For nearly three years, Peace Action has been a leader in preventing the Bush Administration from conducting a war on Iran. In 2006, we coordinated a meeting of key nonprofit leaders and founded the Iran Policy Working Group – a group of over 100 leaders that share information and strategy. For years Peace Action led meetings with nonprofits and our congressional allies to form inside-outside strategies. Additionally, three Peace Action staff, including myself, traveled with delegations to Iran to practice citizen to citizen diplomacy.
Because of this work, the Fellowship of Reconciliation invited Peace Action to join over 100 leaders to meet with the President of Iran today, September 24, 2008. Here are some thoughts about the exchange.
When I went to Iran I got to meet with one of the eleven Vice Presidents. It was then I learned that Iranian politicians like to talk in religious platitudes. President Ahmadinejad is no different. He spent the first half of his response to twelve questions posed by the group discussing the promotion of ethics, morality and religion.
Once he started answering questions, he reiterated many things I’ve hear before. On the question of nuclear weapons he said, “we think that the time for the atomic bomb has come to an end.” It is under reported that Iran has a religious fatwa against nuclear weapons. In other words, it is against Islamic law to possess nuclear weapons.
On the issue of war, he stated, “Iran will not seek war with anyone.” This is not surprising as Iran has not attacked another country in hundreds years. The President also duplicated our call to bring on the troops home from Iraq.
Ahmadinejad promised to push for more talks and exchanges between our two countries as well as making it easier for Americans to get visas in hopes that the U.S. will make it easier for Iranians.
The President’s words were not all rosy. He pushed his very pro nuclear power stance. And while Ahmadinejad boasted of 70% of university students being women and that women enjoyed more rights than many other Arab countries, Iranian women still face discrimination and harsh behavioral and dress codes. Also, the Iranian government continues to quash dissent by closing newspapers, banning and censoring books and websites and beating and arresting peaceful protesters. When I was in Iran, I was unable to meet with any peace groups.
If you ask our Student Peace Action Network coordinator, Jonathan Williams, how the police mistreated him at the Republican National Convention, one could level many of the above criticisms on the U.S. government.
Overall, the meeting felt productive and I commend Ahmadinejad for spending two hours with us. I doubt President Bush would do the same. We have until January of next year to thwart the Bush administration from military intervention in Iran. We must keep vigilant for peace.