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Iran: Nobel Laureate Ebadi Founds Peace Movement

Shirin Ebadi (file photo) (AFP) November 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has called for the creation of a broad-based "National Peace Council" to give voice to Iranians who want to halt a perceived drift toward military conflict with the United States.

Ebadi, a Tehran-based human rights activist and lawyer, this week invited all Iranians to participate in the creation of the national body, saying the initiative emerged from a group of activist lawyers called the Center of Human Rights Defenders, which she co-founded.

The council is seen primarily as a discussion forum, but analysts say it has the potential to offer an alternative to the pro-confrontation policies of the current Iranian leadership.

Appeal To Both Sides

Ebadi told Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati that the council would include "individuals who are trusted by people." "The National Peace Council will discuss ways to decrease political and military tensions between Iran and the United States and Western countries," she said.

Ebadi also called on the Iranian government to suspend those sensitive nuclear activities that are at the core of Western suspicions that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons.

The initiative "attacks Ahmadinejad's hard line, but at the same time it says that our nuclear energy rights should be recognized. And so, in that way, it is quite an important [initiative]." -- Massoumeh Torfeh, SOAS

At issue is the enrichment of uranium, which Iran has refused to abandon, despite directives to do so from the United Nations Security Council. Ebadi urged both sides to observe the norms of international law in the dispute.

"What we want is that the two sides should respect international law, and we warn them on this," she said. "The United States cannot have the right to deal with Iran outside the framework of international law, and Iran cannot build a wall around itself and say, 'I have nothing to do with international law' and pay no attention to [UN] Security Council resolutions."

Positive First Reactions

Reliable figures on public opinion are notoriously hard to come by in Iran. But Ebadi's peace initiative has struck a positive chord among the Iranian public, judging from Iranians who spoke to Radio Farda's Ruzbeh Bolhari.

"No matter to whom you talk, to the youth, workers, farmers, elder people, families, no one wants a war to begin," says Tehran journalist Siamak Taheri. "The reason is quite clear: we experienced about eight years of war, in the meeting [horrible] figures were given about the destruction of the war with Iraq. With regard to the peace-seeking nature of the Iranian people, it seems that its chance for success is very high and also [many] political activists have welcomed it."

Still defiant; Ahmadinejad at the Natanz nuclear plant, where Iran has been enriching uranium (Fars)

Analyst Massoumeh Torfeh, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, says it is too early to say what impact the National Peace Council might have on Iran's political scene. But she says that the number of prominent Iranians backing the Peace Council idea -- from the political, religious, intellectual, artistic, and student worlds -- could make it difficult for the authorities to move against them.

She also says that Ebadi has found the correct tone for the new body, by standing up for Iran's right to develop nuclear energy but pointing out that there are other rights.

"At the same time, we have another right, which is far more important, which is our right to security," Torfeh says. "So the initiative is two-pronged. It attacks [President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's hard line, but at the same time it says that our nuclear energy rights should be recognized. And so, in that way, it is quite an important [initiative]."

'State Of Denial'

The United States has consistently said it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis, but has refused to rule out the use of force against Iran if there is no other way to prevent it acquiring techniques essential for the building of nuclear weapons.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad's government have just as consistently denied their country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons.

But Ahmadinejad has never been able to plausibly explain why Iran insists on enriching its own uranium, when suitable low-enriched fuel for civilian nuclear power plants is readily available on the world market.

Ahmadinejad vowed earlier this week that Iran "won't give the smallest concession" in its disputes with foreign powers. If Iran persists in expanding its enrichment "cascades," it would eventually be able to produce highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium, which has no place in a civil nuclear program.

Mick Gapes, chairman of the British Parliament's select committee on foreign affairs, says the Iranian leadership is in a "state of denial" about their obligations to meet the needs of Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747, which imposed UN sanctions on Iran for its failure to stop enriching uranium.

Gapes, who has just visited Iran with a party of parliamentarians, told Radio Farda's Sharan Tabari Iran must realize that the international community is not trying to interfere with its right to develop a peaceful nuclear program.

"We have made clear to them many times that we are not trying to stop them having civil nuclear power," Gapes says. "What we were saying, what the British government was saying, what the international community was saying, was that Iran has obligations under the non-proliferation treaty to not develop nuclear weapons, and they need to reassure, and to build confidence and trust in the world that this is the case."

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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