June 11, 2008

“Time to Talk to Iran” event and press conference – 06/10

I attended my first event on behalf of NIAC the other day. It was set-up by the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran (CNAPI) and the Enough Fear Campaign and was entitled “Time to Talk to Iran.” By setting up a line of attention-grabbing red 1960’s style “hotline” telephones the organizers were able to attract people to speak directly to Iranians. Apart from being fun and fresh, this initiative had a serious message behind it: America should use diplomacy rather than go to war with Iran.

I thought it was fascinating to get an insight into how NGOs attempt to influence policy, policy makers and public opinion. I hope CNAPI will triumph and they come closer to doing so with the support of members of Congress. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee, Ron Paul and former Congressman Bob Barr all attended the event and I was impressed by how passionately the speakers urged for negotiations with Iran.

As for the telephone campaign, I thought this form of “people to people” diplomacy was successful in communicating CNAPI’s message since it rammed home the point that Iranians are not so different from Westerners. Moreover, it showed that if we can talk to people in Iran then the American government can talk to the government in Iran. I spoke with a 25-year-old student named Haddi who is studying IT in Tehran. Our conversation lasted about 15 minutes and we discussed (with the help of a translator) everyday subjects such as what we enjoyed doing in our free time, how college is going, and places we would like to travel. I realized that we are pretty similar; he could easily have been someone with whom I go to school. We also talked about the relationship between the United States and Iran. He told me that he would like to visit here and see friendly relations develop between the two countries one. He also said that he wants peace and democracy and told me that other Iranians do too.

This drove home the point to me that it is people like Haddi who are going to be affected by any military action. His life will be disrupted and turned upside down. Force cannot leave civilians untouched and this strengthens my belief that negotiations are the best way forward. A military strike will only cause resentment from Iranians who value peace and democracy as much as we do and currently regard America in a positive light. Therefore the US should recognize this and look to peaceful means in order to influence Iran; that means diplomacy.

I hope that more events like this will be held and that they will garner increased press and public attention. By becoming involved in such initiatives we – the ordinary people – can make a difference and make our voices heard. If we shout loud enough we can make the government take notice and listen. As Congresswoman Lee proclaimed, “IT IS TIME TO TALK TO IRAN.”

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