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Violence in Iran

Iran’s rulers are responding to demonstrations with violence, imprisonment and murder. That’s very painful for many of us. I believe at least one of our Iranian friends lost her life as the result of the Revolution in 1979, though I haven’t been able to find out for certain. I’m sure some of our friends have experienced similar grief either in 1979 or coming from the current violence. Can America do anything about it?

The background is the Iranian-American relationship or lack of it. The people of Iran have long wanted a cordial relationship with the US which helped support the nuclear deal that Obama struck with Iran when he was president. But Iran’s growing relationship with Russia has the political effect of hardening the American position regarding Iran, regardless of what the Administration might prefer. On the Iranian side, Trump’s renunciation of the nuclear deal made them unwilling to trust this country. Whether or not you think it was a good deal, breaking it eroded confidence that we would fulfill our part of future agreements and left little room for diplomacy.

The war in Ukraine deepened that split by giving Iran opportunities to deal with Russia. Historically Russia was a threat to Iran, which inclined many in Iran toward stronger relations with the US. But worsening relations with the US made it increasingly reasonable for Iran to supply Russia with weapons and it has. Thus the war in Ukraine embedded our relations with Iran into a much more complex and entrenched regional issue.

Europe seems to have partly reconciled to the US but I have no realistic idea what confidence building measures could bring Iran back to a bargaining table – unless either the Putin government or the Iranian theocracy collapses. Either of those events could make Russia an unacceptable partner for Iran and therefore open the possibility of better relations with this country. But I think the ground will have to shift in a pretty large way before there will be room for diplomacy. And I don’t have a good idea what intermediaries might be able to offer that could bridge that gap.

The circumstances I’ve just described make it almost impossible to do anything in this country about the horrible violence in Iran. We might once have offered relief from sanctions if the killings stopped. But the breech between our countries makes that or whatever we might once have offered useless. At this point I doubt either the American people or the Iranian authorities would stand for that kind of deal.

The only possible exception I can see would be a welcome hand for refugees. From an American perspective, Iranian refugees have been good friends and very productive citizens. I should add that my heart bleeds for refugees from many equally cruel circumstances. I wish Iranian-Americans didn’t attack each other over American policy toward Iran with claims that one or the other side in American politics has blood on its hands – it’s a fruitless response to their pain. Those calling for negotiations may not be accomplishing anything but they are not making it worse either. Those calling for armed confrontations are asking for trouble but are not the cause of what’s happening now. I would pray for the Iranian people and offer the demonstrators a place of safety.

The proverbial curse threatens “may you live in interesting times.” These are! I wish I could see a better way out.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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