Campaign for Peace and Democracy Visit to Iranian Mission
Our group had tried and failed to get an appointment with the Iranian Mission to the UN, starting in late January 2011. We never got a yes or no answer. So after we finished with our meeting with the U.S. Mission to the UN on February 25, our delegation of twelve walked over to the Iranian Mission, which was only a few blocks away, and asked to see someone in the office.
We were announced by the security desk downstairs. The initial response from the Mission was that we could not be received, since we didn’t have an appointment and since Iran’s Ambassador to the U.N., Mohammad Khazaee, wasn’t in that day anyway. We said we would like to meet with anyone in the office; it wouldn't have to be the Ambassador. After we made repeated calls to the Iranian Mission from the lobby, security was told that the Mission would not accept the delegation, but would see me, alone.
So I went up to the Mission offices, where I met with Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations — who turned out to be there after all.
I told Mr. Khazaee that we had just come from the U.S. Mission to the U.N., where we had stated our strong opposition to U.S. war threats and comprehensive sanctions against Iran. I gave Mr. Khazaee our materials, which asked the Iranian government to:
I began by saying we had wanted to see a representative of the Iranian government in order to protest the arrests and imprisonment of feminists, trade unionists, human rights activists, and others attempting to exercise their right to free assembly. He asked if I had ever been to Iran. I said no, but I knew many people who had, and I was convinced that the Iranian government was conducting terribly repressive actions against their people.
Mr. Khazaee responded that he was tempted, if it was ok with his government, to give me a free round trip ticket to Iran so I could see the country for myself. I silently thought about the descriptions of the tightly controlled trips several friends of mine had taken, with minders watching all the members of the group closely. It had been difficult for them to meet with independent activists like feminists and human rights advocates, and the government had responded harshly when they tried.
Mr. Khazaee suggested that the reports of repression that I had heard were all due to misleading propaganda from the U.S. government and media. He asked if I had read the reports of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, which, he said, gave an accurate picture of the real Iran. I said that nothing I had read by the Leveretts convinced me that the repression we were protesting did not take place.
Mr. Khazaee said that the people arrested in Iran in the aftermath of the June 2009 elections had been legitimately apprehended and punished because they were not just objecting to the outcome of the election, they were engaging in mass protest. He contrasted the Iranian demonstrators unfavorably with Al Gore, who after the disputed 2000 presidential election in the U.S. had congratulated President Bush on his victory. I said I thought Gore had acquiesced too readily when Republican thugs invaded the Miami-Dade County board of canvassers and threatened to assault those involved in manually recounting the ballots. In any event, I said, people in Iran had the right to protest what they believed to be rigged election results; the Iranian government had had no business suppressing those protests with violence.
Mr. Khazaee also suggested that our group shouldn’t be making these complaints since the U.S. government has imprisoned 64 Iranians, and has refused to permit direct flights from New York to Tehran. I replied that we had no problem protesting the illegitimate actions of our own government, and reminded him that we had just finished with a meeting with the U.S. Mission to do just that.
I said we were disappointed that we hadn’t been able to set up an appointment for our delegation, despite our repeated efforts to do so. We had not been told that the date or time we requested had been impossible (which clearly turned out not to be true, since Mr. Khazaee was right there talking with me.) In any case, I said that we would like to make an appointment for a delegation to meet with him on a future date.
Mr. Khazaee said, they would consider a future appointment, but with the proviso that our delegation couldn’t include any Iranians. His office had done some research and knew that the Campaign for Peace and Democracy had worked with Iranians who challenged the whole system in Iran, and that was unacceptable. (CPD has worked with a spectrum of progressive Iranians who support the democratic movement in Iran and also oppose U.S. war threats and sanctions that harm the Iranian people.) I said I would have to check back with my colleagues on that, since we would hate to leave our Iranian friends out of a meeting. Our delegation had included four Iranians now living in the United States. The other eight individuals in the group were non-Iranian U.S. peace activists from a variety of peace groups.
Mr. Khazaee then added another pre-condition for a future meeting: we would have to agree that the meeting would be private, with no publicity to the press or the public. Only after several meetings might it be all right to have one that the public knows about.
I protested that we wanted our meetings with the Iranian government to be transparent. I pointed out that over the years the Campaign had met with the offices of several governments to state our opposition to their actions: to wit, the U.S., Soviet, Turkish, South African, and Czechoslovak Missions to the UN, the Polish consulate in New York, and, most recently, the Czech Mission to the UN to express solidarity with activists in Prague opposing the planned U.S. military radar in their country. Although the media hadn’t been present at any of these meetings, we had always publicized our visits beforehand and afterward. We would want our meeting with the Iranian mission to be similarly transparent.
It was frustrating to meet alone with the Iranian Ambassador without other peace and human rights colleagues present. On the other hand, I was pleased that I was able to present our protest against the various ways the Iranian government was violating the rights of the Iranian people. However Mr. Khazaee's conditions for future meetings are clearly unacceptable.