by Ali Mashayekhi Kirk
American Reporter Correspondent
September 23, 2003
IT'S TIME FOR A NEW U.S.-IRAN AGENDA
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The year was 1979, I was 13 and living in Washington, D.C. My father was a foreign news correspondent for the Iranian state-owned television and radio station known as NIRT. It was a year that I and many others would not forget.
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, known to most of the world as the Shah of Iran, saw his long-standing regime collapsing. A government that had seen prosperity, stability and advances in women's rights that were unparalleled in the region would soon undergo a violent and tumultuous transition in power.
Soon, an ominous-looking cleric in exile in Paris cleric, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, would cast a dark cloud over Iran and revert Iranian society and politics to the 18th century. So-called "students" overran the American Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats and citizens hostage for a protracted and unprecedented 444 days.
After a failed U.S. rescue attempt and diplomatic breakdowns, the hostages were released on the eve of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration. Americans celebrated their return, but many would harbor anger and resentment towards Iran and Iranians fior decades to come.
After 24 years, the anger and resentment has softened, but not disappeared. Does anyone remember this sentiment in America prior to 1979? Did we see brazenly-worded bumper stickers inviting us to "Play Cowboys and Iranians" before Khomeini and his mullahs appeared on the nightly news? In a word, no. A change in government brought a change in attitude towards Iranians in the U.S. However, change is constant.
Change is occurring again. In recent Iranian elections, over 80 percent of the so called "reform" candidates were elected. This means little politically, because the self-appointed clerics can override directives and legislation of the elected parliament. Now. recent anti-government protests in France and Iran are generating global press coverage. In iran, and in its vast exile community, the cycle of discontent is surging again.
At this critical time in world history, with war on terrorism underway on three continents and the Middle East poised on the brink of all-out war, America must pursue a new and activist agenda in its foreign policy towards Iran. For starters, the Bush Administration needs to tone down the "Axis of Evil" proclamation sand embrace the reformist movement that is threatening the arbitrary power of the mullahs.
Why create hatred and resentment when the United States has significant momentum to create a democratic government in Iran? Indeed, that is why change must again occur.
By loose analogy, America must play a role in creating a post-clerical Iran, similar to the post-Saddam Iraq, without war. American diplomatic influence, the promise of economic aid and the shadow of its military power can catalyze change without bloodshed. The world - and world peace - badly needs a modern, democratic, pro-Western Iran.
As a former two-time candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, I realize that name recognition and an existing support base can be divisive as well as helpful. Reza Pahlavi, the Shah's son, has both.
Twenty-four years after the Shah fled Iran, the 42-year-old heir to the Peacock Throne, who is also a jet fighter pilot, is an accomplished and educated statesman.
He promotes and envisions a future Iran where democracy reigns and clerics retain their traditional modern role within a paradigm ofseparation of church and state.
The U.S. should promote his return as a democratic leader who was many supporters both inside and out of Iran. Let's stow away "evil" rhetoric that essentially condemns an entire nation and its people, and bring democratic change to Iran to meet the promise of the 21st Century.
Ali Mashayekhi Kirk is an Iranian-American attorney, teacher, and political activist in Orlando, Fa.