largest natural gas reserves after Russia. And I don't think they want to see Iran emerge from its self-inflicted isolation. And the last four years the relationship between Russia and Iran has really increased; it's increased economically, politically in terms of strategic cooperation. So I wasn't surprised and I have no expectations of Russia or China.
But I was surprised by a government like Turkey, for example, that is a democratic country on Iran's border, and they rushed to endorse President Ahmadinejad as well. And Senator Kerry, this is point I wanted to make about engagement. It may -- there may well come a time when we do have to reattempt engagement with Iran, but I think doing so prematurely would really demoralize this opposition.
And I don't think that what's taking place in Iran, this dissent and the sense of popular outrage and injustice, has subsided yet. The crowds on the streets may have subsided, but I think the types of changes we may still see may be yet to come.
SEN. KERRY: When you talk about the brutality of the response, I mean, how much at risk are many of these folks who've either been imprisoned or who are at risk of being imprisoned?
MR. MAJD: I think they're being very careful right now, very, very careful not to -- the people who are -- have been imprisoned, including people I know who have been subsequently released -- who are not harmed -- within eight hours or 12 hours -- they're not some people who've been kept in prison for longer periods --
MR. KHALAJI: That's not my information. I've heard from -- (inaudible) -- the head of -- (inaudible) -- party, which is the most important reformist party in Iran, that especially Akhondzadeh, the former deputy of foreign ministry was beaten --
MR. MAJD: Beaten, yeah.
MR. KHALAJI: -- and tortured in the prison and also -- (inaudible) -- the strategist of reform who was paralyzed and was on wheelchair. He was beaten too. So they are -- especially in the prison guard, they are brutal and they established a special court for the trial of people who were arrested in these demonstrations.
But if I may, I would like to make another point and say that I think what President Obama yesterday said was very wise, and this is not -- I'm not saying this because I'm a fan of President Obama but because most of Iranian -- the majority of Iranian people I think they did not expect more from Mr. Obama, because he supported human rights and at the same time he said that we won't meddle in their internal affairs. But I think that meddling into the internal issues in Iran is something, but it doesn't mean that we can do nothing here.
As Karim said that we can encourage the western or the big companies not to sell to Iran the technology of censorship and surveillance. That's one thing. Another thing is that unfortunately United States does not have a good public diplomacy toward Iran and especially in this crucial time that there is a crisis of communication in Iran. They block the news websites and the block the -- even reformist website and they cut off the cell phones and everything people need to get news right. And what is interesting is that the Iranian officials says that CNN and BBC are the headquarters of the circle -- it's called Warfare Against Iran. And they don't mention Voice of America or it's after CNN and BBC Persian television.
So we need to review our public diplomacy toward Iran. The Voice of America, Persian TV is not professional, and it's suffering from serious problems. And if we want to send our message what better would be we need to have a professional media in order to communicate with the Iranian people.
SEN. KERRY: Well, that's good advice. Let me just give you a heads up. Unfortunately, I have a leadership meeting that I've got to go to in a few minutes, but I want to make sure everybody kind of gets a chance to summarize this and bring it full circle, if you will. And share with us your thoughts about what the administration shouldn't do and what it should do as we go forward here.
MR. SINGH: Mr. Chairman, I just want to make one point about this question of meddling and what the United States do. I think that there is a danger in excessive involvement in Iran, and as I said, this shouldn't be about the United States. But I do think that there's an equal danger of appearing to be acquiescent to the oppression of the Iranian people. And I want to just make sure we are sort of careful in our reading of history in so far as during the constitutional revolution of Iran, Russian troops shelled Majlis.
In 1953 the American government was, to some extent, complicit in overthrowing an elected leader. In the 1980s, I think, you know, what the Iranian people saw was our assistance to Saddam Hussein. So that narrative I think is more about actually participating in the oppression of Iran and the suppression of democracy in Iran as opposed to just interfering or being involved in any way.
And so I think that President Obama's comments and the U.S. approach to this has improved since the initial days, and we just have to avoid getting into a mind-set of walking on eggshells and feeling as though we can't be involved at all. I mean, I think the Russian example shows that if we don't stand up for justice and democracy in the world, there aren't a whole lot of other countries that will.
MR. MAJD: I just want to say one thing. The view from the Middle East -- and not just in Iran and I'm sure Karim would agree -- is that we are very hypocritical.
And if we stand up for democracy here with Iran, then why don't we stand up for democracy in Egypt when President Mubarak wins by 99 percent of the vote? And then when we do have democratic elections in the Palestinian territories, why do we then reject those elections?
MR. SINGH: But what's the right response to that?
MR. MAJD: Well --
MR. SINGH: Is the right response to be -- to simply retreat?
MR. MAJD: No, no, I think Obama --
MR. SINGH: Or is it to try to be consistent regarding our values?
MR. MAJD: What I'm trying to say -- either to be consistent with our values and therefore not support regimes where they have been dictatorial regimes that we are very close to, whether it's in the Middle East or in other parts of the world, because the governments like Iran can use that and they can demonstrate that to their people in the propaganda that they're very good it.
When it comes to public diplomacy amongst their own people they are very good at that. They can demonstrate that we are being hypocritical. And people in Iran will buy that. So we have to be careful, they'll say -- they're singling us out. They're singling out Iran because they don't want us to advance, they don't want a Muslim country to advance. They don't want us to have nuclear energy; they want to keep us down. They will say all those things, and whether it's true or not doesn't matter; the point is the perception inside the country and the way that we can damage the reformers.
And I just want to say one more thing in terms of what Senator Kerry was asking earlier about when do we engage. I think that the Guardian Council hasn't certified this election yet. They have asked for an extension or they've been told to give an extension and the extension is now Monday. That's when they will certify or not certify this election. They will probably certify it.
I don't know if this is buying time; we've got the supreme leader giving a speech on Friday. It's hard to say what the motivation has been behind this extension, whether it's to calm the streets down more or whatever. But they will probably, in all probability, certify Ahmadinejad as the winner despite discrepancies of up to 3 or 5 million votes. They'll say it's not enough to overturn the election. Once he's certified, then he'll be inaugurated. I mean, eventually he'll be inaugurated. But once it's certified, then I think you'll see Iran make a concerted effort to get its allies around the world to send more telegrams of congratulations, say, okay, now we have a president.
I think within weeks of that we have to look at -- I mean, the United States has to look and see what the situation is, where the reformers are, as Karim pointed out, where the leaders of the reform are in terms of wanting us to engage or not engage. And we can engage very easily. We have an ambassador at the U.N. and the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. is in Tehran right now; he's coming back next week.
We can start as early as next week if we want engagement. It doesn't have to be at the White House level; it can certainly be at the U.N. level. And I don't think the -- you know, I know we might disagree whether Khamenei would allow his ambassador at the U.N. to speak to the American ambassador, but I think -- my sense is that he will.
MR. KHALAJI: Yeah, I think that Khamenei --
SEN. KERRY: Pull the mike, please, please. If you can --
MR. KHALAJI: I think that yes, we have to wait until -- I think we have to wait the next two weeks and especially see what will be the reaction of Khamenei. And as I said, Khamenei is very focused on the United States and on the West and he would make some remarks on this in the next -- this coming Friday. But I don't think that Khamenei will allow any diplomats to negotiate with the United States, especially now.
And you know that even Iran did not accept Italy's invitation to go to Rome for their meeting. So they are -- they think that -- I'm quoting Khamenei; it's not my analysis. I'm quoting Khamenei. Khamenei says that the nuclear program is only a pretext; the ultimate goal of United States and the West is to overthrow Iran. If we give up on nuclear issue, the day after they come up and they ask us to give up on another issue until they overthrew the regime.
He doesn't think that the nuclear program is something that if you solve it, so after that you can normalize your relationship with the West. He thinks that there is an enmity, which cannot be solved at all. It's been Islamic republic and himself. As he calls himself he is the leader of the Islamic world. That's how he calls himself and the -- (inaudible).
He doesn't want to lose this leadership. He thinks that anti- Americanism is the only thing left from Islamic ideology. Islamic ideology failed in delivering its worldly and spiritual promises to people in the last 30 years. Iran is not a favored model for the economy in the Islamic world, for the culture in the Islamic world and for the politics. What will remain from Islamic ideology but anti- Americanism?
And Ayatollah Khamenei does not want to lose this stance; he doesn't want to lose his leadership in the Islamic world. And I think that as long as Khamenei is powerful and he thinks that -- he is self- confident and thinks that he can get over and have full control over the situation, he would not negotiate with the United States.
SEN. KERRY: Final comment from Karim, but let me just say that I think that's very, very perceptive and I've certainly gleaned that from a lot of conversations and from my last trip to the Middle East. I think there's a lot to what you've said. It remains to be seen whether that remains the hardened view. But breaking through on this notion that we're not actually seeking regime change and that there is the possibility of a different kind of security structure for the region is very, very difficult, has proven to be very difficult, notwithstanding things that people have said.
But anyway, Karim, and then I've got to run. I apologize. I know there's more that we could dig into; this could go on for some time.
As I said to you last time we met, this is not, you know, the last time we're going to meet. And so we'll look forward to pursing this as we go forward.
MR. SADJADPOUR: Thanks, Senator Kerry.
I'd like to preface my thoughts on what more the U.S. can do, but just briefly addressing Senator Shaheen's question about the role of Iranian women, because whereas 30 years ago the iconic images which emerged from the Iranian Revolution were these images of traditional bearded, middle-aged men, today the iconic image of reform in Iran is this horror story of Neda, who is a young, educated Iranian female.
And I think Iranian woman are really at the forefront for change in Iran and I have far higher esteem for Iranian women these days than I do Iranian men. And I say this as an Iranian man. I think that with regards to the current crisis it's far from over. I think Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei are not out of the woods yet; there's still a tremendous sense of popular outrage and there's still tremendous political fissures.
And I would again reiterate that we should continue to defer to the people on the ground. And at the moment if they prefer that we don't more directly intervene I think we should respect that, but when and if they reach a point where they think a more pronounced U.S. role could be effective I think we should strongly consider that.
With regards to moving forward, when and if there is engagement I would strongly echo Mehdi's comments in the sense that the supreme leader, I believe, believes he himself derives his legitimacy in part due to his defiance of the United States. And I can tell you that a former Iranian president once told me that Ayatollah Khamenei had once told him when he was president that Iran needs enmity towards the United States.
And I think there's three real pillars of this revolution left in the eyes of people like Khamenei and others. It's "death to America," "death to Israel" and the hijab as a symbol of Islamic piety. So I think at some point again we may need to recommence this engagement with Iran, but we should single out Khamenei, say we want to engage with the person in charge.
It's very clear to all who that person is. And let's make him accountable for Iran's economic malaise and political repression and social repression, because he hasn't been accountable these past 20 years.
SEN. KERRY: I think that's a very, very good summary, very important advice. We're going to sit and think carefully about the ways in which we can indeed help to create some focus on those, you know, particular requirements with respect to where the focus is in Iran itself. And I think you've help to really define it effectively.
Your notion that this is not finished is important for everybody to understand. I don't think any of us are sitting here -- and I hope that the Ayatollah and others thinking about this understand the degree to which, you know, no one here is giving up on the potential for transformation. And none of us believe this is going to simply stop because they may secure control for a moment now.
Clearly there is an undercurrent, there is a power that comes from Iranians themselves. And their problem is not with us here, sitting here today or with the president and engagement, though that presents a conundrum for them. Their problem is with the nature of governance in Iran itself and the failure to provide for their own people. And that always catches up to everybody at some point in time.
So we'll continue to talk with you and to think about this. We want responses from the Senate and the Congress hopefully to be in keeping with the kind of guidelines that I think you've outlined here about what makes the most sense and what really helps people on the ground. We need to be guided by the folks who are at risk and who are the ones carrying the real burden of this effort. And I hope we will be.
At the same time, we need to also think in larger policy terms about what we're preparing to do and what we think is appropriate with respect to the nuclear steps that Iran is taking if it continues or even expands that effort, because that presents us with a whole different set of security challenges.
So no matter what, it's going to be a complicated and difficult road ahead, but I still think there are ways to proceed. I think the most important thing is for the Iranian process itself to be, to work through. And none of us -- I think I'm safe in saying that none of us can predict, you know, what this outcome is going to be. So we're going to stay in touch with you and I thank you so much for lending your expertise to this discussion today. We really appreciate it very, very much.
And in the event, let the record -- no, I think we're not going to leave the record open. We'll just let this stand for itself and we'll pick up where we need to.
Thank you very much. We stand adjourned.