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What Does Iran's Green Movement Want From Obama?

Opposition protesters in Tehran
Opposition protesters in Tehran
Members of the Green movement opposed to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad voiced a clear demand to U.S. President Barack Obama this week.

Thousands protesting in Tehran streets on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover on November 4 called on Obama to choose sides with either the Iranian government, or their struggle against that government, which they don't consider legitimate.

Opposition members believe that Ahmadinejad was reelected as the result of massive vote-rigging in the June 12 presidential vote.

"Obama, Obama -- either with us, or with them!" chanted opposition members as they returned to the streets to protest. (Watch video)

Nuclear Deal

Amir, a Tehran-based journalist and supporter of the opposition, tells RFE/RL the chant is a reaction to what he describes as the United States' "overinclination" to strike a deal with the Iranian government over the ongoing nuclear crisis, while disregarding the opposition movement.

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently offered Tehran a deal agreed to by the United States, Russia, and France that called for Iran to export its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad, where it could be refined into nuclear fuel that Iran could use for civilian purposes.

The deal, which Iran has rejected, was intended to quell Western concerns over the nature of Iran's nuclear-enrichment activities. But the international community's dealings with the Iranian government has left opposition members worried that their effort to expose the government as illegitimate is being undermined.

Amir, who requested anonymity due to concerns over his safety, says the opposition believes that the United States should be not be overeager to negotiate with the Iranian government, whose leverage might be weakened as a result of the political crisis it faces at home.

He warns that any "mistake" by the Obama administration, which has made a concerted effort to increase engagement with Iran, can undermine the United States' popularity among Iranians. "The United States has many supporters in Iran, more than any other country in the region." says the Tehran-based journalist.

Mostafa Khosravi, a member of the policy-making committee of the Graduates Association of Iran, says the United States and other Western countries have so far given them rather tepid support.

"Countries that consider themselves human rights defenders only react when their own citizens come under a great amount of pressure in Iran, or when their interests are being threatened," says Khosravi.

Khosravi, whose group has come under great pressure by the Iranian establishment, says the Green movement doesn't want its independence to be jeopardized by foreign interference. But he adds that it expects the West not to close its eyes on the serious human rights abuses that are taking place in Iran.

Violence Against Protesters

Witnesses and protesters who took part in the November 4 protests have told RFE/RL that security forces used excessive force against peaceful protesters. Amateur videos from the protest show security forces beating up protesters with batons and using tear gas against them.

The White House expressed concerned over the violence and said that it is monitoring the situation.

Members of the opposition movement, however, say that they want a stronger condemnation of the treatment against them.

Khosravi says if the international community does not take strong stances against the crackdown, the regime could use greater force against the opposition in the future.

Khosravi describes the November 4 crackdown as a “naked violence“ against protesters challenging the Islamic establishment.

He adds that it is likely that the establishment wanted the amateur videos to be distributed to create “an atmosphere of fear."

He says the Iranian establishment should be publicly pressed to respect human rights and those responsible for the clampdown should be publicly denounced.

Journalist Amir says negotiations with Iran should be transparent and human rights issue should be integrated into discussions with the Islamic Republic.

Iran's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, expressed a similar view in a recent interview with RFE/RL.

"Talks with the government of Iran should not only focus on the nuclear issue; human-rights and democracy-related issues should also be discussed," Ebadi said.

Reformist journalist Serajedin Mirdamadi, who campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi ahead of the contentious June election, tells Radio Farda that a deal with Tehran that is solely focused on the nuclear issue will not be a lasting one.

He says that the nuclear issue is “the most important issue” for the United States, but if the issue of human rights violations and democracy is not solved in Iran, then he believes that there won't be a stable and permanent solution to the crisis between the two countries.

Musavi and reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, who are seen as the leaders of the Green movement, have not publicly commented on the U.S. stance toward Iran and the opposition movement. But Musavi did say in his latest statement that, "if needed, foreign countries are ready to trade Iran's [Green] movement at the negotiation table with a clear conscience."

A commentary posted on "Rahesabz," one of the websites devoted to the Green opposition movement, says that while the movement pays no attention to the "repetitive slogans" of the Islamic establishment, it is also not ready to give a red carpet welcome to America either, "despite what Iranian leaders claim."

The commentary adds that the leaders of the Green movement are watching the U.S. actions carefully and assessing it based on their national interests.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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